September 25, 2009

Apple's Dashboard Widgets Comatose As iTunes App Store Skyrockets

Prior to the debut of Apple's iPhone, software developers wanting to make miniature applications to reach Macintosh users had a direct route to customer's desktops through the development of Mac OS X Dashboard widgets. Billed as major functionality debuting in Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) in early 2005, Dashboard, much like Konfabulator before it, featured widgets including weather forecasts, stock updates, calculators or simple utilities, like a dictionary or thesaurus. Over time, developers managed to make a number of creative uses for these apps, from delivery updates to flights' status, or even lightweight arcade games.

But four years later, Dashboard is dormant, while not yet completely dead. A quick calculation of the total number of widgets listed on Apple's Web site is just over 4,500, of which 820 are international. In remarkable contrast, Apple's iTunes Store loudly proclaims its haul to be more than 75,000, of which a massive 1,394 were posted just last Friday.

Want to know how many new Dashboard Widgets were posted last Friday?


Interestingly, Apple's Dashboard Widgets site highlights the last 50 "Just Added" to the Web site, and for whatever reason, between September 9th and September 21st, no Dashboard Widgets were posted. Maybe the one guy whose job it is to get them approved was on a two-week vacation?

And in the week, starting with Monday, only 39 total Widgets made it into into the directory, including fascinating titles such as the "Iowa Hawkeyes Football Schedule" widget or the "Countdown to Thanksgiving" widget.

With iPhone app developers having a fast-growing audience of millions ready to spend real money on applications for their mobile phone, the idea of creating a miniature application for the desktop, for free, probably doesn't have much pull. It's no secret that the iTunes App Store's runaway success has played a big role in making any discussion about Dashboard completely unnecessary.

The Widget as posted in 2007

Just a few years ago, many thought widgets were going to be the next hot thing in desktop apps. Konfabulator was purchased by Yahoo! and turned into Yahoo! Widgets, which claims nearly 6,000 desktop widgets. And way back in 2006, I even made a dashboard widget for, which I later updated in 2007 and still works. But the talk of widgets faded, as people primarily chose to use the Web browser and their iPhones as the conduits for Web data, preferring not to have a gazillion little widgets floating about their screens.

Considering the dramatic drop-off in buzz around Dashboard widgets, and a corresponding meteoric rise in iPhone deployments and penetration, it's no surprise to me that you see this gulf, which now measures almost 20x in favor of iTunes applications. It's enough to wonder if Apple will ever bring up the Dashboard again, except maybe to provide a place where iTunes applications purchased for the iPhone today can sometime live. They won't kill it outright, but it sure looks like a dinosaur, after only four years.