We're very close to getting our first official glimpse at iOS 17, with the next version of Apple's iPhone software likely getting a preview during the WWDC 2023 keynote on June 5. So I imagine iPhone users are mulling over their iOS 17 wish lists, hoping for certain features to make the grade for the next version. I know I am.
We've already heard a few choice rumors, like Apple apparently planning to turn your iPhone into a kind of a smart screen when the phone is being charged. There's also been talk of potential overhauls for both the Wallet and Health apps and maybe even the possibility that Apple adds the ability to side load apps onto your iPhone without having to jailbreak the device.
All of those sound all right by me, save for maybe the side-loading rumor to which I am wholly indifferent. But if I had to pick one change that was an iron-clad lock for iOS 17, it wouldn't be any of those. Instead, I'd focus on Active Widgets.
Good news for me, then — a rumor surfaced back in April that Apple was considering the possibility of including Active Widgets with this year's update.
Of course, there's a lot of ground between "considering" and "actually doing," with even the leaker who brought up the possibility of Active Widgets acknowledging it was far from a done deal. The active widgets feature is "in testing, but not confirmed by any means," tweeted someone by the handle of analyst941, a Twitter account that's since been deleted.
I'm hoping that the Active Widgets rumor will wind up being the real deal, as I think such a move would continue a trend in recent iOS updates that puts the information you need right at your fingertips.
A brief history of widgets
Before we get into why Active Widgets would be a welcome addition to iOS 17, let's talk about how widgets have evolved on your iPhone over the years. Don't worry — we don't have to go back too far in time, as widgets only became a significant part of Apple's iPhone software in 2014.
Back in those days, widgets lived on the phone's Notification Center under a Today tab. Widgets helpfully provided quick glances at key info — the scores of games involving your favorite team, for example, or upcoming calendar appointments. Widgets were helpful, but kind of out of the way.
It wasn't until iOS 14 that widgets truly took flight, as that 2020 update gave you the ability to put widgets on your home screen. If you're like me, you've found it in your favorites in the ensuing years. I've got a widget on my primary home screen that shows the weather at my current location, and I've got a stacked widget elsewhere that rotates between my to-dos, the battery status of my AirPods, the shows I'm currently watching through the TV app and random pictures pulled from my Photos library.
Widgets took the next step forward with last year's iOS 16 update. Now you can place them on your lock screen so that you can see how close are to meeting your Move goal or you can see headlines and to-dos.
How Active Widgets moves things forward
All that is useful, but widgets in their current format are pretty limited. Let's say you've got a widget that shows your current to-dos, one of which you've just knocked off. If you want to mark that to-do as complete, you can tap the widget — but that's only going to launch the Reminders app which is where you go to manage your to-dos. If you want to do it in the widget itself, you can't.
And that's where Active Widgets would come in. Instead of launching an app, tapping the widget would let you interact with it directly.
Specifically, analyst941 — our now-departed iOS leaker — claimed that Active Widgets would feature "one-tap buttons, sliders" and similar controls to turn those widgets into something other than shortcuts for launching an app. As I imagine it, you'll be able to mark messages as read from a widget or control playback.
It seems like a logical step forward and in keeping with some of the guiding principles Apple's used in recent iOS updates. The additional of widgets to the home screen made it easier to ensure that key information was just a glance away, and the iOS 16 update put that information in more places. Active Widgets would give you the ability to easily act upon that information.
Active Widgets outlook
That kind of power takes, well, power. And reportedly, the one thing standing between us and Active Widgets on our iPhones is how much power the feature consumes. If Apple can figure out a way to make widgets more dynamic without draining a phone's battery, the feature could be a go for iOS 17. If not, we'll probably have to content ourselves with whatever other changes the software update brings.
Put me down in the Active Widgets Now camp. I can think of few possible additions to iOS 17 that would make Apple's iPhone software more useful.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.