A while back, I wrote an article on the best travel widgets for Android, in this article I want to write about some of the best travel widgets for iPhone.

On the iPhone, widgets can be found in the Today view, which you access by swiping down from the top of any Home screen.

Your iPhone has several widgets already pre-installed, but mostly they’re not very good. Many app developers, however, have included widgets for their apps. As long as you have the app installed, you can activate the associated widget in the Today view.

To do this, you simply scroll to the bottom of the Today view page and tap Edit. In the next screen you see a list of widgets that can be enabled or disabled on your device. Simply tap on a minus sign to remove a widget from the Today view, or a plus sign to add a widget. You can reorder your widgets by dragging the slider next to the widget name, either up or down the list. Click Done and you’ll be returned to your list of widgets.

 

Today_View

 

Similar to my experience with learning Siri, until I’d given the different types of iPhone widgets a really good work out, I didn’t realise how useful a carefully selected collection of widgets could be to my work flow.

Part of the problem for me, was that the inbuilt widgets were so ugly and seemingly useless, that I never took the time to seriously explore any others.

Having looked at alternative widgets for several task categories – and chosen the ones that work best for me – I’ve developed a collection of widgets that I really love, and use all of the time.

Here’s what widgets do.

Widgets put some of the useful iPhone or third-party app features, or key information at your fingertips.

Sometimes, the widget just displays information, like an exchange rate, the weather, a flight status, news headlines, your calendar, and so on. Other times, the widget can perform an action for you like taking a selfie, creating a new note, making a calculation, translating a language, and much more.

Why are they useful?

Primarily, widgets make information readily accessible from anywhere you happen to be on your device. You can also access this information when your device is passcode locked. For instance, you don’t need to open your currency app to find the current exchange rate of the country you’re in. It is always one swipe away. Widgets also provide a shortcut for undertaking tasks you might commonly perform. For example, you can translate a text message from any iPhone screen, rather than having to locate and then open the translation app, navigate to the appropriate screen, paste the text, and press translate.

Special Considerations for Travelers

Particularly for travelers, you want to decide if you’re going to have the information provided by widgets accessible on the Lock screen of your iPhone. The benefit of including information there, is you have easy access to it, even if your device is passcode locked. However, you have to be careful that you may unintentionally expose personal information from apps like Evernote, Calendar, Contacts, the Clipboard, and so on. If the Today view is enabled on the Lock screen, anybody who has possession of your iPhone can see that information.

You can find this setting at: Settings > General > Touch ID & Passcode > Allow Access When Locked. Turn off the options for Today and Notifications view, if you want.

One other point worth remembering, is that if you’re using mobile data, widgets will use some data as they refresh each time you open the Today view. Generally, their data use will be negligible, but, its worth keeping in mind if you’re on a tight data plan, or are global roaming.

With that out of the way, lets look at some of the best travel widgets for iPhone.

Evernote

 

Evernote Widget

 

Its probably no surprise for my inclusion of Evernote here. The Evernote widget provides a shortcut to your most recently viewed and updated notes, search, and the ability to create a note, or shoot a photo.

Free – Download here.

OneNote

 

OneNote_Widget

 

If you’re a OneNote fan (as I am, too), you can take a photo, create a note, or access your most recently changed notes. One of the advantages OneNote has over Evernote for travel, is that you can upload as much content to OneNote as you want for free. That makes it a great place to store your travel-related content.

Free – Download here.

iTranslate

 

iTranslate Widget

 

Using iTranslate you can get a quick translation of the system Clipboard into the language you’ve set as the default language inside the iTrranslate app. This widget is also very useful for quickly translating foreign language text messages from your phone carrier. iTranslate uses Microsoft Bing translator as its translation engine. If you’re finding it doesn’t give a good translation for your desired language pair, try copying and pasting the text into Google Translate instead.

Free – Download here.

AFAR Travel Guide

 

AFAR Widget

 

Get recommendations for food, drink, activities, shopping, and accommodation nearby. Like most apps of this kind, the information provided is selective, so you may want to consult other services, too. Given its utility, I’m surprised other guidebook app developers haven’t created similar widgets. Honourable mention: TripAdvisor. The TripAdvisor widget is not as well executed, and has (understandably) a highly selective list of places nearby.

Free – Download here.

Currency+

 

Currency+ Widget

 

Currency+ displays the current exchange rates for a list of your favourite currencies. (The default number is four, but you can increase this number, if you want.) For me, the Currency+ widget means I can see the major currencies relevant to my travel. These are my home currency, the US Dollar, the local currency, and one other currency. I don’t need to swipe through a currency pair list as is the case with the popular Currency by XE widget. At any time when I’m out, I simply swipe down on the Home screen, and I have access to the current exchange rates at a glance. If I want to perform a calculation, the app is one tap away. Honourable mention:  XE Currency.

Free – Download here.

Dropbox

 

Dropbox Widget

 

I’ve written before about how awesome Dropbox is for travellers. Dropbox’s widget gives you quick access to your most recently added files.

Free – Download here.

Klok – Time Zone Converter

 

Klok Widet

 

Klok puts your favourite time zones in the Notification Centre. The default view shows you what the time is in the countries you have pre-selected inside the app. Pressing on a clock and then moving a slider, enables you to perform quick time calculations.

Free – Download here.

Google Maps

The Google Maps widget shows you public transport options nearby. My experience has been that the Google Maps widget is quite selective in terms of the information it provides. In some localities, it doesn’t provide any information, even where there’s transport nearby. In other locations, the widget will show nearby bus routes, and the approximate arrival times for some buses. Of course, I expect that this is just an estimate based on submitted timetables, rather than the actual location of the bus. Tapping on a widget entry takes you to Google Maps.

Even though it appears to be limited in its coverage at the moment, it has the potential to be really useful if Google actively develops it.

Free – Download here.

Cortana

 

Cortana Widget

 

For the Cortana fans, add a New Reminder or tap on the microphone icon to ‘Ask Cortana’.

Free – Download here.

Weather Underground

 

Weather Underground Widget

 

Weather Underground is my favourite weather app. Its attractive widget provides the current and forecast weather conditions for the next 12 hours. One tap takes you directly to the Weather Underground app. A second (optional) Weather Underground widget provides a live radar, if that’s your thing. Honourable Mention: Yahoo Weather.

Free – Download here.

Fantastical 2

 

Fantastical 2

 

Fantastical 2 compresses a months worth of calendar entries into one very attractive widget. It is one of the most masterful examples of ambient display I’ve seen. For any date, you can see how many calendar entries there are. (They’re represented by coloured dots under the date. A different colour marks holidays.) At a glance, you can see your schedule (including reminders) for the current day, or any other day you select from the calendar widget. You can also mark reminders as complete, right from the widget. Tap on the arrow next to the month, and you can navigate to another month. And if you want to edit or view your calendar entries, you simply tap on them in the widget to open Fantastical 2. The Fantastical 2 app is head and shoulder’s above the standard Apple Calendar widget, and is one of those apps that’s worth buying just for the widget. Honourable mention: Calendars 5.

$4.99 – Download here.

DataMan

 

DataMan

 

Using this small widget, you can see at a glance how much mobile data you’ve consumed on your cellular data plan to date. DataMan also has a useful stopwatch widget that enables you to track your data usage for a period of time. DataMan is available in three versions: DataMan Next, DataMan Pro, and DataMan Enterprise. A popular (free) alternative is My Data Manager.

Download here: Dataman Next ($1.99) | Dataman Pro ($5.99) | DataMan Enterprise ($9.99)

iCab Mobile

 

IMG_2079

 

Using iCab Mobile web browser, you can save one ore more screen captures of web pages and make them accessible from the Today view of your iPhone, including on a locked device. (Tap on the arrows underneath the image to move between web page captures.) As you can see from the image above, its possible to translate a foreign language web page in the iCab Mobile browser, and then save that web page for easy access. There are many situations that travelers would find it useful to have a web page as conveniently accessible offline.

$1.99 – Download here.

Email Widget 2

 

Email WIdget 2

 

Email Widget 2 is a one-of-a-kind widget. It allows you to view and perform basic email management tasks on unread emails, directly from your Lock screen. That’s great for triaging your email inbox. Tasks include Archive, Star, Mark as Read, Report as Spam, or Send to Trash. Email Widget 2 works for Gmail, and an (optional) in-app purchase, will unlock most other major email services like Outlook, Hotmail, Yahoo, iCloud, and Office 365. The advantage in using Email Widget 2 is that you can see your latest emails without unlocking your device or opening a mail app. (If you don’t want anybody to be able to access the Subjects of your latest emails, you’ll want to disable all widgets from the Lock screen. Use the process described above.) While Siri can read the headlines of your current emails, she doesn’t pull down new emails from your account without unlocking the device, and opening the Mail app. Email Widget 2 can. For some, Email Widget 2 provides a service they’ll find really useful.

$0.99 (In-App Purchases) – Download here.

News Widgets

News widgets may also be of interest to the traveler. Typically, you’ll get the top three or four news stories, and be able to see more by tapping on the widget. Sometimes you can customise the types of stories that appear in the widget through the settings in the associated news app. The leading News widgets are Google News, Yahoo News, and Breaking News. If you have a favourite news service, check to see if they have a widget. Many of them do.

The Missing Widgets

Missing from this list are some of the popular flight and airport-related apps. Many of these apps have iPhone widgets. These include App in the Air, FlightStats, and FlightTrack5, among others. In iPhone Travel Life I discuss – in depth – the advantages, and more importantly, the limitations and best uses of flight-related apps.

In summary, I do not recommend travelers use these apps unless they understand how they work. In my experience, most travelers (and app reviewers) do not fully understand how flight apps work.

I don’t want to criticize these apps, because many of them have enthusiastic developers that work hard to create a useful service. One of the core issues with flight-related apps is the limitations of their underlying data sources. Once you understand what these limitations are, you can understand why they (and flight status apps, in particular) behave the way they do.

Below is an example taken from a flight I took just a few days ago. At 11.40AM, my 12.00PM flight was rescheduled to 15:30PM. Here’s what a few of the flight status widgets/apps showed.

 

FlightStatus Apps

 

Even after the flight landed at 17:00PM, these apps never updated their information. Instead, they showed the flight as having ‘probably’ landed several hours ago. By contrast, the official airline app (Vietnam Airlines), was updated immediately. (See the image on the left.) That said, none of this information was a surprise to me, and is one of the reasons why I only use airport-related apps in a very limited way. In fact, as soon as my flight was delayed, I started making these screen captures, because I knew this is likely what they would show.

Conclusion

Even though iOS app developers as a whole don’t seem to have put much attention into creating good iPhone widgets, some have, and so there are a few really awesome widgets you can find.

The categories of widgets that might be of use for the traveler include translation, currency exchange, calculators, entertainment (Kindle and Audiobooks from Audible), news, accommodation (Airbnb, Hostelworld, Hotel Tonight), fight booking apps, and travel planning apps (like WorldMate, TripIt, or Kayak; Kayak has a flight price alert widget that may be useful for some travelers).

Check to see if your favourite apps have widgets by tapping Edit in the Today view of the Notification Centre. Then, have a play with them (preferably over a few days) to see if it fits into your workflow. Get rid of the widgets that don’t work for you, and put the ones that remain in an order that makes sense to you. You might want to order the widgets differently when traveling than you do back at home. I put mine in order of frequency of use. Right at the top is weather, followed by exchange rates, data usage, and so on. What that means is that most of the time I’m not going to have to scroll down the page to find the information I’m looking for.

As a result of applying all of the above ideas, I’ve found that I’m using widgets every day. And in many cases, I’m using widgets more than their associated iPhone app. Sometimes, I find the best tool for the job is a widget, others it is Siri, or the app itself. Often, the best tool for the job isn’t even your phone.

Take some time to explore if widgets work for you, I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find.