What's the Difference Between a Widget and a Gadget?

What everyone's talking about when they talk tech to you

An image graphic of a widget on a compute screen.
smile337​7/Getty Images

A widget can be described as a type of software application that can run on your computer, tablet or mobile device. If you run a WordPress blog, for example, you might be familiar with WordPress widgets.

A gadget, on the other hand, can be described as two things. It can either be described as a small, physical device (like a fitness tracker) or as computer programs that can run and function without having to launch a separate app for each one.

Widgets vs. Gadgets: What's the Difference?

If you're not clear on the difference between widgets and gadgets, you're not alone. It can be difficult to keep up with the terms for emerging technology—especially if people tend to use them interchangeably.

The easiest way to explain the difference is by first pointing out that a gadget is any widget that is not a widget. Sound confusing? Sure it does, but we're just getting started here. All you have to keep in mind about widgets is that a widget is a piece of reusable code that you can plug into virtually any website or operating system.

A gadget, however, acts just like a widget and often fulfills the same purpose, but it is proprietary. It only works on a certain website, a specific set of websites, or a specific operating system, for instance. It can also be a widget that is a technology device working in conjunction with an application.

This is where it can get confusing. Here are two examples to help paint a clearer picture:

  1. Gadgets can look and act like widgets, but they only work on certain devices. For instance, the Raymio device is a wrist-worn band that helps you stay safe in the sun. It's a wearable (a device that's worn) that also uses an app to give you information. 
  2. A widget, on the other hand, can be an application that works on any web page which lets you add an HTML block of code. You can put that code on your blog, or your personalized start page or on your personal website and it will instantly work.

Widgets and gadgets are more commonly referred to as "apps" these days thanks to the popularity of mobile devices. This means that the apps that you download to your iOS or Android device from the App Store or Google Play are essentially widgets or gadgets, too.

The Only Thing You Need to Remember...

The bottom line is that if it's a piece of reusable code that you use to program something on the web, then it's definitely a widget. Otherwise, if it's something else like a physical device or an application you've downloaded to work on a specific device or operating system, then it's a gadget.

Don't stress! You've got this now. And if you don't, you might as well refer to them as "apps" like most people do nowadays—particularly if you're using mobile devices.

Article updated by: Elise Moreau