• Apple’s Dynamic Island feature changes how we interact with our phones.
  • It’s the kind of hardware/software blend that only Apple can do.
  • No, this isn’t just another Touch Bar.

Apple's Dynamic Island on iPhone 14

The biggest reason to pick the iPhone 14 Pro over the regular 14 is not a hardware feature but a software gimmick.

The surprise hit of Apple's 2022 iPhone launch is the Dynamic Island, a pill-shaped status and alert box that never leaves the screen. It's beautiful, whimsical, amusing, incredibly useful, and yet it probably started life as nothing more than a way to hide the camera holes in the iPhone 14 Pro's display. 

“Dynamic Island is the hottest piece of UI I’ve seen in a long time,” designer Charles Patterson said on Twitter. 

Dynamic Thinking

Apple's UI standards have slipped in recent years. If you're using a Mac, for example, mouse up to a notification at the top right of the screen and try to dismiss it. The "x" button that closes it only shows up when you get near it and can disappear before you try to click it. 

But there have been moments of genius, too,  like when Apple completely reinvented how mouse pointers work and interact when it introduced the Magic Keyboard with Trackpad for the iPad. Or Universal Control, where the cursor arrow squeezes off the side of a Mac's screen only to appear on a nearby iPad.

The iPhone 14 Pro replaces the notch with a smaller circle and lozenge arrangement that is always on screen. It contains the front-facing camera and Face ID array. But instead of just ignoring it, Apple used it to invent a new take on status and notifications. The black lozenge shows alerts but also morphs and grows to fit its contents. It can become a waveform and artwork for the currently playing song, it can show incoming phone calls, and all that. 

Always on

But because the Dynamic Island remains on screen at all times, it can give ambient information. For example, on a playing music track, you see the audio waveform and the progress through the track. If you set a timer, it sits there, counting down, always visible. If another app needs to use the Dynamic Island, then the timer will shrink to a small timer icon, ready to be tapped and recalled. 

The Dynamic Island only disappears when doing full-screen activities like watching movies, when Apple just turns one end of the screen black to hide it. This sounds like it could get annoying, but in the torrent of Twitter praise, I haven’t yet seen this mentioned. 

I think that Dynamic Island will be a hit, because it actually is functional, unlike the Touch Bar, which just made things difficult…

Why are people going so wild for something that’s little more than a fancy alert box? Perhaps because it’s just so well done. The animations are playful, bouncy, and slick. It feels like the Dynamic Island is your friend, in a way. The way it jumps around and resizes, or fullscreen apps shrink back into the lozenge, is plain fun.

It’s also super useful. The Mac has a menubar for this kind of ambient data, but the iPhone never had much more than a battery icon and a cellular-strength meter. The Dynamic Island is Apple’s modern-day reinvention of the menubar and notifications, similar to how the iPad’s mouse blob was a reinvention of mouse interaction.

Not the Touch Bar

But we've been here before. The Mac's Touch Bar was an interactive status screen that could morph to change functions, but Apple seemed to lose interest soon after launch, and it's now only available on old, legacy MacBook models. However, even now, the Dynamic Island feels a lot more important than the Touch Bar. Just look at how Apple has integrated the hardware and the software here. 

“I think that Dynamic Island will be a hit because it actually is functional, unlike the Touch Bar, which just made things difficult or [required] extra steps for the same task,” Kurt Twain, founder of tech hardware company Approved Modems, told Lifewire via email. 

The Dynamic Island casts a little shadow and blurs the background slightly. This, said Apple in the launch event, requires a special graphics section on the A16 chip, so the iPhone's GPU doesn't have to be constantly powered up to take care of the animations. A special piece of hardware, just for the Dynamic Island. This is the kind of detail no other company would even think of, let alone build. 

Dynamic Island iPad mockup

And it wouldn't be surprising to see the Dynamic Island make its way to the iPad one day, as seen in these amazing mockups of a possible iPad version by Apple journalist Parker Ortolani.

“Imagine Dynamic Island taking [the] iPad Pro to a whole new level. It could be that perfect solution for bringing the menu bar to iPadOS in a new and fluid way,” Apple watcher Parker Ortolani said on Twitter. “Apps and multitasking taken even further.”

Forget the fancy cameras. The reason to go Pro this year is the Dynamic Island.

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