do not step out
simply dashing
11/Apr/2005 | 10:30

You don't know it yet, but Dashboard has the potential to make your life very, very happy.

Still, with power comes the ability to fail. The demos on the Apple site are indeed impressive, for starters. The on-the-fly language translation widget is something that makes most people look twice, and it's nice to have a useful app like Stickies right there at your fingertips. But what else? Most of the widgets Apple has demoed to this point have been bits from Sherlock or little desktop accessories. Calculator. iTunes controller. Weather modules.

In short, there's no killer app for Dashboard. Yet.

I won't pretend to know what that killer app is going to be, but I can think of five things that Dashboard is screaming to have. So here, I give you the five best Dashboard widgets that haven't been written yet:

1. RSS feeds are neither new nor are their reader apps that special anymore, so no one's going to run out to play with Dashboard just because it has an RSS aggregator. But what prompted me to say, "You know, Dashboard needs an RSS widget," was a friend saying that typical RSS reader apps suck up too much screen space. I thought, if your reader flew down when you hit your Dashboard key, wouldn't that solve the problem entirely? Sure, you could just command-h your copy of NetNewsWire, but that still leaves the NNW icon in the Dock, and somehow it simply doesn't feel as fast as a widget would feel.

With that one out of the way, let's start talking about the types of widgets that would make people content with spending $130 on an OS upgrade.

2. Quick, tell me everything you know about Ayn Rand. The Manhattan Project. Baking powder. Time's up. If you had a Dashboard widget that was a Wikipedia search and results display panel, you would be on top of the freaking world right now. Ken Jennings wouldn't stand a chance against you, with the vast and ever-evolving knowledge of Wikipedia at the slightest tap of your F12 key. Dashboard widgets can take streams of information from the Interweb, Wikipedia is published under a GNU Free Documentation License—put them together, already.

3. VoIP services like Skype are here to stay, whether the telcos like it or not. Imagine activating the Dashboard and a dial pad flies down onto the screen. Dial your number, hit enter or click the "send" button, and wait for the call to connect. Hell, why are we remembering phone numbers anymore? Address Book has all that information for me already. Dial pad descends onto the screen, I click the "people" icon on the side of the window, and a list of my contacts appears—name, picture, and phone number. This may not be possible with Skype, but surely this will be possible somehow, at some point.

4. Whiteboards are great for visualizing information, and can make meetings much smoother (or wreck them entirely, but that's beyond the scope of this article). Why not add a whiteboard to the Dashboard? Quartz has vector art capability as well as beautiful and flexible text capabilities. Tie it to the Postscript system and give the whiteboard widget the ability to save whatever's on the whiteboard as a PDF. Give it layers with adjustable opacity. QuickTime movie exporting to create a transitioning slideshow for importing into your Keynote presentation. Hell, make it Rendezvous-enabled and collaborate across the building or in a single conference room.

5. People bemoan the lack of apps that utilize the microphone built into many Macs. What we need is a "pocket recorder" widget that allows you to record, save, and play back audio snippets. The digital age version of carrying a minicassette recorder to class. Next time you're sitting at your desk and that GREAT IDEA hits you like a freight train, but you're too busy to stop and attend to it, drop the Dashboard, click RECORD, and let the idea fly. Save it and go right back to work. (Of course, if you think better writing by hand or typing, I guess it's Stickies or a fountain pen, but for others . . .)

That's just five off the top of my head. How many more could there be?

What I'm afraid we're going to see is a huge influx of extraordinarily useless stuff—more iTunes controllers, duplications of existing desk-accessory-eqsue apps, more clocks, and random quote generators. Dashboard is a usability solution for lots of ideas, but it's likely to get cluttered with useless trinkets and toys.

These five ideas are free for use for any developer who wants to tackle them, and I don't ask credit, because I think they are, for the most part, fairly obvious ideas. I'd like to encourage anyone reading this, as well, to think up one idea and post it to the comments under the same free use ideal.

Have at it.


On the VOIP dialer: wouldn't you have to invoke an app since Dashboard apps aren't supposed to be updating while they're hidden?

posted by dru on April 11, 2005 at 10:54

what about a widget that you pre-set with your location/favorite teams and it grabs all current scores or, if the team is not playing, the next game on the schedule?

posted by DJ on April 11, 2005 at 11:07

How about a TV Guide widget?

posted by ldb on April 11, 2005 at 11:07

Or local movie listings.

posted by David Rodgerson on April 11, 2005 at 11:18

How about an X-10 Lighting controler widget.

posted by Eric Goodrich on April 11, 2005 at 13:39

how about emulator widgets: start with my old home computer, the TI-99/4A. =]

posted by J Kornegay on April 11, 2005 at 16:29

Audit Widget - records the applications run, files copied, servers accessed w/date/time stamp.

posted by Kforrest on April 11, 2005 at 19:46

website checker widget...to check if a website has changed, been updated

posted by Stephen on April 12, 2005 at 07:51

three words: OneNote For Macintosh (http://steven.vorefamily.net/2005/04/08.html#a2156).

posted by steven vore on April 12, 2005 at 12:26

Perhaps a hybrid of OneNote and the whiteboard widget?

Dashboard could get pretty hot if the right developers get ahold of it.

posted by mikey-san on April 14, 2005 at 11:39

Networked realtime collaborative whiteboard (with text entry as well as drawing) = heaven!

make the text bit compatible with Subethaedit? (interoperability is always nice)

able to "see" via some dropdown box a list of all the boards currently being "announced", be able to announce yours or keep it private

I'd like this whether or not it was Dashboard or standard Cocoa/Aqua...


posted by Rahul Sinha on April 14, 2005 at 12:07

A widget that looks up iTunes artwork for the track/album that's playing and can be applied to those tracks with one click.

43-folders-type index card project view with next actions.

Media launcher--displays all video files above, say a certain size. One-click to launch. Actually, pick your file type. No more scrolling through download folders.

posted by fishpatrol on April 14, 2005 at 15:47

Better, I want to see the lyrics of the track playing.
Also I think that many freeware apps like Acquisition could have an complementery widget to control it remotely while the window is closed. Possibilities...

posted by Volta on April 15, 2005 at 14:58

I like the idea of a widget for your favorite sports teams, to check scores and game schedules.

For more ideas please check out my site's forum where many users have posted their imaginative widget ideas.


posted by Christian Anderson on April 23, 2005 at 21:45

I've put together a quick wikipedia widget. It's fully functional, but still needs a bit of polish. You can download it at http://www.dashboardwidgets.com/

posted by sean on April 28, 2005 at 13:10

You want an audio note record widget? Here's one that we're putting together for the Monday after Tiger:


Hope you'll like it. ;)

And I really like the whiteboard idea, so I think we may create that as well. I'll let you know on that.

posted by Phillip Ryu on April 28, 2005 at 17:25

The whiteboard idea is a good one, but Dashboard is the wrong place for it. It's not something you pull down, look at and close again; it ought to be a proper cocoa application.
The thing I need right now is a (UK) TV listings widget, so I can check if there's anything worth watching or whether I can carry on doing whatever I'm doing. A default view a bit like a nicer version of the Teletext "now & next", with a button to expand to the whole evening (who watches TV during the day? :-) ). I'm considering writing such a thing now, but I'm not really up to it.

posted by Pete on April 30, 2005 at 16:54

how about something that scrolls news like at the bottom of cnn or abc news? and something for ichat?

posted by josh Koenig on May 04, 2005 at 01:35

Josh, you may want to check out Tickershock for an RSS feed in news ticker format. It's a lot of fun. :)

posted by mikey-san on May 06, 2005 at 00:18

In this age of identify theft, how about something that notifies you whenever someone accesses your credit profile or sets up a new account in your name?

posted by Deborah Young on May 07, 2005 at 23:07