Apple’s iOS 18 Doubles Down on Widget Mania and User Customization

Three iPhone screens displayed side-by-side. The left screen shows a home screen with widgets and apps, including a clock and weather widget. The middle screen displays a text conversation. The right screen showcases the Photos app, featuring recently taken pictures.

Four years after Apple first launched widgets for iOS 14, the feature gets new customization upgrades and sees its effects felt throughout the operating system.

When Widgets first came to iPhones in late 2020, it altered how users could interact with their smartphones. It allowed for information like weather or reminders to appear at a glance without having to open their specific apps. The look of the iPhone’s user interface felt fresh for the first time in years. Now, some of those ideas are spreading throughout iOS.

Widgets and Homescreen Updates

Widgets and apps on the home screen will have more freedom of movement. While the introduction of Widgets, which could come in varying sizes, changed up the traditional uniform grid system previously available on iPhones, users still had to keep them together. The home screen wouldn’t allow for a row of apps along the bottom or room for gaps, for instance.

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a photo album app with the cover image of Crater Lake during sunset. The screen shows categories like "Recent Days" and "People & Pets" with image thumbnails below. The phone has a black frame and a small notch on top.

In addition to more placement options, users can also make Widgets and apps appear differently, whether in dark mode or tinted to match a specific color. This feels like a long time coming as people have personalized app badges for years using the Shortcuts feature. This update doesn’t even go so far as to allow full customization.

More Control over Control Center

iOS’s control center, which appears when users swipe down from the top-right corner. From here, users have access to things like Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, and WiFi along with shortcuts to settings. It’s easy to change the volume or brightness, swap between Focus modes, or control audio.

It also has shortcuts to first-party Apple apps, allowing users to quickly open the camera or calculator, turn on the flashlight, or turn on Shazam to identify a song. But it’s been pretty limited.

With iOS 18, Control Center gets its own kind of Widget-ification. Users will be able to move these features around to create a more personalized layout, and it gets third-party app support. Similar to the way iPhone users can load up Widgets from any app that supports it, they can now add shortcuts to the control center. In the WWDC keynote, Apple used a control from the Ford app as an example, showing how users can cool down their cars right from the Control Center.

Photos Gets a Significant Redesign

Apple called the update of Photos the app’s “biggest redesign ever.” Whether or not the change is quite so dramatic is still up for debate but it does offer new features that can make it feel less like a data storage app and more like a virtual scrapbook.

A person stands in front of a large screen displaying a collage of various colorful photos and graphics. The screen is filled with images of people, nature, food, and activities, all brightly colored and diverse, inside a modern, well-lit indoor space.

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a photo thumbnail of a fluffy dog on the screen, labeled "Favorites." The phone's interface also shows photo categories like "Recent Days" and "People & Pets." The phone screen is on, and the background is blurred.

A hand holding a smartphone displaying a photo album app with the cover image of Crater Lake during sunset. The screen shows categories like "Recent Days" and "People & Pets" with image thumbnails below. The phone has a black frame and a small notch on top.

Photos already sorts images by people and places, but it now adds Collections to appear below the library grid in this vein. Users can all pin their favorite collections so they always appear, which feels somewhat adjacent to the Widget ethos.

It further conveniently filters the library for better ease of use, for example, hiding screenshots when they aren’t needed.

Sprucing Up Security

Apple, which always likes to push its image as the more privacy-focused tech company added new features in this realm. With iOS 18, users can hide apps they don’t want to appear in their libraries in a separate locked folder. Information from these apps won’t appear elsewhere like notifications either. People can now limit the contact an app can see when it asks for such access. Similarly, connecting smart devices no longer means putting out information from all other devices.

Feeling Expressive

iMessage may be the most-used app on iPhones, so it’s unsurprising Apple threw some updates its way. Most notably, Apple announced users will be able to send and receive iMessages using satellite, similar to how SOS communication works, when WiFi or cell service isn’t available. These messages are also end-to-end encrypted. And though traditional SMS text messages between those without iPhones won’t offer special features, iOS 18 will allow users to exchange these messages via satellite too.

Tapback, which lets users respond with pre-set interactions like a thumbs up or down, a question mark, or a “Ha Ha,” opens up to include all emojis as well as stickers. Users can also add text effects to animate the words as they send. Plus, iMessage finally allows for basic formatting so words can appear in bolds, italics, underlined, or in strikethrough.

And if it’s not the right time to say something, iMessage users will also be able to schedule messages.

More iOS 18 Details

An image shows a PlayStation 5 DualSense controller, an iPhone horizontally displaying a video game screen with vibrant graphics, and a pair of Apple AirPods Pro in an open charging case, all set against a plain white background.

Apple announced further smaller changes throughout its mobile operating system. The Mail app will get on-device categorization, automatically separating out important conversations from yet another promotional code. Users will further be able to mass delete messages from specific senders.

An infographic highlighting new iOS features including categorization in Mail, emoji tapbacks, bigger Photos update, Control Center customization, messaging support, hiking in Maps, state of mind journal, video message in FaceTime, and more.

iOS 18 comes with a Game Mode that will increase performance when playing on iPhone.

Its new Journal app additionally gets some quality-of-life improvements including the ability to search older posts or add more visual information.

The Apple Wallet now lets users send Apple Cash by tapping without having to exchange phone numbers.

Plus, Reminders finally gets its much-needed integration into the Calendar app.

iOS 18 will be available in beta for developers this week and available as a public beta next month. iOS 18 will be released to everyone this fall.

Image credits: Apple