Another take on widgets, notifications, feeds and information

The other thread about how widgets are the future of iOS got me thinking. People want to be able to quickly get to relevant information. I would even go as far as saying that that's the whole point of having a phone and a big part of owning a tablet. A lot of people seem convinced that widgets are the way to make this information available.

Widgets sound pretty good in theory. Instead of an icon that takes you inside an app, you've got a small version of the app itself, removing the need to actually open the app. Put several of those on one screen, and you don't need to open and close multiple apps in order to see everything that's going on. Widgets save you all those little swipes and taps that add up and start to annoy you after some time.

But if widgets are so great, then why are they so annoying and make me feel hunting for information even more (i know, i know. Matter of preference. This post reflects my opinion only, and i'm aware of that)?

Android already has widgets (and Windows Phone has Livetiles), Android users swear they are awesome and they always come up as the one thing iOS users like most about Android. I used a Nexus 7 for a few weeks, and i used widgets a lot. Well, at least i thought so. In reality, i spend a lot of time tuning my homescreen, arranging widgets, never being satisfied. The things i actually used widgets for boil down to what the little badges iOS puts on apps do: See what's up, then opening the app to take action. 99% of the time i opened the app the widget was supposed to replace for most use cases. Also, all those widgets needed a lot of space, so i spread them out across the available homescreens. You know, because that's still faster than opening every single app. But all this swiping between homescreens was really annoying, especially when i was inside an app and wanted to take a look at something that wasn't on the center homescreen. Of course you could argue it's still better than the way iOS handles this, and you'd probably be right (although i never had an experience like this on my iPad mini). But i am not convinced this is how the future of iOS should look like. I think we need another solution.

Let me narrow it down even further. There are essentially two types if information you want to pick up on your device:

  1. Things the user should be notified about right away, without him having to hunt for information manually. These include EMail, instant messages, reminders, etc.
  2. Things the user needs to know on an on-demand basis. The user always manually looks for information of this type. It includes feeds from news sources / social networks, weather, calendar, stock, etc.

iOS already handles the first kind of information pretty good. If you wake your device, you see everything that's been going on while you were away. Then while using the device you get notifications. You always know about the things that are important, and i never found myself opening the EMail application or a similar app to see if i missed something. If you still forgot, because you have a weak memory, you can open the Notification Center with one swipe, system wide. I don't think there is much room for improvement here (well, notifications could be less obtrusive and it'd be great if you could take action on them without opening the app that send them, but you get the idea), so let's focus on the second kind of information.

What iOS is lacking is a way staying up to date with stuff you don't want to be notified about constantly. But you don't want to navigate around the OS searching for new things either. So what's the solution?

Back to widgets. Most people will say the solution is widgets, because widgets are what most companies use as their solution. People know them, they are an obvious choice. But do they actually solve the problem? In my opinion, no. You still end up navigating around the OS, hunting for information. It might be faster than opening multiple apps in some cases, but it's the same annoying process. Also it makes me feel even more overwhelmed by information than hiding it inside applications, but that might be just a personal preference.

Since i don't want to end my post saying everything is bad but others should come up with a solution, here is what i would like to see:

I want some kind of newsticker. Apps can send stuff to the ticker, which will organize everything by source or by time. Like an RSS reader, but available to all applications you want to be up to date with. You can open it just like the Notification Center with a swipe from one of the edges wherever you are, and it holds everything you might be navigation around the OS for otherwise. Of course i'd be essentially a second Notification Center for silent notifications, but that's ok. It'd help you organize your information by priority.

Oh, and personally i'd like a small strip of pixels the size of the statusbar dedicated to the newsticker, with floating preview text whenever something is added to the ticker. You know, like they have on news channels on the TV.