Apple has announced that the next version of macOS, named Big Sur, will bring iOS-style widgets to the Mac inside the revamped Notification Centre.
In this article we’ll show you what widgets can do, where to find widgets on your Mac, how to add new widgets and how to customise your widgets. Find out how you can use widgets to make you more productive with the information you need just a click away.
What are Mac widgets?
Widgets are essentially mini applications that give you at-a-glance information, shortcuts to certain features, and quick access to functions and controls for things like music playback, your calendar and the weather.
They are by no means new to the Mac. Widgets used to reside in Dashboard, which arrived on the Mac back in 2005 with Mac OS X Tiger. There they remained until the launch of Mac OS X Yosemite in 2014, when they moved to Notification Centre’s Today View. However, until Catalina you could still access the original Mac widgets in Dashboard, but Apple canned Dashboard in Catalina and as a result some widgets were no more.
The big news in Big Sur is that the widgets you’ll be able to access in Notification Centre will be universal – that means that if you have a widget on iOS you should be able to get the same Widget on the Mac. This should mean that there are more Widgets available on the Mac than ever.
Widgets arrived on iOS 10 and are accessed by swiping from left to right on the Home screen. iPad users have been able to pin Widgets to their Home screen since the launch of iPadOS 13 and in iOS 14 iPhone users will be able to do the same. We have a separate article about How to use Widgets in iPhone and iPad.
Where are Mac widgets?
Many years ago Widgets used to be located in Dashboard but these days you will find them in Notification Centre. How you access the Notification Centre is about to change in Big Sur, so we’ll cover how it works in both Catalina and Big Sur below.
As we’ve already mentioned, widgets are now integrated into the Notification Centre.
- In macOS Catalina and earlier Notification Centre is accessed by clicking on the icon in the top right of the screen.
- You’ll see tabs for Notifications (where your alerts from various apps will appear) and Today (which is where your widgets live). Click Today to see your widgets.
In Big Sur
When macOS Big Sur arrives later in 2020 the Notification Centre icon shown above will be unavailable. There’ll be a new way to access your widgets and notifications.
- To access your notifications and widgets in Big Sur you will need to click on the date and time in the top right of your Mac’s screen.
- Alternatively you will be able to use a two-finger left swipe on a trackpad.
in Big Sur once the Notification Centre is open you will see your widgets and notifications in the same stream, with your most recent notifications appearing above your widgets.
How to get widgets for macOS
Downloading and adding new widgets to your Mac is easy, and in macOS Big Sur it’s likely that there will be more widgets than ever as they will be universal – meaning the same widget will work in iOS and macOS. As before, the way you add widgets is slightly different depending on the version of macOS you are running.
In Catalina and earlier, when you are in the Today view you can easily add new widgets. Here’s what to do:
- Open Notification Centre.
- Click on Today.
- Scroll to the bottom of the window where you will see Edit and click on that.
- You’ll see your existing widgets along with a few standard options you can add, if you want to find some more widgets click on App Store.
The problem is that in Catalina and earlier there are very few third party widgets available, so you are really stuck with Apple’s defaults, which are: Weather, Calendar, Now Playing, Calculator, Stocks, Calendar, Reminders and World Clock. Some of the most popular Widgets from Dashboard aren’t even available (such as Stickies).
Apple is seeking to rectify this in Big Sur by making widgets universal – so that if a developer has created a widget for the iPhone or iPad that same widget will be able to be used on the Mac. This should mean more widgets will be available in Big Sur.
In Big Sur
If you want to add widgets in Big Sur you’ll need to open the Notification Centre as above (by clicking on the time).
- Open Notification Centre.
- Scroll down to the lowest widget and you’ll see an option to Edit Widgets. Clicking on this.
- A new window will open where all the available widgets are displayed, allowing you to scroll through them and decide which you’d like to add. As with on iOS and iPadOS, the widgets shown are from apps you have installed already.
- There are some customizing options available to you before you choose to add the widget (which we will address in the next section).
- Once you are happy with the appearance of your widget drag and drop it into your Notification Centre.
How to customise widgets on Mac
As we eluded above, Big Sur will bring some customisation options to widgets on the Mac. There are very limited options for tweaking your widgets in Catalina.
Customisation of widgets in Catalina is limited to options like adding locations for the Weather and Clock widgets, or different companies for tracking in the Stocks widget.
For example, to add a new location to the Weather widget follow these steps:
- Open Notification Centre.
- Click on the Today tab.
- Scroll to Weather and hover over the widget with your mouse until the (i) symbol appears on the right of the Widget.
- This will allow you to add more locations or remove existing ones.
In Big Sur
When Big Sur arrives there will be additional editing and customisation options for your widgets.
- When you search for widgets to add (as per the steps above) you will see the letters S, M, and L below each widget.
- The S, M and L denotes small, medium and large versions of the widgets. Not all widgets have all those size choices.
- Clicking on each letter available will show you a preview of how the layout of the widget works. Flick through the options to find the one you like.
- Choose the size you are happy with and drag it into your Notification Centre.
Best widgets for Mac
As we explained above, widgets are – or will be – mini versions of some of the apps installed on your Mac. You can glance at a widget version of an app to view the latest information and access features, functions and controls – all without having to open the app itself.
But what are the best widgets and which widgets should you install now?
In Catalina the selection of widgets is limited, as we said above, to Apple’s defaults: Weather, Calendar, Now Playing, Calculator, Stocks, Calendar, Reminders and World Clock. They are pretty self-explanatory:
- The Weather widget shows you the weather where you are for the next five days, and you can edit it to show the weather in other locations that matter to you.
- Similarly the Stocks app can show you the price various companies closed at and can be edited so you can follow the ones in which you are interested.
- You can see your Calendar for the day, so you won’t miss any upcoming appointments.
- And Now Playing will show you what’s currently playing through your Mac’s speakers (or what was playing last). You can play, pause, and skip from the widget.
There used to be a few more Widgets in Dashboard, but unfortunately these are now extinct (RIP Stickies).
There are a handful of widgets available in the App Store, but they are so limited that it’s actually a bit embarrassing.
This is the sorry collection of widgets on the App Store right now:
As you can see we did briefly have Todoist installed…
In Big Sur
The good news is that the widget deficit should soon be rectified. When macOS Big Sur is finally released later this year we expect to see a few new widgets, both from Apple and from third-party developers. This is because widgets in Big Sur will be universal, so the same widget will work on iOS, iPadOS and macOS – which will be an incentive to developers to actually bother designing one for the Mac (because they won’t actually have to).
Judging by the widgets we’ve seen, there are some interesting features on their way, especially for Apple’s own apps.
- The Notes widget allows quick access to specific folders or notes so you can make edits on the fly.
- Reminders is similar, with the ability to instantly add to a list.
- Calendar lets you select a day and see all the appointments without having to open the full app.
We expect plenty of offerings from third-party developers, with ToDoist and Day One already being featured by Apple. (As we said above, Todoist already has a Widget available in Catalina).
If you want to get an idea of how Apple might implement widgets in macOS Big Sur, we suggest taking a look how to use widgets on iPhone & iPad, as there seems to be quite a lot of similarities.
Big Sur has plenty of other new features to look forward in addition to widgets, including a new design, improved Messages capabilities, a revamped and faster version of Safari, a new Control Centre, plus several other innovations. Take a look at our macOS Big Sur vs Catalina to see how your Mac will improve when you install Big Sur later this year.
If you can’t wait that long to get your hands on the features, you can always sign up for the Apple Beta Software program and download the Big Sur beta version to test out on your Mac before it goes on general release.