Widgets are small, interactive components that sit on your homescreens to present information to you, the user, without having to load the full application. Some people love them, others hate them. Regardless of which side you’re on, widgets are something that’s fairly unique to Android. Sure, iOS now has icons that get updated to show accurate information (basic stuff like time and weather), and Microsoft has Live Tiles that are sort of a hybrid icon/widget with fairly limited capabilities. But as far as full-blown widgets are concerned, Android stands out from the others.
Since the beginning, Android has had widgets, but it’s only been since Android 4.x Ice Cream Sandwich that Google started treating widgets like apps. Well, sort of. In the early days of Android, if you wanted to add a widget to your homescreen, you long-pressed on your screen and widgets were an item on the menu, right alongside wallpaper. That made sense. However, adding an icon for an app to your homescreen wasn’t done the same way. You opened your app drawer, found the app, and long-pressed its icon, then dragged it to wherever you wanted it to live. Easy, right?
Then Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich changed all that. The ill-fated Android 3.x Honeycomb put Widgets, Shortcuts, Wallpapers, and More into one unified picker. That method worked okay, but it was radically different from what we had before.
Ice Cream Sandwich, and later both flavors of Jelly Bean, simply added a new tab to the app drawer which contained Widgets. You’d add them to your homescreen the same way you’d add an app. It was an elegant solution, but you still added wallpapers by long-pressing on the homescreen, so the user experience wasn’t consistent.
Now, if the latest KitKat leaks hold true, widgets will be regaining their rightful place, back in the homescreen long press menu, right beside wallpapers. Apps will still live in the subtly redesigned app drawer, but they’ll be disconnected from their widgety siblings.
I, for one, welcome the change back to the way things used to be. However, since Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean hold a significant percentage of users, I wonder if going back will cause more confusion than simply leaving it alone.
If you worked at Google for the Android team, what would you do with app shortcuts, KitKat widgets, and wallpapers? Which method would you prefer? Would you try something entirely different?
If it were me, I think I’d get rid of “widgets” completely. No, not the functionality, just the separation between them and their shortcut counterparts. In my world, if you wanted to add something to your homescreen you’d open your app drawer, long-press on what you wanted to add, and you’d be given a pop-up menu with whatever options were available: app shortcut, small widget (2×2), medium widget (1×4), and so forth. The widgets themselves would be given descriptive names by the developer. Selecting an item from the list would automatically add your choice to a homescreen where you could then move it wherever you wanted. Once you had something on homescreen, app or widget, if you long-pressed on it you’d be able to change it to another format, just like you were long-pressing the icon in the app drawer, and not too dissimilar from Windows Phone’s Live Tiles, except you wouldn’t toggle through the options.
I’m not sure how I’d handle wallpapers differently though. Perhaps you can help out with that. Head to the comments and let your voice be heard!