If you’re an avid App Store watcher, there’s a very good chance you’ve noticed a friendly, bouncy dinosaur climbing the charts in recent days. Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur Widget Game is sitting at #16 on the Free Games chart at the time of this writing. It’s been featured on re/code, upvoted on ProductHunt, and — most importantly — installed on my iPhone.
It’s a simple little game (in fact, it’s essentially a clone of a Google Chrome easter egg) that’s played entirely in your Notification Center. You’ll pull down from the top and tap in the Steve box to get started. There’s not much to it; you’ll just tap to jump the cacti as they cross your path. It’s fun for a moment or two when you should be checking other notifications instead. You can even spend a little money in-app to unlock different skins that seem “inspired” by existing properties like Ninja Turtles to Pokemon.
Here’s the thing, though — given Apple’s history with widget apps, it’s interesting how the company’s stance has changed enough to let this exist.
In late 2014, Apple cracked down hard on apps that were using the Notification Center for anything significant beyond notifications. Casualties included Launcher (an apps-launching widget), PCalc (a popular calculator), and Drafts (a note-taking app). In fact Greg Pierce, the developer of Drafts, was told that Notifcation Center is for “for information presentation only.”
Times were dark for developers who hoped to bring bigger experiences to your phone’s Notification view. But as the months ticked away, with seemingly as arbitrary a motivation as fueled their original bans, Apple reversed their decision to block such interactive widgets. In fact, most of those blocked have since returned to your Notification Center in full form.
Steve, as well as other widget-based games like Overglide and Minesweeper, might have struggled to survive just a few years ago despite never violating any actual Apple guidelines. It’s interesting to see how the App Store changes over time, and how Apple reacts and reverses decisions to serve developers and consumers alike.
And thanks to those changes? You can now put a dinosaur in your pocket — and play with him before you even unlock you phone.