In case you missed it while Wordle-ing, a new iOS app called Locket has skyrocketed to the top spot of the App Store this week, with more than a million signups and counting.
Developed by Matt Moss, a former Apple Worldwide Developer Conference student scholarship winner, Locket is a widget that sits on your home screen. After you connect with up to five friends, they can send you pictures. But instead of arriving in iMessages or Snapchat, they simply appear on your screen like a little surprise. (Or, you know, like the photo in a locket.)
You can thank TikTok for Locket’s explosion into the limelight. As detailed by TechCrunch, Moss originally built Locket for his girlfriend. He put it live in the App Store on New Year’s Day, and after a walkthrough of the UI went viral on TikTok, Locket shot up the charts in the App Store.
However, to simply categorize Locket as a TikTok sensation would be missing a larger point: This app is very well designed, responding to modern trends in social media by taking advantage of a forgotten tool in apps: the widget.
Widgets are basically little pieces of software that run on your home screen, displaying bite-sized information without forcing you to open an actual application. Weather widgets display the current temperature and conditions, and stock widgets can show you your portfolio.
Yet despite being part of iOS since 2014, data shows only about 15% of iPhone users download widgets. That number isn’t super surprising. Google has told me that, for all the advanced UI settings you can access in smartphones these days, most people don’t customize their phones at all—beyond the wallpaper, which 60% of people swap out.
I get why most people don’t download widgets. They fall into an uncanny valley of functionality. On a phone, most pressing information is sent to you via push notifications. Everything deeper you seek out by loading an app. There’s not much glanceable information that falls in the middle. I can think of the current time as one, and maybe weather as another (which is why Android just shows the temperature on your lock screen).
Locket, however, basically slips a tiny Instagram feed onto your home screen. And it uses the limited information that can be squeezed into a widget, not as a shortcoming, but as a feature. Because you only send a (small) square photo, you don’t need to come up with a clever caption. Because you aren’t interrupting someone’s day, you don’t even really need a purpose. Because it’s only going to one or a few people, you don’t need to worry about its reception from the greater public.
And for the receiver, every new Locket image is a little surprise. I’ve only been using Locket for an hour, testing it out for this article, so perhaps I’m over-indexing on its novelty factor, which will soon wear thin. But I really don’t think so. Before Locket, my favorite widget—and the only widget I’ve ever used regularly—is Apple’s Photos widget, which cycles through photos I’ve taken on my homescreen, surprising me with images of my kids before I mainline cortisol by opening Twitter or reading the news. Locket is that same thing, but with my loved ones or friends driving the content instead of Apple’s algorithms. The images I see are sent to me with intent, however casual that intent may be—something intrinsically more meaningful than a computer generated photo collage. Every time I open my phone and see my wife’s tongue sticking out at me, I’ve chuckled. A cheap gag? Sure. But it works.
Who knows what the future of Locket looks like. Hot new social media apps come and go every year. Moss declined to tell TechCrunch whether he was pursuing outside funding, but he did say that he’s considering a subscription model and launching more widgets.
I could see Locket being completely ruined by a single, greedy design or privacy decision driven by the wrong business plan. (The company asks for access to your contacts to install, but claims it does not store that information. I believe the images are stored on their servers after you send them, and have sent a note to clarify.) But in any case, Locket as it exists today is a cleverly designed little experience. And it should get everyone thinking about what else might be done with this underutilized tool, the widget.