Thursday, January 31, 2008

What is the difference between a gadget and an application?

When talking to people about Smart Space I hear this question come up all the time. I have found that most people have very different views on this topic so take what I have to offer as merely another opinion. In my earlier post I talked about the definition of a gadget and stated the following:

Gadgets (or Widgets) are mini applications that expose key content (bits of data) or features generally from a larger (full) application and they deliver these features or data in a simple and visually pleasing manner.

So when I read this I key in on some key concepts that help me to differentiate between an application and a gadget. First, I wrote that gadgets are "mini applications", and to me this means that they are smaller than an application and, at times, related to a full application. When I say smaller I mean smaller in two ways, smaller in physical footprint and smaller in the screen real estate that the gadget takes up. Second, gadgets focus on "key content"… "or features" where an application will have many features and tons of content. Lastly the gadget should present this information in "a simple and visually pleasing manner". In other words when a gadget is giving me information I should not have to guess at what it is telling me, the presentation of the data is just as important as the data itself.

Here are a few examples:

In Smart Space there is a nice search gadget that lets me search for content in Hyperion Reporting and Analysis (System 9). It is very simple, just enter a search term and get results. This is the kind of search I do 99% of the time and that is why this makes a great gadget. If I want to get more advanced I could open the Hyperion Reporting and Analysis application in my browser and navigate the search page to perform the search with a number of other key options. The gadget takes up very little room on my desktop and covers most if not all of my Hyperion Reporting and Analysis search needs, but the application is there when I need it.

In our beta I wrote a notepad gadget that is great for taking quick notes and having them always visible on my desktop but I would not want to write this blog entry using it. For writing emails, document or blog posts I want to use an application like Word that is full of great features for writing.

In the Smart Space Key Contacts gadget I can limit my list of users that I communicate with, down, from the long list that includes people I have seldom contact with, to a much more focused list. At a glance I can see who is available to chat, and with a single click I can start my IM application. In this case the gadget provides visual indication of my key contacts that are available and launches me from the gadget experience to the application experience.

Here is an example from the consumer gadget world and this should drive my point about presentation of the data. I will use images to demonstrate this:

Both deal with system monitoring but the gadget gives me the basics and at a glance tells me what I need to know. (My CPU is fine but memory consumption is a bit high) If I want features and details then I go ahead and open the application.

To conclude I want to keep things simple, so when creating a gadget don't try to satisfy every use case otherwise you will have an application on your hands, make sure that you are building something a user wants to run on their desktop all the time, and make sure what you present has the right design for a user to 'get it' at a glance. I have found that these same Ideas can be applied to almost any application and I think about these concepts whenever I am building a new gadget.

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