Archive for February 12, 2022

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Improving macOS Widgets

Stephen Hackett:

Apple killed off Dashboard at exactly the wrong time. Just one year after Catalina killed Dashboard, Apple started allowing developers to bring their iOS widgets over to the Mac in macOS Big Sur. Sadly, they all got stuffed into the slide-out Notification Center user interface[…]

Notification Center is a real mess. Even on a Pro Display XDR, you get three visible notifications. That’s it.

They’re narrow, too.

I was not a heavy user of Dashboard, but I miss it because the new iOS-style widgets are a huge regression. They’re not interactive. They generally have fewer features or display less information than their iOS counterparts, despite having access to the Mac’s larger display. And they’re unreliable. My Mac frequently forgets all my widgets. I configure them all again. They persist for a few reboots, then sometime in the middle of the day they’ll spontaneously disappear again.

Steve Troughton-Smith:

Widgets need a permanent home in the Mac UI, not hidden off in a Notification Center nobody looks at anyway. Alternative would be massively improving Launchpad to work much more like SpringBoard, and allow you to set that in place of your desktop

John Gruber:

But forcing them into Notification Center on MacOS is poorly considered. The Mac has bigger displays than any iPad, yet has less screen real estate for visible widgets than an iPhone.

Nick Heer:

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.


When Mac OS X 10.7 launched in 2011, Dashboard stopped being an overlay and became a separate page accessed via a swipe gesture, hotkey, or the LaunchPad. By OS X 10.10, Dashboard was disabled by default, and in macOS 10.15, it was removed from the OS entirely.


Many factors contributed to the success of widgets in iOS 14. First, Widgets became more customizable and provided users with the content they care about. Second, Widgets became more prominent; rather than being relegated to the side panel, Widgets adorned a user's Home Screen however they liked (a 'however they liked' that remains strictly restrained by Apple as to the placement and size of said Widgets). And lastly, third-party apps flooded the App Store allowing for the creation of custom Widgets which furthered the degree of personalization available. This personalization for content, coupled with increased visibility and an enthusiastic developer base, propelled Widgets to popularity. With Dashboard on Mac OS X, Apple did little to promote or enhance the platform beyond its initial release, and widgets were slowly set adrift into a sea of forgotten features.

JF Martin:

This is what we get: a small, vertical, cramped band of widgets. The interface is complex, slow even of fast Macs. I don’t know why Apple is confining them in this small and constrained space, maybe for the sake of some sort of cohesive visual experience to Apple’s other hardware platforms. This design is based on arbitrary rules that we, the users, cannot be related to anything as we have the big screen has a reference. I don’t think Apple had to create such an experience just to make it easy to select a widget and its size. I find it surprising that nobody thought of mocking up a better way of managing widgets in the modern era.


Update (2022-02-16): Stuart Breckenridge:

For all of the reasons in this article—and more—we decided not to implement widgets in #NetNewsWire on macOS.

Riccardo Mori:

The usefulness of Dashboard and the concept of the ‘desk accessory’ or widget started waning for me as soon as I got my first iPhone in 2008. Ironically enough, for many quick tasks and quick information retrieval, the iPhone has become the tangible desk accessory. In a way, fetching the smartphone to check things like the weather forecast, the status of a package that I should receive soon, or to make a calculation or unit conversion, is less disruptive of the workflow I’m having on the Mac than having an overlay or a dedicated space within the Mac UI itself.


Konfabulator’s approach was to embed the widgets in the desktop itself, where they remained, beneath all open windows and apps, always ready to be glanced at when needed, and existing rather unobtrusively when not. If you needed to customise them, you could do so by using the Konfabulator menu extra or by right-clicking on them directly.


A similar approach can also be seen in Panic’s Stattoo, an app developed in 2004–2006 that certainly didn’t want to replace Konfabulator or Dashboard, but whose idea was to offer a limited selection of widgets that could be placed on your desktop and display useful information like weather, date/time, battery status, song playing in iTunes, email headers, even RSS feeds.

The Time to Fix Web Security Bugs

Bruce Lawson:

One of the reasons Apple gives for the #AppleBrowserBan is to protect user’s privacy and security by fixing bugs quickly:

“By requiring use of WebKit, Apple can provide security updates to all our users quickly and accurately, no matter which browser they decide to download from the App Store.”

Ryan Schoen, Project Zero (Hacker News):

Specifically: after a vendor receives a report of a security issue, how much of the “time to fix” is spent between the bug report and landing the fix, and how much time is spent between landing that fix and releasing a build with the fix?


Chrome is currently the fastest of the three browsers, with time from bug report to releasing a fix in the stable channel in 30 days. The time to patch is very fast here, with just an average of 5 days between the bug report and the patch landing in public.


WebKit is the outlier in this analysis, with the longest number of days to release a patch at 73 days.


For Apple, we’re pleased with the acceleration of patches landing, as well as the recent lack of use of grace periods as well as lack of missed deadlines.


Dynamic MacBook Pro Schematic Wallpapers


After releasing the MacBook Pro schematics, it became obvious that they lacked an element that I had often included in some of my earlier works: dynamic mode. This specially formatted .heic file automatically changes the wallpaper based on Mac’s appearance (i.e., light or dark mode). When I initially released the wallpapers, I just didn’t have the time or energy to create a complementary set of night-mode wallpapers. But over the past few weeks, whenever a moment presented itself, I have been slowly designing a collection of dynamic wallpapers for both the 14 & 16-inch MacBook Pro. These wallpapers complement existing styles: Cyborg Red, Matrix Green, Deep Teal, Rainbow, M1 Pro, & M1 Max with a ‘Dark Mode’ version combined into a dynamic wallpaper.


Microsoft’s Open App Store Principles

Brad Smith:

This regulatory process begins while many governments are also moving forward with new laws to promote competition in app markets and beyond. We want regulators and the public to know that as a company, Microsoft is committed to adapting to these new laws, and with these principles, we’re moving to do so.


We want to enable world-class content to reach every gamer more easily across every platform. We want to encourage more innovation and investment in content creation and fewer constraints on distribution. Put simply, the world needs open app markets, and this requires open app stores. The principles we’re announcing today reflect our commitment to this goal.


We will hold our own apps to the same standards we hold competing apps.

We will not use any non-public information or data from our app store to compete with developers’ apps.


We will treat apps equally in our app store without unreasonable preferencing or ranking of our apps or our business partners’ apps over others.


We will not require developers in our app store to use our payment system to process in-app payments.


We will not prevent developers from communicating directly with their customers through their apps for legitimate business purposes, such as pricing terms and product or service offerings.


Nonetheless, we recognize that we will need to adapt our business model even for the store on the Xbox console. Beginning today, we will move forward to apply Principles 1 through 7 to the store on the Xbox console.

Florian Mueller:

In 2020, Microsoft declared itself in agreement with app store principles laid out by the Coalition for App Fairness (without joining the organization), yet left open the question of whether and when those principles should apply not only to mobile devices and Windows, but also to gaming consoles like the Xbox. Apple pointed, and will keep pointing, to gaming consoles in its defense against Epic Games. On the one hand, it’s understandable that Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers was wondering--especially in light of some Epic-internal emails along the lines of “why go after Apple, not Sony?”--why Epic was suing Apple rather than the makers of platforms on which it makes a lot more money and, therefore, pays far greater commissions to platform owners. And she worried about spill-over effects of whatever she would decide (though a case like that doesn’t really matter much until the appeals court has spoken). On the other hand, smartphones and consoles are not even an apples-to-oranges comparison: even the minority of consumers who own a gaming console at all have a smartphone in reach 24 hours a day, and access to a console for only a fraction of that time. Therefore, during large parts of the day, and in countless everyday situations, a smartphone is our only computing device at hand, while we always have alternatives to a gaming console[…]


Apple has made itself “the Enemy of the States” (1, 2). The only ally it has left is Google, and even Google is urging Apple to support an open messaging standard rather than cash in on classism and bullying.


Microsoft aims to be the Gorbachev of app store governance. It considers the opening up of these platforms as inevitable--a question of when, not if.

Becky Hansmeyer:

As I think about Microsoft cleverly positioning themselves as a developer’s best friend, I can’t help but assume that Apple execs are whining “they’re making us look like the bad guys!” instead of asking themselves, “ARE we the bad guys?”


Update (2022-03-09): See also: Hacker News.