iOS widgets and the eternal debate between freedom and control

widgets on iOS

IOS 14 has arrived and with it, the widgets. The ability to use these visuals on the iPhone or iPad desktop has created an almost inevitable trend: to have users of these devices personalize their desktop in ways that Apple has never wanted to facilitate.

This option has generated a debate that goes beyond “you are destroying iOS widgets with those customizations”: Apple has always been in favor of control, security and consistency, but the impact of small applications such as Widgetsmith or Shortcuts has shown that there are users of iOS who want more options and freedom to make iOS look the way they want (it seems more or less successful), and not what Apple wants. Who is wrong and who is right?

Personalize your desktop as an expression of freedom

In Android, customizing the desktop is one of the many options with which the Google platform, for better or for worse, cedes control to the user. There are various applications that allow us to transform the visual experience into a very different one and that affects the icons, widgets, launchers or any other visual and functional element of those desktops.

In iOS things have always been much more corseted , and only the arrival of iOS 14 offers something more customization capacity with widgets support. The possibility of creating new widgets has been used by small utilities like WidgetSmith.

iOS widget
iOS widget customization

Suddenly, users have used it for things that Apple probably does not see favorably, especially since the Cupertino company has always maintained a tight control not only on how things are done on its platforms, but also on how they have to be design and see things in all of them .

iOS widget customization
iOS widgets

For example, the documentation of its Human Interface Guidelines demonstrates this . There Apple makes it clear that the idea is to focus on interactive widgets that display information dynamically, and in fact discourages, for example, “creating a widget that only launches your application.”
That has not seemed to be so relevant for many users: thanks to WidgetSmith what they have created are static widgets in which they simply present an image or some type of message.

iOS widget
iOS widget

Something similar has happened with the icons of the applications , that Apple does not allow to change for the good ones but that can be customized in a somewhat cumbersome way through the Shortcuts application integrated as standard in iOS 14.

Freedom and more options, or control and consistency? You choose (or maybe not)

Both options have created the perfect storm for Apple in the field of personalization, and that has reactivated that eternal debate about the philosophy of a company that has always fought for control and consistency in the face of freedom and the options that other platforms pose.
They do, for example, Android on mobile or Windows 10 and -especially- Linux on the desktop , but even macOS has opened the doors to that greater customization of the desktop of its desktops that at the moment Apple seems not to want to offer officially on iOS .

The truth is that the positions have been very defined and clear for some time. Apple loves to control everything and that users can only do the things they leave and how they leave them.

The lack of customization is one of the things that they do not give access to, but before other things were, such as not being able to choose which browser or email client we wanted to use by default in iOS, something that ( finally we can ) do after arrival of the latest version of this mobile platform.

The list of things that could not be done in iOS and that Apple has finally been granting is interesting, and shows a certain inclination to end up giving in in certain specific sections after pressure from users, the industry or (of course) regulatory bodies .

The truth is that that does not matter to most iOS users, who choose this platform precisely because they like that consistency and that security that they perceive that Apple provides in iOS : less openness means less risk that someone will do something wrong with your platform, and those who choose an iPhone or iPad do so in part because of that. They sacrifice some freedom to win at other things.

For others, of course, the sacrifice is exaggerated. Why can’t Apple open up a bit to other options and let us own a little more of what we buy? Why can’t I just put the icons I would like on my iPhone and leave it as tacky (or awesome) as I want?

Apple seems to have it clear: we want a consistent and recognizable visual experience, and that means that we are not going to let you customize the iOS desktop (easily). If you want that freedom, you have other platforms to do it.
For some analysts the question at least in the field of personalization is simple. It doesn’t matter whether users design horrendous desktops or do great things – what matters is the ability to do it . What many of these users are asking for – and personalization, let’s remember, is a narrow niche – is freedom of expression.

That Apple does not offer it is a problem for some of them, and we wonder if these unofficial methods of personalization will end up being persecuted by a company that has always been clear about how it should protect its legacy.

The flip side of personalization: it can also be a business

A designer nicknamed Traf downloaded iOS 14 onto his iPhone as soon as it was available. Upon discovering these new customization options, he decided to create a series of icons with which to give his mobile desktop the look he wanted. After two hours, he shared the results of his work on Twitter and realized that it had a pull.

What did? Create a set of icons ready to be easily downloaded and used, upload them to an online store and advertise on their networks: if they liked the look of your iPhone, they would still want to buy your icon pack. It was only $ 28.

A day later, Traf has found that 330 people have bought that pack . He has already earned more than $ 9,000 and has shown that personalization can become a juicy business.

Apple does not have such a section in the App Store, but as our colleague Antonio Sabán said, Apple could offer an interesting way for both designers and users to enjoy this ecosystem of icons and also increase its benefits in the App Store.

It is a model that, for example, has triumphed on other platforms – Android included, of course – and that has generated spectacular parallel businesses such as the one that surrounds WordPress : stores such as ThemeForest, from Envato, function exceptionally as a point of meeting (and source of income) for designers and users of this blog platform.

Personalization is a business in other very clear areas as well – the dials of our smart watches prove it – but Apple seems not to want to open that option. You are wrong? For many of those who are now taking advantage of this opportunity to personalize the look of their mobile, of course it is.

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