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Rumor: Widgets, better notifications headed to iOS 5

A new rumor suggests that as part of the next iOS release, Apple is overhauling its notifications service as well as adding widgets.

Apple's push notification icon.
Apple's push notification icon.

In just a week and a half Apple will take the wraps off "the future of iOS" at its Worldwide Developers Conference. Two features that are said to be making a debut as part of that introduction are widgets and a new notifications system.

Buried at the tail end of a post on murmurs that Apple's been inviting press from around the world to come to the WWDC keynote, TechCrunch claims that Apple will be using that time to introduce "completely revamped notifications and widgets."

This is not the first time Apple's notification system has been rumored to be getting a re-work, which is what makes this interesting. Rich Dellinger, who invented the notification for Palm's WebOS, quit following HP's acquisition of the company in order to return to his former employer, Apple. This stirred up expectations that Apple was looking to overhaul its existing system. A report in February then claimed Apple was working to acquire an iOS app maker tool, with the intent to somehow roll its notification tools into iOS.

Apple introduced push notifications as part of iOS 3.0 back in 2009. Since then, the system has remained largely unchanged in terms of how the pop-up messages are delivered to the end user. The message design itself also resembles that of the pop-up notifications that shipped with the first iteration of iOS; most contain an option to either hit an "OK" button and jump to that app, or cancel out of the message. Meanwhile, whatever application you're in becomes inaccessible until the message is addressed, something that's been considered a major shortcoming.

With iOS 4, Apple introduced a slightly modified version of its push notification API that let apps send messages and alerts without going through any servers, though the user interface has remained the same.

As for widgets, this would be an intriguing feature for the company to add considering it's been offered as part of Mac OS X since early 2005. A patent filing granted to Apple earlier this month hinted that Apple was toying with the idea of grabbing chunks of Web pages to turn into widgets, effectively what it does with its Web Clip feature that's been a part of Mac OS X since 10.4 Tiger.

Whether Apple would put those widgets on the home screen is another matter entirely. Right now users have limited control where applications can go, and are required to rearrange icons to snap to a 4-by-5 grid, where any extra space can only be left after the last application on any given page. Maneuvering widgets there could take up more space--either horizontally, or vertically--and would change an organizational aesthetic that's been there since since the platform's early days. Based on that, any sort of widget system would likely require a complete re-think of how that works, or something similar to Dashboard on Mac OS X, where the widgets float down as a layer on top of whatever you're doing.

Over the years a number of third-party designers have come up with prototypes of how they'd re-do Apple's notification system, as well as work widgets into the equation. Here are some of the most recent ones:



Widgets and notifications: