With widgets, who needs an app?

Nicolò Arena
By Nicolò Arena under Insights 22 September 2016

Widgets have always provided a useful way to surface information, ever since they were first supported natively on Android in 2009. The recent iOS 10 update, however, is testament to just how far they have come - richer, and more engaging. They are now both more easily accessible and more visible on the iPhone than ever before.

As widgets continue to evolve, and as apps continue to break free of the small icon on your home screen, it’s important as designers that we seize the opportunities that widgets represent: notably, to serve up the information users need, when they need it - without them needing to ask for it.

► So, what exactly is a widget?

Widgets are like a window into an app. A self-contained piece of code, a widget displays a piece (or pieces) of a program, and often provides a shortcut direct to a certain point within that particular program, or offers a feature or function of the app within the widget itself. This allows users to interact with your app without actually going through the various steps of unlocking their device and opening the app itself. On iOS 10, simply swiping to the right on the lock screen allows users to access their widgets, while, for Android users, widgets are available from the homescreen.

► Does that mean people will forget about your app?

It goes without saying that no-one wants their app to be forgotten by the user - in fact, when it comes to widgets, it’s entirely the wrong way to think about it.

Many apps currently use relatively crude methods like push notifications and emails to ‘beg’ a user to return to the app - increasing, or reactivating, engagement. However, using too many - or using them unwisely - has the opposite effect: they quickly become annoying, and can even result in users deleting your app.

Widgets, however, are different. For a start, they are a chosen by the user to be a permanent feature on their smartphone.

So while your main app might ‘disappear’ into the background, that doesn’t mean your service will - in fact, a smooth intuitive experience is one your customers will remember, not forget. A widget, therefore, isn’t a replacement for an app: it adds another way to build deeper levels of engagement with your user. Widgets complement your main offering by delivering specific, contextual content at-a-glance, without a user needing to tap or ask anything. Surfacing this valued information at the right time will keep you close to your users.

► But not all widgets are created equal…

The task for us as designers is to create widgets that users want to keep on their lock screens. So let’s look at some key things to remember:

► App 2.0 thinking and ‘widgetisation’

As apps evolve, reaching tentacles far and wide within and across devices, so designers and developers need to choreograph the user experience across a wide variety of interaction points - widgets are just one example. It’s also likely, as the functionality of widgets has expanded in 2016, to be one area that you can exploit and use more effectively.

Well-designed widgets should help users achieve their desired outcome: either directly through the widget ‘window’, or by transporting you directly to the screen within the app that you need to access. This provides users with yet another way to smoothly access your service.

To make the most of widgets and to learn more about the future of apps, get in touch with us here.