HTC learns in 2013 what Apple knew back in 2007: Widgets aren't widely used

For years there's been angst over iOS' lack of Home screen widgets. Nokia/Symbian/Meego/etc. has had them for what's probably been decades. Android has had them for years. Even Apple had widgets on OS X going back to Dashboard in OS X Tiger in 2005. iOS on the other hand has eschewed them completely until 2010/2011, and even then restricted them to the fast app switcher, Notification Center and Siri. That Apple had Dashboard should show they, as a company, didn't have an aversion to widgets, they just avoided them on the iOS Home screen. And a post on the HTC Blog (opens in new tab) today by their head of design, Drew Bamford may give some context as to why:

During our research [into customer experience], a few consistent patterns emerged:

  • Most people don’t differentiate between apps and widgets.
  • Widgets aren’t widely used – weather, clock and music are the most used and after that, fewer than 10% of customers use any other widgets.
  • Most of you don’t modify your home screens much. In fact, after the first month of use, approximately 80% of you don’t change your home screens any more.

Of those widely used widgets, iOS has a persistent clock on the status bar, a weather widget in Notification Center, and a music/media widget in the fast app switcher. In a nod to glance-ability, it also flips the dates on the Calendar icon, and adds counter badges to other icons.

And that's it. That's all. In iOS, the Home screen feels deliberately left barren, with the intent to drive you into apps. It's a launcher in the most literal sense of the term.

Of course, there are stats showing a lack of web browsing, among other things, on the Android platform, so this could just be part-and-parcel with a large percentage of the user base using Android simply as another dumb phone, to make calls and maybe check Facebook. HTC doesn't really break down who the 10%ers are are relative to the rest.

For me, I remain of a mind that widgets are just old tech. Pull data. I'm too lazy to go to a Home screen (or a fast app switcher, for that matter) to try and find data. I've never used them on any of my Android devices, and I'm not interested in them on iOS. They're inefficient. What I want is the opposite of widgets. I want data pushed to me where I am. Google Now gets some of that right, as do active notifications from webOS going back to 2009 and Android going back to 2012.

I've never understood why people wanted Apple to skate to where the widget puck was. I'd much rather they once again try to leap ahead and figure out more in-app (in-everywhere) data delivery methods.

HTC just learned something now, in 2013, that I think Dashboard had already taught Apple on by 2007. Widgets are what was. Now they all need to figure out what's next.

Source: HTC (opens in new tab) via Android Central

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I don't disagree about everything you said because most people really don't use widgets often enough but oh well. As for me I am a widget lover for my fb, twitter, Pandora, clock/weather, calander, and so on. I just think people don't wanna learn how to use it since they just treat the phone as an app portal :/
  • Hey, there's a new article just posted on AndroidCentral :
    Steve Jobs himself was quoted as saying that iPhone users don't have copy and paste functionality available to them unless they are using iOS 3.0 or later. See how a "reporter" with no journalistic integrity can use a sentence fragment from a quote to create a headline that is almost the complete opposite of the real message from the original source? The HTC source talking about widget use was talking about widgets OTHER THAN the common 3 (clock, music, and weather) that actually almost everybody uses at least one of. In fact, every current Android phone I can think of ships with a clock widget on the home screen. So, I would guess over 90% of Android phone users use at least one widget. Rene then goes on to try and make a case that the iPhone does just as good as an Android phone with the Big 3 widgets. But, in reality, the clock in the status bar is not something you can read from across the room, like you can with an Android clock widget. And going to the Notification Center or the task switcher to check weather or change your music is simply not as convenient as being to do the same things right from the home screen.
  • You need to read the article again. Not what he said at all.
  • My point was about the purposefully wrong headline. "Widgets aren't widely used" Anybody that just reads the headline will be completely misinformed. Journalistic deception by using just a portion of a sentence as a headline. Widgets are VERY widely used - though I admit I don't have hard numbers to back up my statement. What HTC said is that widgets outside the top 3 categories are used by less than 10% of the people.
  • There is a world of difference between widgets in 2007 and 2013.
  • I love widgets. I use them on almost all my devices (desktop, mobile and tablet) and I find them very useful. With widgets I can view data from an application without looking for the app and opening it, control my devices, and completely customized the design of the widgets and ui. But I guess that's just me.
  • Me too. The ones I use on a daily basis are:
    Hotspot (tethering)
    Beautiful Widgets - Timed Silence
    Beautiful Widgets - Clock/weather
    Google Voice
    Google Now
    Flight Track Pro
    Tunein Radio
  • This is what I would like to see. I don't need the twitter and Facebook shortcuts to say 'Tap to Tweet' and 'Tap to Post' and take half the width if the screen. The icon would be enough. Let me add one for Messages and Email. Four across, icon only. That would about do it for me. I have removed Dashboard from Mission Control on all my Macs. They were neat at first and likely helped the single use app development for iOS. But there are such better ways to get what the Dashboard provided. Calculator? I added the to he dock. Clock? It's in my menu bar. Weather? Menu bar. Calendar? in my dock. (I think that covers the default widgets on a clean install).
  • Google Now for iOS would be awesome, or an Apple equivalent, it's the only think i really like about my Galaxy Note over my iPhone 5
  • dear god that first iPhone screen is hideous. It looks like a robot barfed over the screen. It's as if hoarders are in charge of interface design at Apple.
  • haha. you should see my iPhone screen. Nothing but folders full of apps (most that I don't even use much). I always thought iOS was originally an extension of OS X's Dashboard. Most of the apps were just glorified widgets. Stocks, calculator, weather. Those ones are still widgets. I agree that most widgets are useless and rarely used, however. I think the approach taken by Intelliscreen X is more useful for incoming content like facebook or twitter. I never, NEVER, use twitter when jailbreaking isn't available and I don't have Intelliscreen X. I don't tweet, I just use it to follow certain sites, people, etc. But without ISX it's just forgotten. With ISX I just scroll over and see what's going on. That's the way to go if you ask me. Not some obnoxious widget always glaring at you from your home screen.
  • I have always thought this for the most part. Widgets just seem like they suck up a lot of resources.
  • I agree. Not as useful as people make them out to be.
  • Rene, you don't use Android enough to say that widgets aren't widely used. I have both an iPhone 5 as a personal line, and my HTC One X+ as a corporate owned device. (Full Disclosure: I'm an AT&T Cor Store Employee) The HTC One X+ widgets are useful quite often. My Cozi Calendar widget updates my schedule on screen. My Traffic widget gives me green/yellow/red to see what the commute home is like instantly. My Flashlight widget is a one click button that turns my flashlight on. My on screen widget allows control of hotspot/wifi/bluetooth/GPS/brightness on the home screen. The animated weather/time widget is quickly accessible in lock screen. I usually agree with you, but in this case I must detest your article. You're in too deep iGuy to say that widgets aren't useful.
  • Um, according to Rene's article this information is not just Rene's opinion, but the result of studies performed by HTC and summaried by the head of their design department. I would think they use Android enough and have access to a lot more folks who do, no?
  • I think the real story is that most smartphone users don't have a clue what their phone is capable of doing, and don't know that they can have widgets to replace what apps perform.
  • Ummm, Rene is not saying that, HTC's Head of Design is, and he's backing it up with research. Everyone on here saying "I use widgets" is the minority. That doesn't make you wrong, it just makes you not the average use case. I bought a Nexus 4 as a secondary phone, my iPhone 5 is my primary, and after playing around with widgets for a few days I deleted them all and now just have a nice designer clock on my homescreen. Beyond things like time, date and weather, widgets are mainly just snippets of info that will require you to open the full app to do anything useful anyway.
  • No one's saying that widgets aren't useful. They're saying that widgets aren't used. There's a world of difference.
  • Come man, if you don't like widgets thats fine don't use them but just because you don't want them doesn't mean others feel the same. I for one, would love if Apple decided to offer widgets for my home screen. They should integrate them with the app icon, just like in WP I could decide if I want an app to be an icon or increase it in size to show me live data. As simple as that.
  • Right on Rene. Re: "In iOS, the Home screen feels deliberately left barren, with the intent to drive you into apps." Fancy home screens are for the easily tech-amused. Widgets just get in the way.
  • mmmm... kool-aid goooooood. iMore pleaz!
  • Sarcasm, I'm hoping...
  • Rene never said the widgets weren't used. It came from HTC's own research! Widgets just take up valuable real estate on your home screen!
  • Let me determine the value of my own real estate thank you. Not everyone wants to live in Apple's restricted mill town...
  • Well I think widgets use up a lot of ram and make things quite slow and suck up battery life.
    I would rather sacrifice gimmicks for better performance and battery life.
  • Widgets are a quick way to avoid going all the way into an app. Calendar, Alarms,, Pocketcasts are just some of the ones that adorn my homescreens. If you don't like them, don't use them. Don't assume that you know what everyone else wants. And as far as HTC's statement is concerned, their market share doesn't qualify them to talk about the "average android user"
  • The minute Apple introduces "widgets for the home screen" all of you, including Rene will go nuts, omg this is how is done, I love widgets, apple really knows how to do widgets, blah blah blah. This morning I just look at my home screen and I saw the info I needed just by looking at my Google now widget. Weather, traffic, any appointments. I had to do nothing to get that info. So when iphone 5s or 6 launches with a 4.5 in screen and widgets please save your omgs and blah blahs remember your pots here and stick to iPhone 4s ideal screen size of 3.5 in (you probably can't even look at it now because it is too small) Ok enjoy widgets on ios 7 it is coming.
  • hahahahah i am an apple fan and user and i admit that what u said is soooo true, i beleive that everything in an IOS or Android can be found usefull or depends on our needs
  • Nah I don't think apple is dumb enough to add widgets to loss it's battery life and get huge lags , have fun with low battery lol
  • I would much rather have the ability to add widgets to my home screens then not. Why would anyone want to be restricted to add what he or she wants on their screens. The only people who jump on not using widgets as a positive thing are those who can not add widgets to their screens, iphone users. Today's powerful Android phones do not lag with widgets, they have huge batteries and powerful engines. Lag and battery life is no longer issues with Android. I use a few great widgets, very happy I have the ability to choose what I use. Leave it to Renee to make a new feature on HTC's new phone as a way to rip into Android and try to make iphone's restrictions something positive. Sorry folks, iphone hasn't come up with anything new for years, complete lack of innovation, blame Apple for spending their money on litigation instead of innovation. As I said I would much rather have the ability to add widgets to my home screens rather then being restricted by IOS. Just My Opinion.
  • So you are saying you buy smartphone to play with UI . REALLY !!! Lol you will be pissed of with that boring UI soo . Widgets sucks , and they also suck battery no mater how Much battery you have . I was ex user of galaxy s3 and buy just adding 4-7 widgets it died in just 2 hours in ideal mode . And iPhone is way more innovative then dumb android , have you every heard about sky ganbers air supermacy , storm raiders or infinty blade 2 or just released real racing 3 . Huh ... Just try to google these game ...
  • First off, I think it's amazing that people still argue something as frivolous as mobile OS with such fervent zeal. Secondly, you are way off base to be citing these numbers for battery life as if (assuming you aren't simply lying) your one anecdotal experience on one handset from one manufacturer represents enough data to indict the entire underlying system architecture. Grow up. I've owned 4 iterations of iPhone and 3 Android powered devices (GS2, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4) so I speak with some authority to say that each approach has its ups and downs. For the time being I've chosen Android. If Apple step their game up with their next release I would have no trouble jumping back. Why do you act as if enjoying one obligates you to hate the other? They're both pretty damn awesome at what they do. Oh, and about googling Real Racing 3, I already the Play Store. Runs smooth as butter on my N4. Try to at least learn a thing or two about what you supposedly hate.
  • Well I didn't know that real racing 3 was available on android ( weird) . And well what if it runs smooth on android ( I bet not) you still gonna lose your battery in 2 hours . And oh what heating I bet you can cook eggs on your android (lol). And FYI every app in iOS is way more elegant then android . On android it just look cheap recreation of iOS apps .
  • Please tell me you are in middle school...
  • And what you gonna do about it , huh?
  • About you being in middle school? You got me there.. I have no idea...
  • Hehe, my thoughts exactly.
  • Lol widgets are for super lazzy people and after having 7 home screen.butt loaded widgets android guys will start wining about low battery life and lags , get a life get iOS :)
  • super lazy? how about super efficient? have fun double-tapping ur lil home button constantly just to go in each individual app to gettin ur info :)
  • I are havin , punkchuashun . evrywar. home screen.butt loaded. I guess autocorrect can only do so much. Learn to string together a coherent thought, and maybe I can take your opinion seriously. Of course you are probably just one of those sad little people that do things just to get on other people's nerves. An endeavor on which I must commend your success.
  • Nah I don't think apple is dumb enough to add widgets to loss it's battery life and get huge lags , have fun with low battery lol
  • Ok, some people like widgets, some don't. How about letting users choose to use them or not? Why must Apple choose for us? I like widgets, and I think Rene is doing some biased interpreting on what HTC said. "Widgets aren’t widely used" what does that means, how much is "widely"? 20, 30%? What is the meaning of "widely" in this context? What does HTC call "used", people glancing, clicking? How was the research done, was that Sense users, widget users across all platforms? Is it a Sense problem or a widget problem? "after the first month of use, approximately 80% of you don’t change your home screens any more", which means that during one month people get their screens just the way they like it, which is exactly what is to be expected, I don't get the surprise. And this has nothing to do with widgets. I think the story here is why HTC is trying to steer away from widgets, is it a patent problem, issues with Sense, poor battery life etc. What was said represents no hard info about widget usage, relevance or usefulness, and should not be used to justify the omission of widgets on iOS.
  • So you are saying you buy smartphone to play with UI . REALLY !!! Lol you will be pissed of with that boring UI soo . Widgets sucks , and they also suck battery no mater how Much battery you have . I was ex user of galaxy s3 and buy just adding 4-7 widgets it died in just 2 hours in ideal mode . And iPhone is way more innovative then dumb android , have you every heard about sky gambers air supermacy , storm raiders or infinty blade 2 or just released real racing 3 . Huh ... Just try to google these game ... And ohh i just forget . Google apps on iOS are way more beautiful then android , chrome in iOS is like butter you can't get that mutch flawless work in android not matter how mutch better your phone is ..
  • You should spend less time copying-pasting your fanboyish nonsense and a little more time learning English grammar. English is not even my first language, but at least I know enough basic spelling to make sense.
  • Well FYI I really don't like your Fukin English . If I have option to write in sanskrit , I would. Be slave .and that replay was for him but I accidentally posted on main replay , so I ain't copy - paste it ..
  • Ok, let's add a few facts, the "research" was a few interviews with Sense 4 users, and HTC is using this info to enhance its widget and interface design. It bears no relevance on widgets in general, on how they are used on other platforms or even by Android users in general. Do you know what else is not widely used? The Compass app, the Recorder app, the Stocks app and 99% of all apps in the Apple App Store. What lesson does that teaches us? None, or better, let people have the choice to use widgets or apps, even if most everybody else is not using the same things.
  • I resent the comment that people who use widgets are too lazy to launch an app. Why launch an app if I don't need to. Widgets were the deciding factor when I bought a phone back in September. I wanted an iPhone to go with my iPad, MacBook and iPod. But I loved the customization of Android. I chose the Galaxy S3 over the iPhone 5. I have 7 home screens and have widgets on 5 of them. I love that when i unlock my phone, my phone does not look like the person's next to me. At a glance I have my agenda, weather, post-it notes, google search, power toggles, data usage, and my favorite contacts where I can choose to text or call. Not to forget, there are power toggles for bluetooth, wifi, airplane mode, etc in the notification center along with quick access to settings. Its efficiency, not laziness. If iOS ever gives us widgets, I'm probably all in. My iPad looks exactly like my wife's iPad. Rows and rows and rows of icons, and maybe a folder here or there. Unique, personal and empowered is how I feel when I use my Android phone. I understand personal preference for a company's products, but I refuse blind loyalty to a company that doesn't deposit money into my bank account. Google has done a great job with the Jelly Bean software. I was completely wowed when I upgraded from a Gingerbread device. I'm waiting for Apple to wow me with their next software upgrade. Widgets FTW!
  • In other news, HTC continues to include numerous widgets in the current and nextgen versions of the Sense UI. I wonder why... ;)
  • Would iPhone users use widgets more if they were available. I say yes. One reason I jailbreak is to get widgets (which Apple doesn't allow) onto my lock screen and into notification center. You can't say widgets are old hat when it is Apple who is deciding which widgets get to be used.
    And its not being lazy to have home screen widgets, it efficiency. If there is information I want routinely and I can get it without going into the phone then I am going to get the widget. Open the platform up to widgets and I think you would see the numbers change. Also, I don't quite understand the comments about people not changing their home screens. What's that got to do with anything. Once you have set up the device the way you like why should you be constantly tinkering with it?
  • Couldn't agree more, and I'm really glad this Widget Hysteria is dying down. I have never understood the need, and now finally the world is catching up. :)