The iOS Photos widget makes your home screen feel like home

Look at the photos on my phone and you’ll find the following: fleeting moments of beauty captured well, fleeting moments of beauty missed, and fleeting moments of beauty captured yet out of focus. You’ll see the big things I never want to forget and small things happening in one room that I wanted to show my partner in another room (which we both promptly forgot). You can scroll by countless holiday snaps and yet more attempts to capture the perfect sunrise with varying results with a flick of your thumb. There are so many photos of my cat, Tim, that a family member once described him, with complete sincerity, as the most “well documented” pet she had ever come across.

My photos app, in brief, provides a view into some of the brightest moments in my life. It reveals the things I found interesting, the things I thought worthwhile, and people I love. The app collapses years of my life into a few rows of images, easily digestible. And it rarely gets opened.

All of those pictures are for naught if they’re never seen. Thankfully, iOS 14’s Photos app widget is changing that.

The challenge of remembering

The details may differ but chances are you rarely look at your photos as well. How many great moments are buried within the depths of your recent photos?

Every now and then I decide to unearth some of those moments. I square my shoulders, cast my eyes over my digital horizons, and declare that I, cory zanoni, while get my photographic shit together. And, you know, look at some photos.

This has born some fruit. I printed off and framed some shots from a trip to Japan. Even hung them on the wall (like a hero). And it’s great! They’re a passive reminder of a fantastic trip. Walking by them each day is a treat. It has helped make my home feel more personable, more intimate.

That passivity is key. Photos are low effort things. You rarely sit down and think, “You know, I’m going to spend an hour just reminiscin’”. Apple have done some good work here: features like Memories, which generate little videos or collections based on themes like location or people, surface jolts of nostalgia for you to view without effort. But you still need to open the app or rely on notifications to get you in there. It’s not quite the low-key passivity that makes photos a joy.

That’s where the Photos widget in iOS 14 shines. I’ve had it on my homescreen for a few weeks and it’s a delight. There was the photo of a friend and I wearing matching t-shirts, the album from a trip to the zoo with my friends and their young daughter, a multitude of shots of partner (and, of course, the cat). I’ve messaged multiple people about the moments it has surfaced, reconnecting me with friends and strengthening the shared memories upon which great relationships are based. It makes me smile every day.

Small moments of loveliness

This widget, and other things like it, help change the relationship I have with my phone for the better.

There was a time, long ago, when smartphones were a revolutionary shift in the way people interacted with the world. They collapsed distances, provided new ways of being with people, and opened troves of information.

Now my phone is more banal. It’s an appliance. A great appliance, one I use all the time for a variety of reasons, but an appliance all the same. At its worst, when I’m at my most unguarded, it’s a black hole of attention.

Having a small square that feeds me fantastic memories changes that relationship. My phone is the best tool I have to capture the moments that make life a treat but it’s far too easy to forget those moments were ever recorded.

The photos widget takes all of those photos and adds them to a place I look at almost more than any other — my home screen. It’s a small thing, the widget, but the thing it facilitates is special. In the same way that covering a wall at home with photos from my trip to Japan made my home feel more like a home, this widget has made my phone feel more like my own.

It’s a shift away from the utilitarian. The things we own, at their best, can help enrich our lives. I took all of these photos to remember something; making that easier is powerful. Your phone might be an appliance like any computer or even a TV or a fridge — but a fridge is better with some pictures and a nice magnet or two.