With this year’s iPhone 14 lineup, Apple introduced the most significant user interface change for its smartphone platform since Face ID debuted on the iPhone X in 2017: the dynamic island.
Thanks to the plethora of rumors and leaks leading up to the iPhone 14’s launch, we knew Apple would move away from the long-standing camera notch design and replace it with a pill-shaped notch. What we didn’t see coming was that Apple had even bigger plans for it.
Unlike most smartphone makers, Apple didn’t want to simply poke a hole in the iPhone screen and try to pretend it wasn’t there. Instead, Apple hung a lantern on it. If you need a hole in your smartphone screen, why can’t you to do something useful?
The Dynamic Island is on the iPhone 14 Pro
Unfortunately, this is one area where people looking at Apple’s more affordable iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus will be disappointed. The standard iPhone 14 models keep the same notch and screen design as the iPhone 13. Only the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max get the new pill-shaped cutout, so only these Pro models get the Dynamic Island.
It is difficult to say whether there are technical limitations associated with this. Sure, Apple’s choice to keep the notch on the standard models makes the Dynamic Island a non-starter. Even if Apple did something similar to work with the notch, the experience wouldn’t be the same.
At the September launch event, Apple executives noted that the Dynamic Island is designed to take advantage of the faster 120Hz ProMotion display exclusive to the Pro models. However, that is not the same as saying the dynamic island requires a 120Hz screen. It was more about Apple praising its display technology.
How the Dynamic Island works
The Dynamic Island’s seemingly silly name belies what is actually one of the most exciting changes to the iPhone UI in years.
Instead of just leaving a black cutout in the middle of the iPhone status bar for people to try to ignore, Apple has iOS 16 experience around it. Notifications for Face ID, incoming calls, battery charging, AirPods and more now extend from the Dynamic Island, making it seem like the camera cutout belongs there. Small icons constantly appear in the Dynamic Island to show thumbnail images for everything you’re currently playing, timers and audiometers for ongoing phone calls, etc.
In addition, you can tap on the Dynamic Island while an activity is in progress to open the app behind that activity, such as the Phone, FaceTime, or Music apps, or you can tap and hold to display a pop-up banner with more details and even controls for things like playback or ongoing calls. Surprisingly, you can press anywhere on the Dynamic Island for this, even in the center of the camera cutout.
This is just the beginning
At least for now, Dynamic Island is exclusive to the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, but it hasn’t reached its full potential yet either.
We’re still waiting for some of the iOS 16 features that Apple showed off at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June. One is Live Activities, which takes Dynamic Island to a whole new level.
As shown then, Live Activities dynamically update notifications that appear on your lock screen, allowing you to see real-time information such as sports scores, ride arrival times, or even the progress of your Starbucks mobile order. In hindsight, it’s clear that Apple built this with the Dynamic Island in mind.
If you’re using an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max, you’ll see these Live Activities appear more discreetly in the Dynamic Island while using your iPhone without interrupting the app you’re using. Logos and scores for your favorite sports teams will appear on either side of the Dynamic Island while a game is in progress, and if you’re waiting for a Lyft ride to pick you up, the ETA will stay at the top of the screen so you can keep an eye on it keep while using other apps.
Live Activities are expected in iOS 16.1 when it releases later in the year. Sports scores are already available in the iOS 16.1 betas, as they come from Apple’s TV app; other Live activities depend on third-party developers updating their apps.
While those with an iPhone 14 Pro or iPhone 14 Pro Max will get the most out of this new feature thanks to Dynamic Island, Live Activities will still be available for the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, as well as older iPhone models running iOS 16.1. . Without Dynamic Island, Live Activities will show up as persistent notifications on the lock screen, just like Apple initially showed them at WWDC, with the usual notification banners dropping from the top of the screen as you use your iPhone.
What about the iPhone 15?
While Dynamic Island is currently exclusive to the iPhone 14 Pro models, it looks like it won’t be the case next year. Shortly after the launch of the iPhone 14, display analyst Ross Young shows shared on Twitter that while the more affordable iPhones still aren’t going to get the faster 120Hz display anytime soon, Dynamic Island is expected to come to the standard iPhone 15 models next year.
Young is very well connected in Apple’s supply chain, so his information is usually quite accurate. While he’s unlikely to know much about Apple’s software plans, his sources have likely shared Apple’s move to the pill-shaped cutout for the entire iPhone 15 lineup. If the screens look the same, it would be extremely strange for Apple to limit Dynamic Island to the iPhone 15 Pro models.
It’s actually quite unusual for Apple to split its iPhone range so dramatically in the first place. It prides itself on consistency, especially when it comes to user interface design. Buying the screens needed to produce hundreds of millions of iPhones is challenging at the best of times, and Apple faced a host of supply chain issues during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many of its suppliers are still not back at full capacity, and the fact that the iPhone 14 has a screen that’s virtually unchanged from last year’s iPhone 13 suggests there weren’t enough parts for both the iPhone 14 and the iPhone 14. iPhone 14 Pro models to get the dynamic island.