Android widgets are dying, and Google is their Grim Reaper

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google's Slices are a promising substitute for widgets but still very much a rarity

Android aficionados used to have home pages upon pages of functional widgets for just about everything. Scrollable full-screen one for Google News of yesteryear, another for tasks and to-do check-marking, a full weather list for the next week, you name it - everything within a simple glance without having to open the app at all. Or, so was the promise of widgets - to make you taller, richer and smarter, as P.J. O'Rourke once said. 

Now, however, the options seem to be deteriorating with each subsequent update to the master app, replaced by long-press app shortcuts or simply abandoned in development. I've got 181 apps installed, and just a third of them have accompanying widgets, and that includes the different widget size options of the same app. Some of those are functional and still used daily but haven't been updated for a while, while some others simply fell off the tracks.


Where did all the widgets go?


Google News (formerly the News&Weather widget) used to have a pretty functional one that could be resized to fit the whole screen and required you to only scroll through upon waking up to get caught up on what's happening in the world. 

With the app update and merger with Newsstand, however, it is now just a card that displays temperature and a short headline briefing, so you have to go to the app for the full list, or tap to change title slides manually within the widget. 

Keep Notes, a widget of Google's Keep notes and to-do list app scrolls your tasks but doesn't let you dismiss them from within the widget, so, again, you'd have to go to the app, and so on.

That's just Google, though, whose stock app widgets look fairly modern and consistent. 

In plenty of third-party apps, the once pride-and-glory Android widgets feel like an afterthought, as they haven't been updated together with their respective applications for a good while now and sport outdated or dysfunctional visuals that seem frozen in time. What happened?


Google strangles its own widget brainchild


Prior to Android 9 Pie, Google introduced the battery-saving features of Oreo and made developing widgets that need to be refreshed on a regular basis a nightmare. The background-killing processes were so overzealous that devs had to resort to taking them to the foreground, hence forcing a notification each time the widget updates its content.

Needless to say, this is not an ideal situation for app developers and users alike, and that is one of the reasons for the slow demise of the Android widget concept. That, and user fatigue, it seems, as many are just content with the clock/weather one that came on their phones' home screen, while a lot don't even know what is called a widget.

The concept may be replaced by Google's Slices, or by status bar widgets like Spotify's player controls, yet a few old-timers may always be there for Android users. The clock/weather widget has been an Android home screen staple for a while now and continues to be so. Ditto for tasks, calendars and to-do lists. Still, even after Google's recent Calendar app update, the widget remained untouched, with the same old interface and functionality as before.

Android's Slices are still a developing story, though, and while they were touted as Widgets 2.0 of sorts, the original 1.0 concept feels like it is slowly receding. Remember lock screen customization? Yeah, Android's home screen widgets might be going down that path, too. What do you think, is your widget stable updating on the regular, or have you given up on using them altogether?

Are you using Android widgets?

Yes
62.31%
No
17.56%
Just whatever clock/weather widget my phone came with
20.13%

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14 Comments

1. antroid

Posts: 387; Member since: Jan 24, 2018

The main reason why you have widgets is not to open apps and go to different menus it will take time and a few swipes away.

3. cmdacos

Posts: 4119; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Exactly. My main use is for quick visibility to the app's intents. Not for quick app access.

2. cmdacos

Posts: 4119; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

I currently have 70 apps that offer functional widgets and most of those have two or three variations on style or action. I don't really see any less availability or quality vs 3 years ago. In fact in terms of app integration it's quite the opposite.

4. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

I gave up widgets long time ago since I installed KLWP (together with Tasker). Much more functional and uniformity.

5. Panzer

Posts: 282; Member since: May 13, 2016

Agree been using KLWP for a while. A little learning curve especially if you like fancy animations. But an incredibly powerful app.

6. RebelwithoutaClue unregistered

Yup, it's not an app for technotard. Of course, you can always choose to install templates from either the library or the various developers in the Play store. There are some very nifty ones out there.

11. monoke

Posts: 1157; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

Kwgt here. Didn't like anything in play store so made my own.

7. tokuzumi

Posts: 1870; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

Only widget I really used was the Hangouts widget, as I use multiple Hangouts accounts. When they stopped supporting the widget a few years back, that really spelled the end of my widget use.

8. darkkjedii

Posts: 30973; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Keep widgets Google, I love em.

9. Leo_MC

Posts: 7243; Member since: Dec 02, 2011

People are still using widgets? I like the long press on the icons in Android (iOS was ahead with 3Dt - it still is somehow by showing a popup widget, now Android is ahead by making more options available, now it's time for iOS to increase the functionality with the so called haptic touch).

10. buccob

Posts: 2963; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

Too bad Apple is actually killing the 3DT functionality.... I only use the long press for Google Maps to quickly navigate home. As for widgets I use 5 right now without counting all shortcuts... Clock / Music / Todoist / Calendar / Sound Search Shortcuts are even more common in my phone, since they can be place inside folders... So I use direct contact callers, family location sharing, various settings shortcuts, and direct albums or artist to local music.

12. ShadowHammer

Posts: 202; Member since: Mar 13, 2015

I actually miss the Tiles on Windows Phone. Similar to widgets, but they just worked smoother and easier than widgets in my experience. Probably because they were integrated into the OS so heavily. I really like widgets for certain apps (weather, email, calendar, etc.), and will be sad to see them go, if Google doesn't come up with a reasonable alternative.

14. buccob

Posts: 2963; Member since: Jun 19, 2012

I actually use Tiles on Windows 10 with over 80 tiles on my Start Menu... but the "Live" tiles are, in my opinion, almost useless if there is no user interaction available... You only get to see them scroll (slowly) so you have to waste a little time to gather any info... For me, useful widgets in Android are the ones you can perform quick actions without opening the app... not quite possible in Windows 10... - Todoist widget is one of the best examples of a proper widget in Android, where you can add, check, edit, dismiss tasks.... - Todoist live tile in Windows 10 is good for showing me that there are pending tasks but nothing else....

13. wickedwilly

Posts: 668; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

Widgets on Android are still an essential feature and most apps I use come with widgets if you want to use them. I have two full screen calender widgets, one half screen agenda/ todo, direct dial and message widgets, clock, Drupe, optimize, remote control and I use Samsung Edge for lots of things. Widgets are a long way from being dead. 3DT has never come to Android as long press and widgets make it unnecessary.

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