Using Dashboard in 2013

Remember Dashboard? That area where you keep these tiny, simple widgets for converting measurements, checking sport scores and stock prices, and more? It happens to still be alive, even if you’ve likely quit paying much attention to it these days.

Is there any reason you should still use the Dashboard? Turns out, it’s still a plenty useful little Mac tool, and I’ll likely still be using it until Apple finally drops it entirely. Here’s why.

Oh Widgets.

Widgets used to be one of the hottest things in tech, and everyone had them, not just Macs. Google had Google Desktop on PCs, Yahoo bought out Konfabulator, one of the original widget engines, and Microsoft had the Sidebar Widgets in Windows Vista. Even KDE, one of the more popular Linux desktop environments, had their own widgets. It seemed you weren’t a proper tech company without your own desktop widgets engine.

Widgets were easy to make, since they were mainly based on web code, and they seemed exciting at first. They were for the most part just web code – HTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML, and some images. Almost anyone could throw one together. So for a time, it seemed that almost everyone had a widget for their service, almost like the mobile apps craze of today.

But the widget craze is mostly over. Google discontinued Google Desktop in 2011, Yahoo killed their desktop widgets in 2012, and Windows 8 dropped support for the Vista-style widgets. Apple, it seems, is the last man standing with a functioning widget system that’s still supported. But even Apple’s Dashboard support seems to be waning, at least if you base your opinion on their incredibly dated Widget gallery.

The Dashboard Widget page sure doesn’t look good today…

Seems Like Dashboard Met iOS…

That said, Dashboard still got a bit of attention in OS X Mountain Lion, enough that it seems that Apple might not be done with it just yet. Dashboard now has a ton of iOS style to it. You’ll see all of the widgets you can use on their own Launchpad-style page by clicking the plus button in the bottom left of Dashboard. You can click and hold on the Dashboard icons, and they’ll start shaking just like Apps do in iOS or on OS X’ Launchpad. What’s interesting here is that all of the icons are small squares, so they look so much like iOS apps. You can drag them into folders, or click the x to delete them. You can remove any dashboard widget except the included ones, no matter where you downloaded them from, unlike Launchpad which only lets you uninstall App Store apps.

Seems like I’ve seen that before … in iOS!

And, of all things, Dashboard works great with the latest OS X features. Widgets are sandboxed, so you’ll see the Contacts widget that ships with OS X asking permission to see your contacts, of all things. Dashboard is also integrated with Spaces, so if you swipe to the right from your main desktop you’ll see the Dashboard in its own space. Or, you can still have it open in a semi-transparent layer on top of your desktop if you’d prefer, ready to be brought forward with a keyboard shortcut.

Dashboard’s settings.

Apple’s own Dashboard widgets got a touch of iOS style, too, with the Stocks and Weather widgets looking almost just like their iOS counterparts. There’s also a few oddly redundant widgets; why would anyone want a separate dictionary widget when the dictionary is integrated so beautifully throughout all of OS X? But there’s still a few widgets that fill in a nice, niche need on the Mac that’s filled by built-in apps on iOS, and Apple seems to have decided that the best way to bring them to the Mac was with widgets. Some of the very best current Dashboard widgets from 3rd party developers are compainion apps to iOS apps, such as Delivery Status, DashNote for Simplenote, and Notefile.

That almost makes you wonder if Apple has some idea of making Dashboard into a way to run iOS apps on the Mac, or if they perhaps plan to make a way to turn Widgets into simple iOS apps. I highly doubt they’d ever have full widgets on iOS, Android-style, but turning a Dashboard widget into an app similar to the Stocks app with the Stocks Dashboard Widget … that could be very interesting.

Safari: Dashboard’s Killer App

I still use Dashboard daily to check the day’s US Dollar to Thai Baht exchange rate, the weather forecast, and today’s stock prices. It’s all stuff I do from my iPhone, and so it’s nice to have the same things on my Mac during the day. But what keeps me using Dashboard is Safari. Just open any site that you’d want to check often, right-click, and select Open in Dashboard. You’ll then get to select anything on the page to clip and turn into a live widget in Dashboard.

Safari, meet Dashboard.

It’s an old trick, one that’s been around since Leopard, but it’s still a good trick. In fact, it’s the one that got me started using Dashboard again this past fall, and has kept me using it ever since. I used it to grab a quick countdown widget of the days until my wedding from WolframAlpha, the awesome computational web app that powers much of the fun stuff in Siri. Just search for something that’ll change over time (days until a certain date, a stock price, planes currently flying over you), clip the part of the site you like, and then you’ll be able to check up on it quickly by switching over to Dashboard. No extra tabs needed.

My Dashboard, complete with a web clip

Many sites work great like this; you can keep up, say, with the top of your Facebook, Hacker News, Reddit, or any other site with a web clip. You can open a mobile or responsive site in a small window, then clip it to fit more on your Dashboard. Or, WolframAlpha gives you a great way to make more app-like widgets that give you info you might otherwise need a specialized app for. You can’t interact with the web clip, for the most part, but you can click links on the page to open them in your default browser. So, it’s best for seeing things you’d otherwise have opened a new tab in your browser to see, not for using web apps, but it can still be very useful.

It might not be the most useful thing on your Mac, but it’s useful enough to keep me using Dashboard. And even if the iOS app aspirations fall through, I hope Apple keeps Dashboard around if nothing else than for web clips.


It’s tough to say if Dashboard is here to stay. Apple could always cut it out in the next version of OS X, or leave it half-neglected. Either way, the newer iOS style widgets and web clips are enough to make it useful for me, and I for one am glad it’s still in OS X. And if you’d like to make your own Dashboard widgets, here’s a quick tutorial from our friends at Mac.Tuts+ on how to do just that!

Do you still use the Dashboard? If so, I’d love to hear what widgets you’re using!