The people have spoken. Apps like Widgetsmith and Color Widgets sit at the top of the App Store charts. iOS 14 has provided users with the ability to customize the look of their devices like never before.
Apple’s not dumb. It has to be considering how it can take advantage of this trend. It’s got a bunch of options, and I have a few ideas.
Why should Apple care?
Now, you may be saying to yourself, why does it matter to Apple that people are using iOS 14 widgets and custom shortcuts to make over their iPhones? These are trivialities and Apple should be focused on matters of substance.
I’ve got news for you: What you consider a triviality, Apple considers an opportunity. Consider Apple’s annual release of new emojis, which generally happens in the fall as a part of the point-one release of the newest version of iOS. Apple unveils the emojis in the summer on World Emoji Day, and makes a big deal out of the eventual iOS release, because it knows that people will update their phones so they can use (and see) the new emojis. It’s a lever to drive adoption of the newest version of iOS, and that’s important to Apple.
And in recent years, Apple has added other fun features to iOS and used them as additional motivators. New Animoji characters and new Memoji styles can potentially drive people to update their devices, too.
Not everyone is motivated by the latest and greatest operating-system productivity features. Apple wants everyone to update. Offering emojis and animojis and memojis are a way to do it. It turns out that adding other customization features might be another powerful tool for Apple to use.
Give the users more control
What should Apple be focusing on in future software updates? To start, it needs to give users more power and control over the look and feel of devices.
Take custom app icons. Right now you can build custom icons to make your iPhone beautiful, but only via an ugly workaround—namely, creating a single-step Shortcut that launches an app, and saving that Shortcut to the home screen with a custom icon. (Then you hide the real app in App Library.)
Currently, when you tap on that shortcut icon, it opens the Shortcuts app, then opens the app in question. I’ve seen some people suggest that Apple could make this process cleaner by eliminating that interim step. That’s a fine suggestion, but it doesn’t go far enough. Apple should let users do what they do on the Mac, and create custom icons for their apps and folders.
While we’re at it, how about allowing users to change the text beneath their apps? Let users give those icons custom names, or even have the option of hiding their names entirely.
And most importantly, Apple needs to take Android’s lead and allow the arbitrary placement of icons at any point on the home screen app grid, so users can place icons at the bottom of a page without requiring a bunch of icons at the top.
Now, some people will claim that many of these moves have potential security issues, and they do—but if the users are choosing to make these changes and are sufficiently warned, I think they’re worth making anyway. Security is important—but insisting on not implementing any feature that could ever conceivably diminish security in any way is no way to live. Security can be maintained while giving users more freedom, and Apple needs to embrace that.
Provide more tools for developers
But Apple can do more than just give more power directly to users. It can also empower developers to build more and better tools to give users even more of what they want. Apple’s introduction of home screen widgets in iOS 14 isn’t exactly what set off this trend—it was the apps that took advantage of that feature. Developers need to be part of the party, and they will come up with tricks that Apple never even considered.
Apple needs to seriously consider expanding its theme system beyond Light and Dark modes. Imagine a handful of official themes that users could choose from, and then every app on their device could adjust its appearance to reflect that theme. These themes could include color schemes and, yes, custom icons for every app. Consider it the logical extension of the custom background images that Apple builds for devices of different colors.
It’s also crystal clear that more widget features need to be on the agenda. More widget options for developers is a start. I’d like to see widgets be more interactive, and with more ability to react to the current status of the device. Whatever Apple did to build the iOS 14 widgets interface, it worked—now do more.
Finally, Apple needs to consider what other approaches it could take that would add more fun to iOS. More dynamic wallpapers! More sounds and sound customization options! Make it easier to make custom ringtones! All options should be on the table.
People like fun, and customizing their devices is fun. People will update their iPhones to get more ways to have fun. Apple wants people to update their iPhones. It’s a beautiful thing. Let’s make it happen.