How iPadOS 15 Widgets Could Change How You Use the iPad

Anything is better than the "big iPhone" home screen

Key Takeaways

  • iPadOS 15 could bring big changes to the iPad.
  • Right now, iPad widgets cannot be added to the home screen—they have their own special area.
  • Interactive iPad widgets also could work on the Mac.
iPad connected to keyboard and resting on a table with other apple products

Dennis Brendel / Unsplash

iPad widgets in iPadOS 14 are an afterthought, literally tacked onto the side of the home screen. This year’s iPadOS 15 could revolutionize the iPad.

Last year, the iPhone got widgets, panels that let you put mini apps and information right on the home screen. You can check the weather, play a specific album, or see your to-do list, without opening an app. The iPad got these widgets, too, but they’re just iPhone widgets, and they’re hidden off-screen, over in that Today View on the left. It’s a shame, because widgets could bring so much more to the iPad’s big screen.

"I think the current iOS home screen does need to undergo some big changes," Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, told Lifewire via email. "It needs to be streamlined and allow for user customization of layout to truly get the most out of widgets."

It’s a Big iPhone

There’s one big argument against proper iPhone-style widgets working on the iPad: the icon spacing is all wrong. Icons on the iPad are further apart than on the iPhone, and the spacing changes, not only between iPad models, but on the same device, whenever you switch between portrait and landscape orientation.

"Widgets on the iPad have been something of a rough experience, depending on the widget and its overall use," cellphone retailer Josh Wright told Lifewire via email. "Hopefully, they do optimize to better adapt to the larger screen, as some seem to be developed with the iPhone as their optimal experience."

But that shows a lack of imagination. Why settle for copying the iPhone’s widgets? In fact, why not redesign the iPad’s home screen completely? The iPad is still essentially a big iPhone. If its grid of widely spaced app icons were downtown real estate, developers would have filled in the gaps years ago. Here’s a concept video from tech writer Matt Birchler:

These days, the iPad shares more with the Mac. It uses the same chip, the large iPad has the same size screen as a MacBook, and you can use it with a trackpad and a keyboard. Using the home screen as an almost-empty app launcher is a huge waste of space—imagine if your Mac or PC desktop could only show the Applications folder.

So, what kinds of changes might we hope for?

iPad Desktop

Let’s just skip over the idea that the iPad will get iPhone-like widgets, only better-sized to fit the iPad’s bigger screen, and move on to more exciting options.

A proper desktop for the iPad would be great—somewhere to drop files and save screenshots, a place to rest between nerve-wracking iPad drag-and-drop operations. That might be wishful thinking, but widgets could replace many of the desktop’s features.

"Widgets can greatly increase the utility of an iPad," says Freiberger. "They can be customized so it feels more like a desktop/laptop or a phone and can allow the tablet to be used as a persistent display if that's something you're interested in."

"It needs to be streamlined and allow for user customization of layout to truly get the most out of widgets."

Perhaps a Files app widget would let you place arbitrary files and folders onto the home screen? Music and podcast apps could let you tap their control buttons without launching an app, which is what they do on the iPhone. Widgets also could update much more often than they do now, so you could have real-time dashboard-type apps. A Twitter widget, for example, could update in real time, right there on your home screen.

With all this added functionality, it would be a shame to hide it whenever you launch an app. So, how about allowing a split-view, with an app using one half of the screen, and the new "desktop" using the other. Better still, allow iPad apps to run in resizable windows. The new M1 iPad seems built to connect to an external display via its Thunderbolt port, and windows would be a perfect fit for large screens.

Interaction and Information

The key to widgets is they give you information without having to open an app, and they let you interact with it. For example, the iPhone widget for podcast app Castro shows the next three podcasts in your queue. You can tap any of them, and it will play.

The iPhone’s interaction is generally limited to touch, but the iPad has keyboard and trackpad support, and the Apple Pencil. Imagine using the Apple Pencil to sketch or take notes in a widget, or typing a note. This expanded input range makes sense for the Mac, too. Widgets already run on the Mac, but they’re no more functional than iPhone widgets.

The iPad’s home screen is overdue for a rework, and with the power of the M1 iPad, the simple icon grid seems even more primitive. We have no idea what Apple might do, but to be honest, it couldn’t be much worse than what we have now.

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