Using widgets as app launchers in iOS is no good.

Paul Alvarez

An iPhone homescreen is personal. Some people set it and forget it. While others are constantly customizing and changing how it is set up. I am in the latter group, but instead of constant change, I am always thinking about how my homescreen can serve me better.

Phones today are very personal, it is with at all times and is just as essential as a wallet or purse. So the setup should do nothing less than work for you, not the other way around. I put a lot of expectations on my phone, providing me things I need. The need versus wants of how I use my phone is a constant struggle.

Part of this is because I hide many of the apps I shouldn’t be using so much. As I talked about in my post about Binge Shifting, I tend to bounce from one media consumption app to another unhealthily. Part of the cure is not keeping apps like Netflix, YouTube, or TikTok on my homescreen.

This has worked to stop my monkey brain from clicking TikTok or YouTube when I first unlock my phone to do something. But when I hang out on my couch or am on a break at work, I rarely open one of my more preferred leisure apps like News, Reeder, or even Twitter (which I have surprising control to not overuse). Instead, I immediately bring down the search bar and search for either TikTok or YouTube.

I know the best option is to delete these apps, but I have been trying to teach myself moderation. My wife and I have so much fun sending each other funny parenting TikTok videos lately, and I don’t want to lose that because I don’t have self-control. Instead, I am leaving these apps off the homescreen and only using them briefly every day.

Another way of helping me use the more preferred apps on my homescreen was to use widgets — at least that is what I thought and hoped would happen. Instead, widgets have created more of a nuisance than providing a benefit. This is because of the pure nature of widgets and how they are implemented in iOS right now. I should have known better when I wrote how I felt that the widgets were half-baked, but I still had hope that they would work out.

I started with my iPhone looking like this at the start of the year:

You can’t tell from the image, but each of the widgets on this homescreen are stacks. The apps that each stack have are:

Top Medium Widget Stack:

  1. News — Top Stories
  2. News — Tech Stories
  3. Analyst
  4. Notes
  5. Carrot Weather
  6. Photos

Small Widget on the Right:

  1. Stocks
  2. Robinhood
  3. News — Stock Market Stories

Small Widget Bottom Left:

  1. Castro
  2. Music

I loved the viewable information, the ability to limit my apps on my homescreen and to be able to launch apps from these widgets providing a fresh look to my home screen — instead of the usual grid of apps found on iPhones since its beginning.

The problem with this homescreen setup is that launching apps from widgets can be a nightmare. Specifically Music and Castro. Since the pandemic, I have been listening to a lot more music. So launching the music app to start a playlist or an album is a daily thing during my workday.

Launching music from the widget can pain. Sometimes, the Music widget does not display the same song playing last in the app, causing the app to start from the Browse screen and remove whatever was pausing in the Now Playing queue. Other times launching the Music app to a particular album would cause the app to go through several screens before finally reloading the last album you were on.

Here is an example of the Music widget showing the last album I was listening to, but when I launch the app from the widget, you can see it going to the Browse screen first then reload the album it was already on:

It is frustrating how long it takes just to get back to your last played song, and other times it will just clear your queue and leave you at the Browse screen to start over. I would almost prefer that it just bring up the Now Playing screen instead of trying to find the album that the last song was from. It is tedious and clunky.

The same goes for Castro. Sometimes I just want to play the podcast that it is showing on the widget. Instead, it will go to my Queue list and refresh but not bring me to the actual now playing screen that the current podcast is paused on. Sometimes it will bring up the now playing screen but then collapse and go to the queued playlist.

This all tells me that the iOS Widgets are still half-baked and not that robust yet, even in other apps like Stocks, Robinhood, Carrot Weather, and Fantastical. Every time I launch an app from one of these widgets, I feel like the app is refreshing in some way or taking me to a screen I do not want to be on.

I do not blame the developers of these apps, nor am I frustrated with the widgets themselves. Right now, we are at the very beginning of what widgets on iOS are, so over time; I expect that they will get more robust and useful. The problem for me now, though, is that it has caused me not to want widgets for Apps on my main homescreen any longer.

Instead, my main homescreen now looks like this:

I still have a Widgetsmith widget at the top showing the Date and Time but do nothing more than that except take up two grids of rows at the top of the screen to push my apps icons down for easier reach. These apps are my most used and cherished on my iPhone. Also, my “preferred” apps that I want to use each day, avoiding me getting stuck in an infinity pool of scrolling.

After about a month of using my homescreen set up this way, I am much happier and less frustrated. I did miss some of my widgets, though, so I made a second screen with some widgets that I like to see glanceable information from, but do not regularly launch the apps, so it works out well. Seeing the weather, my calendar, and some stock (and Dogecoin in Robinhood) information is perfect for me to glance at with a simple swipe.

Homescreen page 2 with glance information:

I have one Widget Stack, though, which is the middle medium widget that rotates between my Fantastical and the Photos widgets. I am not religiously using my calendar, so I don’t need it showing all the time and more than once, having random photos from the past pop up brightens my already great or lousy day. That alone makes me want to keep the Photos Widget around.

Having my widgets as just widgets just swipe away has been just as great as launching my apps from their own app icons. Being able to see the current or forecasted weather or see how well my Dogecoin is doing with a single swipe has been more useful than trying to also make them launch apps for me. I always know that the information I need will be ready and limiting my requirements of what they do makes me want to use them more.

Though the app icons on my homescreen are not as fun as widgets, I feel function over beauty is always a must for my iPhone. I hope that the next version of iOS brings more robust functionality to the widgets, and maybe then I might bring them back to my main screen.

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My passion is in technology. I write reviews about gadgets that interest me but also provide some kind of value in my toolset to achieve my goals. Most of my writing is surrounded by technology and how it plays a role as a tool, help with productivity, and also provide mindfulness for a more fulfilled life.

Turlock, CA

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