Earlier today, we reported that Apple had been granted its long-awaited multi-touch patent. Now, many have dug into the patent to find references to a possible future feature: custom widgets. Could Apple have left such a clear clue on purpose?
Widgets were introduced in iOS 5, just weeks ago, but only Apple-created widgets are allowed, at least without jailbreaking the device. These mini-Apps are displayed the phones brand-new Notification Center. Although this patent was submitted as early as December 2007, it couldn’t make it more clear:
In some embodiments, UI 400A or 400B provides integrated access to both widget-based applications and non-widget-based applications. In some embodiments, all of the widgets, whether user-created or not, are displayed in UI 400A or 400B. In other embodiments, activating the icon for user-created widget 149-6 may lead to another UI that contains the user-created widgets or icons corresponding to the user-created widgets.
There are several references to widgets all over the filing, although it’s quite unclear why it took Apple almost 4 years to implement this feature. There’s the possibility that this feature got delayed, or somehow changed, or maybe Apple’s filing wasn’t referring to "widgets" as we know them at all. Back in 2007, Apple intended to to have Web Apps as its main form of third-party development on iOS: it’s possible that by "widgets", Apple meant elaborate Web Apps that seamless integration with the features in iOS. That strategy has backfired and Apple now offers a real SDK, like it has for several years now, but it could have been serious about pushing its web development model back when it filed this patent.
Although custom widgets aren’t allowed officially, iOS 5 has since been jailbroken and developers have already figured out how to develop widgets for iOS. The first ever released widget was UISettings, which allowed users to access system settings, including turning Wi-Fi on and off or respringing the phone, all straight from the device’s Notification Center. And even more remarkably, it was created by a 14-year-old.
It’s still unclear whether we’ll see official custom widgets and whether this patent actually referred to their existence, years before they were baked into iOS. Whatever the case might be, custom widgets seem to be the next logical step for a platform as mature as iOS.