Mobile phones have become a ‘must have’ gadget in our day to day life. It has become a necessary gadget, which can be used to perform countless functions and operations for us, rather than being a traditional communication device. Right from the moment we wake up till the time we hit the sack, we keep flipping the mobile screen for numerous kinds of functions.
Whenever we flip through the mobile screen, we usually see an application as a small icon, however few applications let you swap a larger image or icon, that let you access that application without even opening it. Every smart handheld device has many icons on screen which are called as ‘Widgets’, that lets a user to execute and perform a desired operation and allows the user to see necessary details on screen.
Now a day’s companies create their own widgets and publish on app store or supplied along with Android and iOS operating systems through which users can access details faster from the applications. Renowned applications like Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Gmail provide us an easier way to access the details immediately and can perform basic functions from the home screen. Widget usually add aesthetic impact to our home screens, at the same time it also offers plethora of information and features for the end-user.
What is a Widget?
An Application widget is a kind of a miniature of an application, which offers the basic functionality of an application, and it can be embedded in other application and receive periodic updates. In technical terms, we can consider them as ‘Views’ in the user interface, and it can be published with an Application widget provider. A component which holds other Application’s widgets is known as an Application Widget host.
Normally widgets are placed at home screen, which allows users to view the essential information right there without accessing the application separately. Nowadays, Tech organizations develop their own widgets to ensure their users can access their apps quickly. Several Tech companies like Google, LinkedIn, Accu-Weather, Spotify, and Gmail widgets offer end-users to access the basic functionalities from the home screen itself.
Different Types of Widgets for Android platform
As this article will talk about the widget planning and development of Android widgets, we will start with the types of widgets. We must think that what sort of widget we are planning to build. Widgets typically categorized into one of the below listed categories.
This is the most common widget we use in Android. Such widgets basically deliver important information that is useful for a user to track trends or variation in the details of a specific thing over the period. For example, Sports widget displays live score of an ongoing cricket match or Weather widgets shows information about climatic changes or clock widget. An associated application opens a full-fledged view of the widget information by pressing or touching the widget from the home screen. Just like a weather widget, which shows the current temperature at your location, but when we click on that, associated application opens and we can get lot of other information like humidity, wind and weather forecast for next few days.
A Collection widget is designed to display similar types of multitude elements in a single view. For example, a Photo gallery widget displays a collection of stored images in the images folder through a photo gallery application. News widget show a list of breaking news or articles those are trending. A mail widget shows the messages, emails, or notifications from an associated email client application. Collection widgets generally works on two basic use cases, to browse the collection from the data source and to open an item to get its detailed view for further use. Collection widgets is vertically scrollable as well, which gives a fair visibility to the end user.
List View widget:
List View is the most popular and commonly used widget. It displays its elements and items in liners fashion depending on the scroll direction. In this widget, the list items are inserted to the ongoing list automatically, it uses an adapter that fetches the content from a source, that could be a database or an array of items.
Grid View widget
It is used to display data in a grid. It provides features like sorting, paging, and filtering the data. This widget fetches the data from a database or an array and the presents that data in tabular form. A single data item is presented by an individual row of the table, the attribute of the data is represented by the columns. A Photo gallery or a File Explorer widget is a good example of Grid view widget.
The primary objective of control widget is to make frequently used functions visible for the end-user at a common place, so that use can execute these functions from the home screen and no need to open it from the settings of main applications. It works as a remote control for an application. For example, A music app (Spotify or Amazon Music) widget that allows to play music files , pause, skip, or share the files or tracks without opening the main music application.
Most of the widgets are constructed on basis of the above-mentioned types, many widgets are hybrid in nature that joins and combines various types of elements. We can design a widget, which could be based on the above-mentioned widget types, and we can incorporate other elements if required or as per the need of the project.
For an example, a music player which is basically a control widget, however we can combine multiple resources and details then it can work as an information widget as well. We can say that music widget is a combination of control and information widget. It also tracks the information of playing files and keep informed that user.
Widget Development Guide for Android Platform
You can also create your own widget for applications to provide more ease and functionality to the users. If you are planning to convert this idea into a fruitful business there is no doubt that endless opportunities are eagerly waiting for you, but the big question that we don’t know and don’t have enough knowledge where to begin.
In fact, the major obstacle is complex programming and coding also writing codes for an Android application is extremely complicated than any other thing. However, the good news is, it is not that much complicated process as it seems. One does need to learn Java and install Android development kit to start the widget development process. Apart from that a thorough knowledge and experience of development of android application is required.
An android application development process is an easy stuff, which even beginners can be very well versed with in few days. Android SDK is an essential component for android application development process. We require either Eclipse or Android Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE) to begin with. We also need virtual devices for creating an environment where we can test applications, so we can use JDK (Java Software Development Kit). The above-mentioned tools and components are essentials and should be in your system before you execute your application development or indulge yourself in API levels, screen sizes, and Google Play services etc.
Well the main objective of this comprehensive article is to assist beginners and professionals to create an android based widget or application easily and ultimate goal is to by following the below mentioned information and details at the end of this guide you will be able to design and create your own widget and android application. I assume that you are ready to take first step towards achieving your goals.
Before starting, we need to list the things that we should know before starting the development process. We have already discussed about the basic things which are required for Android Application Development.
- We must be familiar with Java, we do not need to be an expert, but yes, we should be aware of the functions and basic methodology of Java.
- We can use Eclipse or Android Studio as our Integrated Development Environment.
- Know and understand the basics of XML which is useful in designing android application.
- Be patient and practical as designing and building an android application is a time-consuming process.
- Be resourceful, if encountered with difficulties so take help from different forums like Stack overflow or GitHub.
Android Widget Guidelines
As we know, widgets are miniature of a full-fledged application, it comes with few limitations too. It is necessary to know and understand the limitations of functionalities of widgets before starting to design a widget.
Widget generally executes from the home screen of your device and now a day’s smart phones have adopted navigation functions so widget should be co exists along with the navigation functions. This restricts the motion uphold that is accessible in a gadget in contrast with the full-screen application. An application could support a view page that offers an ability of navigation between multiple screens to the customer, however the same gesture is already been taken on the home screen to allow navigation between home panel, hence it could create conflicts for the widget functionality.
We have following gestures available for widgets.
- Vertical swipe
You may have got some brief idea about the limitations about the widget by reading above details. Due to above mentioned limitations for interaction and navigation, some of the User Interface building blocks, which basically rely on restricted gestures could not be made available for widgets. Hence, we must plan the Widget elements accordingly.
3. Widget content
Widgets play a vital role for overall user interface of a smart phones also it enhances the using experience. It is being used as a tool to attract the users towards the applications and now developers have developed widgets to draw attention of the users towards interesting and attractive content of your application. So, you can advertise products on your widgets too.
On widget you see a smaller view of a breaking news, once you click or tap on it the main application initiates and get the information in a broader way on screen. So, developer must be aware of the kind of information your widget displays to the end user.
4. Widget Navigation
Your widget should offer the navigation capability to access the frequently used components of the application. It should also offer the information in pure and accurate form, that will help the consumers to complete the task promptly and extends the functional reach of the application to the home screen of the device.
Examples of navigation links on widget.
- Generative functions: Users can create new content or information or any message for the application by using it.
- Open application at higher level: If user taps on an information element, this should help user navigate lower level detail screen of the application. Allowing more accessibility to the application’s top level will provide more flexibility of application navigation and can remove a dedicated application shortcut, which users utilize to navigate the applications from the phone’s home screen. Utilizing your application symbol as a feature can help your widget getting a distinct personality, which obviously needed if you are displaying an ambiguous information.
5. Widget Resizing
This functionality allows the users to resize or adjust the widget size on screen as per their need by a long press or following release. User can user the drag handles to set the widget as per the desired size.
A long press and subsequent release set resizable widgets into resize mode. Users can use the drag handles or the widget corners to set the desired size. Widgets can be designed freely resizable or constrained to vertical or horizontal size. We certainly not need to worry about resizing if widget is based on fixed size manner.
Widget resizing offers following advantages.
- Users can set the widget to get enough information as per their need
- They may impact the format of gadgets and alternate routes to their home screen.
Resizing of a widget is completely depends on what sort of widget we are planning and designing. Its known that grid-based collection or List widgets are simple and straight as widget resizing will squeeze or expand the vertical scrolling area on screen also user can scroll all the information and included elements.
On other hand Information widgets requires more brainstorming and planning, as we know that Information widget does not have scroll ability, and all information elements on it must fit within the grid area. In such a case developer must effectively adjust the content, layout, and elements, via resizing function as defined by the end-user.
Let us discuss an example of weather widget, where user can resize it horizontally in few steps and avail much wider information about the weather including different locations or live view as you switch between places.
6. Layout Considerations
It is fascinating to create layout of the widget as per the grid’s dimensions of a specific device as it varies, and every device has different dimensions. It beneficial to know the dimension or approximate value however few points can help you on the way.
- It very important for a widget to be flexible and harbor space dynamically as cells dimensions, spacing, numbers of every devices are different.
- As we know that when a consumer tries to resize a widget or make any changes in it the android system become responsive for range of DP size, that allows a widget to redraw by itself. Here, we would like to recommend that, always make your strategy of widget resizing based on size buckets instead of variable grid to get the best output.
7. Widget Configuration
Android widget should be able to provide configuration selection options on home screen; it must have fewer but important option on it to make it lighter. Instead of including full screen activities to display use dialog box style to create more space and you can use multiple dialogs. Many a times widget can be designed or setup before so user can utilize it effectively. For example, an email widget which is place on home screen, where we need configure an email account name before getting details of the mailbox or static Picture widget where user must assign pictures from the photo gallery manually. Or when you place Play widget on home screen so it asks to declare or assign the media type that widget should display. Once you setup or configured the widget as desired so it is not required to make changes in it frequently. Also, android widgets hide the Setup of configuration button.
- You always be focused on viewable area to display the required information on your widget. For that you can expand or explore the elements in your application.
- Always select the correct type of the visit to fulfill your needs.
- If you are dealing with resizable widgets, you must plan that details which will be placed into and display through the widget should be adjustable and adaptable with the different sizes.
- You need to be sure that widget should be independent of orientation of the device.
Widget Design tips
We must ensure the following things should be incorporated in a widget to make it popular among the end-users.
Widget should allow resizing –
You can allow users to draw and resize the widgets to create various versions of app widgets this will allow you to understand the different dimension within the constraints of android home screen.
Make sure that widget display on important details on home screen –
Like trending news or highlights if you are thinking about the News based widget. The main objective of the widget must be to consolidate the highlights or important information of the main app and route the user to main app to get the detailed information.
A Widget must have the elements to facilitate navigation –
It is always recommended to add adequate navigation buttons, which helps end-user to access the updates, details or route the consumer to the applications home screen or settings area if required.
Widget must offer ability to pin widgets –
This ability was introduced when Android 8.0 Oreo was launched, it included launchers programs that offer the developers to pinned an application shortcut and to pin application widgets to the launcher. Like a pinned shortcut, pinned widgets allow users to access certain kind of task in the application. It is easy to install or implement
Allow widget configuration –
Few widgets required some additional work regarding settings and configuration before they execute which attracts and allow extreme customization. Android based widgets shows their configuration options when its placed on the home screen. So, it is advisable that no include more than 33 configuration choices.
Widget Development Steps
Creation of Widget XML file –
The first thing we need to create is AppWidgetProviderInfo object. It should be defined in a separate widget XML file. We have to Right click on Project and then create a new folder named as ‘xml’, then right click on this folder and then create a new XML file. We must ensure that resource type of this XML file set to AppWidgetProvider. We can define multiple properties in this xml file
Creation of Widget layout –
In this step we have to define the layout for the proposed widget in our default XML file. We can drag different components to create auto xml. This layout file is an important component of an android widget, it defines the looks and feel of a widget. It contains various properties like, Size of the widget, Resizing possibilities, Update interval, or Preview image in the widget menu.
Creation of Widget Java File –
Once we are done with the Layout definition, we must create a fresh JAVA file for widget. This is an important class as it defines all the logics a widget may use; it also describes what will happen if a widget is updated in future. We can also use any existing Java file and it could be extended with AppWidgetProvider class. We can also override its update method, where we can define the object of two classes which are and RemoteViews and PendingIntent.
Creation of Widget actions class –
As described above, the AppWidgetProvider extends BroadcastReceiver class. The SimpleAppWidget is indirectly a child of BroadcastReceiver class, and our widget class will act as a receiver class.
Enter the Widget configuration in the AndroidManifest.xml file –
You also must declare the AppWidgetProvider class in your manifest file.
Testing the Application –
Once the application is created, we can run the application on an android emulator or any external Android device, where application can be debugged. We can test various gestures, features and functions of the widget and make necessary changes if required. An emulator helps us to check the layout of the widget.
Run the Widget –
Now we can run our widget, we are assuming that an actual android device should be connected to the computer. To run the widget from Android studio, we must open the project’s activity files and click on ‘Run’ icon available in the tool bar. We must select the connected mobile device as an option and then check your mobile device which will show our default screen. Then we must go to the widget section, add the developed widget to the home screen or Desktop. Now we have to tap on the widget button to launch it. Here, it is important to note that our system/mobile should be connected to the internet to avail the full functionality of the widget.
As we are already aware, that widgets are indeed an integral part of Android ecosystem. It is unarguably the most used feature by the end-users, who love to use the widget, instead of launching the associated application. We must explore various kind of widgets and learn how to design and develop Widget?, as it will make our applications complete and more user-friendly and enhance the end-user experience as well. We must follow the given guidelines and tips to make the widget creation process effective and easy.
Rahul Mathur is the founder and managing director of ARKA Softwares, a company renowned for its outstanding mobile app development and web development solutions as well as specialized in Android and iOS app development. Delivering high-end modern solutions to all over the globe, Rahul takes pleasure in sharing his experiences and views on the latest technological trends.