A new way for readers to catch up on the top stories of the day
By Jon Lazar, Kika Gilbert, Mark Murray and Taylor Poulos
Keeping up with the news can feel like a full-time job, and we want to make it easy for New York Times readers to stay informed. We provide a variety of ways to do this, from newsletters to push alerts to social media posts, and today, we’re adding another feature to that list: a widget for Apple’s iOS 14 that will feature the latest news headlines.
This new widget will allow readers to quickly catch up on the most important news of the moment. Readers who install the widget to the home screen of an iPhone or iPad running iOS 14 or later will see two headlines that will refresh as new content is published.
To install the widget, readers with iOS 14 installed can “long press” anywhere on their home screen to enter jiggle mode, then tap the “+” button in the top left corner and scroll down to find The Times’s widget.
The project was started by a group of Times iOS engineers who were eager to explore the new features announced with iOS 14.
In the weeks leading up to The Times’s annual Maker Week in July, Mark Murray, an iOS engineer, started generating excitement for the widget and Taylor Poulos, a product designer, prototyped designs. Pretty soon, a cross-functional group of people from the newsroom, design, product and data had teamed up to build a widget that matched our ambitions to reader and product needs.
By the time Maker Week started, we had prioritized a couple of things we hoped to gain by the end of the week. We wanted to learn more about SwiftUI and WidgetKit; we wanted to give readers a way to quickly catch up with the news, without adding to our newsroom’s workflow; we wanted to deliver an accessible feature that scales with a reader’s type settings.
At first, the headlines in the widget updated when a reader opened the NYTimes app on their device. However, we quickly realized that since the widget is visible on the home screen at all times, the headlines needed to be updated more often. Jon Lazar, an iOS Engineer, created a way to do this and now the widget pulls new headlines every 15 minutes or whenever the app gets refreshed.
To make sure the widget provides an easy way for readers to stay up-to-date, while also reflecting editorial intent and the Times brand, we made specific modifications to widget behavior and type treatment.
Headlines are most informative when they can be read in full, yet our first prototype truncated headlines that were too long. This certainly didn’t meet our readers’ needs. Due to time constraints — Maker Week is only five days — we didn’t want to build a new API, so we instead worked with our existing publishing pipeline. The widget now scales to a single headline based on the accessibility settings of a device, or the specific ranking of our newsroom editors.
By the time Maker Week was over, we had a working prototype of the widget and a team of devotees who stuck with this project as a passion project until Apple released iOS 14 to the public in September.
To prepare the widget to launch publicly, we implemented data tracking that will inform future widget projects. We worked with the design members of our team to make visual improvements, and we worked with our colleagues in product to make sure the headlines in the widget accurately reflect the most important news of the day.
With just five days to focus on this project, we not only built this widget that will be incredibly useful during an already busy news cycle, but we also discovered some opportunities for improvements in our iOS app that we’ll be exploring in the coming months.
We’re excited about the opportunity this widget creates to have an “always on” news update that helps keep readers informed, while expanding their understanding of our coverage.
Jon Lazar is a Senior iOS Engineer who joined The New York Times in 2020. He enjoys collaborating with his peers to quickly prototype and deliver new iOS features leveraging the latest technologies. Before joining The Times, he was a lead mobile engineer at Betterment where he helped shape technologies and processes as the company transitioned to becoming mobile first.
Kika Gilbert is a Product Manager on the UX Foundations team at The New York Times.
Mark Murray is an iOS Engineer who works on The New York Times news app. He is an avid consumer of tech news and enjoys tinkering with new technologies. Prior to joining The Times in 2019, he worked at Betterment where he updated the iOS app with Face ID prior to its public launch.
Taylor Poulos is a Product Designer on the Publishing team at The New York Times.
The Maker Week team: Mark Murray, Jon Lazar, Kika Gilbert, Taylor Poulos, Jamal Rogers, Karina Nguyen and Priya Arora.
Source: New York Times