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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Lock screen complications for iOS

A more customizable lock screen has been among the most demanded iOS features since the very earliest days of the iPhone. It’s probably among the most common reasons people jailbreak their phones, and it’s also the feature that we seem to get the most mock-ups and concept art of.

And now there’s precedent for it. As many of the developers I talked to for my iOS 9 wishlist/rumor roundup this week pointed out, the Apple Watch offers very customizable lock screens—they just happen to also be watch faces.

So maybe it’s finally time for that same customizability to make its way to iOS devices.

I think part of the reason that we haven’t seen this feature to date is that there’s a matter of philosophy at the heart of it. Apple likes presenting a unified, consistent front, and the lock screen is, for better or worse, the face that iOS devices present to the outside world.

Lock screen
Beautiful, but barren.

Right now the lock screen mainly ends up as a canvas for your wallpaper; that’s even more the case since the iOS 7 redesign. While that is a mark in favor of personalization, and while I love having a big, beautiful image on my phone’s lock screen, I can’t help but wish this part of iOS’s interface was a little more useful.

I’m not talking anything too aggressive, like widgets that plaster giant blocks of text or images all over the screen. After all, iPhone users are Apple customers because they like the simplicity and elegance of the devices and their interfaces.

That said, a few simple options—the likes of which have already started to encroach upon the lock screen, such as the Camera shortcut in the bottom right, and the increasingly present Handoff shortcut in the bottom left—could go a long way to letting our phone present convenient information at a glance, without succumbing too much to clutter.

One argument I can see against this—at least from Apple’s point of view—is that this is exactly what the Apple Watch is for. Why pull out your iPhone to get this information, when you could just look at your wrist? But, of course, not everybody wants or can buy an Apple Watch and, more to the point, the Watch does not—currently—allow for third-party complications at all.

Apple Watch Complications

I’d think that iOS lock screen complications could be presented as a type of Extension, much like the Share items that third-party apps can already provide. As on the Apple Watch, these complications would have a prescribed format, but could offer varying amounts of information depending on the slot they occupy on the lock screen—i.e. the temperature or the temperature and current weather conditions.

To my mind, this strikes a balance of customization and allows Apple to maintain a certain degree of control over the look and feel of iOS’s front door. It would only enhance the usefulness of devices that are, after all, supposed to be practical, and would gives users more control over the information that’s important to them.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]