One of the many unique elements about the Android operating system is the ability to use widgets — shortcuts on your home screen — to instantly access information and functions. Popular widgets include weather statistics, Google Drive / Google Now shortcuts, Twitter mentions, and news/sports updates. Many applications automatically provide widgets for you to choose from, and widgets can also be added to your device from the Google Play Store.
Developer.android.com has a helpful design article that states, "Widgets typically fall into one of the following categories: Information, Collection, Control, and Hybrid." The article also says that touch and vertical swipe are the only available gestures within widgets; these are not full-blown apps but rather snippets thereof.
Choosing your widgets
There are a few ways you can start adding widgets to your home screen. These methods may depend on your device, since the Android OS can vary. For instance, at your home screen, you may have a menu button where you can click "Add" or "Add to Home Screen," and then choose Widgets.If you have a Samsung Galaxy S III, one of the most popular Android smartphones, simply hold your finger on a part of the screen where you'd like to add a widget. When the new prompt appears, tap Apps (Figure A). Figure A
Tap Apps to locate the Widgets on a Samsung Galaxy S III.
Next, tap Widgets, and the available widgets will appear. Note: you can also access them by clicking Apps (generally in the bottom right) and then the Widgets tab if applicable.
The available Widgets on a Samsung Galaxy S III.My Android is a Motorola Droid Bionic, which I'll use to demonstrate. When I access Apps, I see the following screen (Figure C): Figure C
Apps as the appear on a Motorola Droid Bionic.Then, I tap Widgets to display the widgets available on my phone (Figure D): Figure D
Widgets as they appear on a Motorola Droid Bionic.
My Motorola provides widgets for Dropbox folders, Google Drive shortcuts, Google+ posts, data usage statistics, power settings, system settings, and much more. Your available widgets will depend on your apps and phone type (plus any you've installed from the Google Play Store).
Adding a WidgetLet's say I want a shortcut to CNN's web site on my home screen. Under my Widgets section, I'll touch and hold the Bookmark icon in the lower right (I have two Bookmark widgets (Figure E), since I have two browsers on my device): Figure E
I have two Bookmark widgets, since I have two browsers on my device.Then I'll then drag the Bookmark widget onto my home screen (Figure F): Figure F
Drag the Bookmark widget onto the home screen.Once I release my finger, I'll receive a prompt to pick the bookmark I want to use (Figure G): Figure G
Pick the Bookmark you want to use.If I select CNN, it will appear on my home screen (Figure H). Tapping the CNN widget will load the web site in my browser. Figure H
Tap the CNN bookmark to load the web site in your browser.
Removing a widgetYour home screens can only hold so many apps and widgets, so you might want to clear the ones out that you don't need or use. To remove a widget, press and hold it down (Figure I): Figure I
Press and hold the widget to begin removing it from your home screen.
Just drag the widget with your finger towards "X Remove," and it will disappear. Note: This only removes the widget from your home screen, not the device.
Adding widgets from the Google Play StoreThere are many more options when it comes to widgets. The Google Play Store has over 68,000 at the time of this writing. Just access the Play Store and search for widgets. Then, choose from the available entries (Figure J): Figure J
Widgets on the Google Play Store.That Battery Widget looks interesting (Figure K), so I'll select it: Figure K
The Battery Widget.Some widgets need permissions, just like regular apps. After I click Accept to proceed with the widget installation, it will appear in my Widgets folder (Figure L): Figure L
Any widget that you install will appear in the Widgets folder.
I can then add the Battery Widget to my home screen using the steps I described above.
Hopefully this will serve as a good basis to get you started. If you're interested in reading more, here are "15 Android widgets that will make iPhone users jealous." What are your favorite Android widgets? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.