Do you use widgets?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| January 14, 2012

Applications have come a long way. They are not just a gimmick you show to your friends anymore. It isn’t just a way to show off how the calculator you bought is better than the one that comes standard on a smartphone. While they’ve kept their basic functionality at their core, the multitude of apps out there all showcase the ability of remarkably intelligent individuals out there, creating diverse and robust software for everyone to use as they see fit. And for a platform like Android, where your home screens can be filled with icons and widgets, it opens up a whole new usage model.

And, let’s face it; widgets have come a long way, too. Back when they were first unveiled for Android; they were basically just portals to your app, but in a different way than the traditional application icon. Sure, you could see what was going on with the app, or you could see the first few messages sitting in your email inbox. But other than that, a widget’s personality was pretty thin. That’s changed over the years, and the widgets have become something of an app in their own right, even if, at the very least, they are still just a portal to the real application.

Which has me thinking: do people actually use widgets? I know that from personal use, I tend to put an application’s widget, if the app actually has one, on one of my home screens at least for a little while. I like to see where the widget development is at, especially considering that in the public domain, a lot of widgets have the same functionality. The news applications, along with a few sports apps out there, will tell you a brief rundown of the news happening now, but the functionality is pretty limited. That isn’t surprising, of course, but it’s the truth.

When I look at other people’s Android phones, I honestly don’t see a lot of widgets. Especially not on the people out there who managed to get their hands on a stock Android device. The same goes for folks who have rooted their Android phone and have put a stock ROM on there. Widgets don’t seem to play a big role in the Android user base, at least not from what I’ve seen, or from what people have told me of their usage. Applications do, of course, but the widget part of it seems to be a novelty that falls off the scope a few days, or even hours, after initial usage.

I don’t think that widgets are a gimmick, per se, but I think that it’s a feature that isn’t used to its full potential. Even close, really. That may have something to do with the fact that widgets don’t have a lot of functionality, especially considering their “face value” nature only means that there can only be so much functionality. Or, it could be that using an app, in its full-screen version, is just more worthwhile to most users. That would make sense to me, especially like the social networking apps where diving into the app and its full functionality just seems like the way to do it.

But, it could be different for other proprietary user interfaces, too. I know that when I was using a lot of HTC Sense-based devices, like the original Hero, I was using widgets all the time. And I think I can say the same thing for devices running TouchWiz, at least for those who don’t root and add a custom ROM.  Widgets are a big part of custom user interfaces, and a of them have a “real-time” and scrollable approach, so their functionality may be a bit deeper than those other stock versions. But, I’ve noticed that those proprietary widgets, coupled with the manufactured software, can slow the whole show down over time, so that seems like a double-edged sword.

I think widgets are something that could really, really be useful at some point in the future. But for now, I’m not surprised at all that I rarely see them in use on personal devices, and why only Google’s Android has jumped on the widget way of life. Will it change in time? I sure hope so. Widgets that showcase more functionality would be awesome to use.