An updated patent application may shed some light on Apple's future plans for widgets, the helpful little desktop accessories many of us have grown used to in the Mac OS X Dashboard. The application, entitled "Workflow Widgets
," talks about widgets that live in the cloud and be shared by multiple computers, including Macs, Windows and Linux machines as well as mobile devices. Given that Apple specifically prohibited widget apps in its latest App Store guidelines
, this may indicate a new focus on widgets in iOS as well as Mac OS X.
Widgets have been around since Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in the Dashboard. Offering one-button access to a sort of "alternate desktop" with frequently used mini-programs like a calendar and calculator, as well as live-updated web applications, the feature has long been rumored
to make its way to iOS. However, with Fast App Switching functionality in iOS 4, much of that functionality exists with current apps. At the same time, though, widget apps were dropped from the App Store starting last year, and the new App Store guidelines released on Thursday
warn that "apps that... simulate multi-app widget experiences will be rejected," indicating that Apple may be carving this turf out for itself.
The "Workflow Widgets" patent, revealed by AppleInsider
, does talk about widgets on desktop computers, Web browsers, and "multi-touch sensitive displays," which would seem to refer to iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. As the application explains, "users may find it difficult to navigate to a particular user interface element or to locate a desired element among a large number of onscreen elements. The patent would overcome this difficulty by enabling a "dashboard layer" for quick access to widgets. The widgets described in the patent go beyond the functionality of current widgets, including interactivity with multiple devices through what's called a "workflow communication manager. The application gives an example of a "Party Planner Widget," which would be a sort of interactive e-vite that allows guests to RSVP, say what food they are bringing to the party or add other information. The party planner would receive the updated information and could push those updates out to the other guests' widgets.
The patent is credited to Scott Forstall, the Apple senior vice president of iOS software and one of the main architects on Mac OS X, as well as Apple engineers John Louch, Eric Peyton and Imran Chaudhri, who were also on the patent for Apple's ExposŤ technology.