How iPhone Home Screen Widgets Work in iOS 14

IOS 14 home screen with widgets
Khamosh Pathak

After thirteen iterations of iOS, Apple is finally transforming the home screen by adding widgets to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. There is a whole new framework that will allow developers to create new types of widgets. But there is more than meets the eye.

Widgets come home

Apple introduced widgets for the iPhone in iOS 10. They were relegated to today’s View screen, which can be accessed by swiping right on the lock screen or the home screen.

Still, widgets became powerful tools and were incredibly useful for iPhone and iPad users who decided to use them.

But all of that changes in iOS 14. Widgets are coming home. This is the biggest change on the home screen along with the new app library. While today’s View section still remains and you can still keep the widget there, the whole experience of adding widgets has changed.

IOS 14 home screen with three widgets
Khamosh Pathak

Now when you touch any empty space on the home screen to enter the edit view of the home screen, you will find a “+” button in the upper right corner.

Add widgets in iOS 14
Khamosh Pathak

Touching it will bring up a widget picker, displaying a list of all the widgets available on your phone, from both the bundled Apple apps and the third-party apps you’ve installed, along with previews of them.

Widget selection page in iOS 14
Khamosh Pathak

Choose a widget, a size and just tap the “Add widget” button to add a widget to the screen you are on.

Selecting the widget version in iOS 14
Khamosh Pathak

Then you can move the widget to anywhere you want. Well, not exactly anywhere. Unlike Android, iOS still doesn’t allow you to put icons or widgets anywhere on the screen.

Icons and widgets still flow from the top left of the screen to the bottom right. And yes, the widgets will automatically switch to dark mode.

Widgets in light mode and dark mode

RELATED: How the new iPhone app library works

But not the widgets you’ve known

So that’s the good news. Now about the bad. You see, while the widgets are coming to the home screen, they are not the widgets that you have used and loved in recent years.

If a developer wants to create home screen widgets for iOS 14, they should use the new WidgetKit framework which is based on the Swift user interface. And currently, it doesn’t support any form of interaction or live updates. This means that the new widgets are designed solely for visibility, in other words, to see information quickly, just like the complications in watchOS on Apple Watch.

Show old widgets alongside new widgets in iOS 14
Left: pre-iOS 14 widgets. Right: iOS 14 widgets.

This means that if you’re used to calculator or time tracking widgets, you won’t find them in iOS 14. Widgets can have multiple touch buttons that can be linked to a part of the app, but that’s it. . That’s why the Music widget in iOS 14 doesn’t have any playback control.

Showing music widget in iOS 14
Khamosh Pathak

The only exception we have found is the shortcuts application, but then again, the shortcut automations are deeply embedded in the operating system. The shortcut widget works independently. When you touch a shortcut, it just starts working, without opening the app. If there are interactive elements in the shortcut, you will see them at the top of the screen in a floating window.

As of now, Apple has officially deprecated older widgets. They will still work and you can use them on Today’s View screen, but you cannot add these widgets to the Home screen. We don’t know when or if Apple will completely remove support for them.

RELATED: How to add, use and customize widgets on your iPhone

What the future holds

It is clear that the nature of widgets is changing since iOS 14 and beyond. Apple’s reasoning for this change appears to be visibility and power management. Widgets should be designed so that a user can quickly look at them while on the home screen, and should not drain the battery.

Widgets can be updated based on a developer-defined timeline, but that’s it. We hope that next year Apple has discovered a way to add interaction to widgets without sacrificing battery life.

Because when it comes to design and user interface, new widgets look amazing on the home screen (much better than older widgets, which didn’t have a consistent design language).

And somehow, the new widgets are more flexible in iOS 14. You can have multiple versions of the same widget in the same size or in several. You can stack multiple versions of the same widgets on top of each other and simply pass between them.

Different sizes of widgets on the iOS 14 home screen

And since Apple is using the Attempts-based framework (from SiriKit and Shortcuts) in widgets, you can customize multiple versions of the widgets to display different types of data. For example, you may have three different Reminders widgets in a stack that displays your reminders from three different lists.

Custom widget option in iOS 14
Khamosh Pathak

That is just what Apple has done so far. We have yet to see what developers will be able to do with the WidgetKit framework. While we lose interactivity, we gain new types of widgets and a consistent design framework.

But this is one of those waiting and watching scenarios. We’ll get to know the true impact of the change once developers launch their own widgets in Fall 2020, and when we see what improvements (if any) Apple makes to the WidgetKit framework in iOS 15.

RELATED: What’s new in iOS 14 (and iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, AirPods, more)

There’s a lot more in the details of how widgets work in iOS 14. For example, Smart Stacks will allow you to combine multiple widgets into a single stack of widgets that you can swipe on your iPhone. That’s one way iOS 14 will transform your iPhone (and iPad) home screen.

RELATED: How iOS 14 is about to transform your iPhone’s home screen