MacOS Widgets Deserve Better

Stephen Hackett:

Notification Center is a real mess. Even on a Pro Display XDR, you get three visible notifications. That’s it. Anything older is hidden behind a button, regardless of how many widgets you may have in the lower section of the Notification Center column.

Apple needs to rethink this and let this new class of widgets breathe, being able to use the entire screen like the widgets of yore could. Bringing back Dashboard is an obvious solution here, and I’d love to see it make a return.

Hackett’s screenshots of Dashboard make me nostalgic for that uniquely mid-2000s blending of pseudo-realistic textures and clean formatting. Dashboard was the epitome of that sort of thing — remember the water ripple effect when you dropped a widget onto the Dashboard layer? That made no sense but was absolutely perfect. I miss subtler textural elements like that or the perforated metal tray of available widgets. Sheets of frosted glass have run their course.

Anyway, I am not sure that bringing Dashboard back to life is the right direction, but I would love to see something happen to make widgets and Notification Centre feel more considered and less of a junk drawer. I feel similarly about the many spatial layers of MacOS, like Launchpad and Mission Control — something about them has not quite solidified for me.1

One more thing: in a footnote, Hackett points out how these widgets were interactive. They were interesting in other ways, too. All of them were built with web technologies using a specific IDE Apple created called Dashcode, which it launched in 2006. At WWDC 2007, when Steve Jobs announced the “sweet solution” for iPhone apps, Dashcode was envisioned as a way to build those web apps. The idea was that developers could take their existing Mac OS X widget and convert it to work as an iPhone web app. That, obviously, was not well-received, and an official SDK for native apps was launched the following year. Dashboard withered and died, but not before Dashcode bit the dust. Yet, it took until just a couple of years ago for widgets to once again be a multi-platform effort, now with SwiftUI and, as Hackett wrote, without interactivity. Curious.

  1. I really like Apple’s trackpad gestures for all of these things, especially since they became tracked to your fingers entirely in real-time several years ago. It would be cool if the full-hand pinch gesture was used for something Dashboard-esque. ↥︎