That’s a reasonable question, given the silly history of the word:
a small gadget or mechanical device, especially one whose name is unknown or unspecified.
If you just want to know how it applies to your iPhone and Mac, skip the first few paragraphs.
In the software world, the story goes a little like this:
Yahoo bought a company years ago, called Konfabulator, who used the term to refer to a kind of mini-app. These little apps would show or do simple things — like weather, a calculator, a clock and calendar, a stock feed, package trackers — any single-purpose kind of information that you’d want to access or manipulate quickly.
Konfabulator ran their widgets in a dashboard, an overlay on the rest of the stuff on your computer screen. You could have them floating on top or behind, or pop out from the side of your display, I can’t remember all the possibilities.
So Yahoo got ‘em and changed the name to Yahoo! Widgets, and pretty soon everybody was jumping on board. (“Widget” apparently has become a standardized term in software.) Apple put a Dashboard in OS X (still there but probably going away soon), Microsoft called them gadgets in Windows, you get the picture.
This year, Apple introduced a feature into iOS and the Mac, where you can add widgets to your Notifications screen. They are a very cool way to get quick information, and even to add notes and to-do items.
With my Philips Hue lights and the new Hue widget, I can even change the lighting scheme in my home! I just turned my office lights on and the den lights off, in two swipes and one click, without leaving my chair.
Here’s how to add widgets in the Today view on your iPhone and on your Mac.
Widgets I like:
- Fantastical – the most excellent calendar app I’ve used, and brother, I’ve nearly used ’em all.
- Yahoo! Weather
- OmniFocus – if you need serious task management, you need OmniFocus
There are more on the phone at the moment. We are waiting for Mac developers to release some goodies.
Note: I’ve used my App Store and Amazon affiliate links.