UPDATE: The Launcher app mentioned below is no longer available on the App Store, but widgets remain an exciting area for future app development.
One of the highly-anticipated features in iOS 8 is the addition of widgets to the Notification Center on your iPhone or iPad. These can be accessed at any time by swiping down from the top of your screen and are located in the “Today” view. Prior to iOS 8, you were limited to displaying only a few pieces of information here, like a basic weather report, upcoming calendar events and reminders. With iOS 8, you can now add third-party widgets, making the Notification Center much more useful and informative. Think of these as extensions to the apps you already have installed, allowing you to see important pieces of information without having to launch the app itself.
When you first access the “Today” view in iOS 8, you will see the standard Apple widgets, similar to what you had with iOS 7. But at the bottom of the list you will see a new “Edit” button – tapping this will allow you to organize and add new widgets to the view. Under the “Do Not Include” label at the bottom of this screen you will see a list of available widgets to display here. iOS 8 is relatively new still and you’ll probably notice that most of your apps don’t offer widgets yet since app developers have to manually add this functionality. A few of the big app developers have already added widgets to their apps like the Weather Channel (iPhone only), Yahoo Weather, Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed.
One of our favorite widgets uses this technology to provide a variety of shortcuts instead of displaying news and app updates. The free Launcher app adds a widget that includes customizable shortcuts to perform a variety of actions including launching apps, calling or messaging contacts, launching websites and more. Unlike the application and website shortcuts you add might add to the dock or home screen, you can access these at any time by swiping down from the top of the screen when in another app or from the lock screen. We’ve found this useful to add aviation website shortcuts here to allow quick access to the ones you visit most often. And on your phone you’ll find it useful to add shortcuts to call or message your favorite contacts.
Developers have only scratched the surface with the widgets in iOS 8 and we expect to see a lot more available in the near future. It would be nice to see some of the aviation apps add widgets to allow quick access to pre-flight information, like METARs, TAFs, NOTAMs, radar imagery, etc. The great thing is developers can allow users to customize the information displayed in the widget so the possibilities are nearly endless. Make it a point in the months ahead to periodically check the Edit function on the widgets screen to see what new options are available as more apps add this functionality.