Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

In praise of the Siri Suggestions widget

Siri Suggestions widget on iPhone
Those apps? They’re a widget! 🤯

Siri gets a lot of flack from Apple device users—and it’s often well deserved. The voice assistant’s performance is generally spotty, sometimes downright recalcitrant, and—in my house anyway—tends to evoke frustrated yelling.

But Apple has long been using Siri as the catchall for its various artificial intelligence and machine learning ventures, and much as it may surprise you to hear me say it: some of them are actually pretty great.

For the last year, I’ve been relying on one specific use of these machine learning technologies: the Siri Suggestions widget on iOS and iPadOS.

Widgets were, of course, a big hit when iOS 14 was released last year, allowing users to customize their home screens with not just app icons but data pulled from their favorite apps.

But the Siri Suggestions widget has proved to be a valuable, if overlooked, addition as well.

Many people have probably used Siri Suggestions without even realizing it: if you’ve noticed the apps and actions that appear when you swipe down to bring up Spotlight on your iPhone or iPad, that’s Siri Suggestions.

Essentially, Siri Suggestions learns from your behavior and tries to predict various apps and tasks that you do at specific times, locations, and so on. In using it via Spotlight, I’ve found it often spot on, the only impediment to trusting it generally being that I sometimes start to type an app name before even checking the suggested apps below.

Siri Suggestions in Spotlight

And that’s one reason that I decided to drop the Siri Suggestions widget onto one of my iPhone’s few home screens. My first two home screens are generally set: page one are the apps that I use pretty much every day; page two are apps that I frequently use or want to make an effort to use more (such as apps I’m testing).

Page three, on the other hand, is all widgets—but one of those widgets is the Siri Suggestions app widget, which provides two rows of app icons that change depending on what iOS thinks I might want at the given moment. (You can also use a different version of the Siri Suggestions widget which suggests actions rather than apps.) On the iPhone, they look just like normal app icons—without tapping and holding on it, you wouldn’t even know it was a widget. Clever!

I’m sure there will be people who argue that this is dumb and you should just search for the app you want. I understand that impetus, and I do spend a lot of time searching for apps, but I frequently find swiping over a couple screens faster than having to tap out the name of my app.

More to the point, what I love about this feature is the idea of my technology working for me. There’s a joy in having my device anticipate my needs rather than having to go and seek out what I want. This, to me, is the reason that Apple has invested so much time in machine learning, despite the often underwhelming experience of directly interacting with Siri: technology aims to make our lives easier, not harder. And rather than having to carefully arrange my home screen to provide only the apps I want at various times, I can simply have the system do the work for me. It’s very low overhead.

Siri Suggestions on iPad
The Siri Suggestions apps widget on iPad (beneath the Calendar widget) and action widget (beneath Find My widget).

I’m not yet at the point of entirely replacing all my home screen apps with a Siri Suggestions widget, but I can’t say I haven’t considered it—especially with iPadOS 15, where the combination of putting apps in the dock and dropping other widgets on the Home screen means I simply don’t need as many apps front and center all the time. Apple’s tried out a similar approach with the Siri watch face on the Apple Watch, though the results there have been maybe too aggressive in some ways.

More than anything, I appreciate that these are just what they purport to be: suggestions. Kind of the equivalent of somebody offering you your favorite drink when you step into their home. It’s not shoving something in your face, it’s just putting the option there if you want it. In some ways, it’s the most personal Siri has ever been.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Nova Incident, comes out in July and is available to pre-order now, so do it!]


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