Now that a month has passed since the iPhone 14 Pro’s official release, it’s time for sober second thoughts. I’ve been using the latter as my daily driver for a month now, and I’m finally ready to address the elephant in the room: the Dynamic Island.
For those unfamiliar with Apple jargon, this year’s Pro models ditched the iconic notch in favor of a new cutout. In reality, the iPhone 14 Pro has two cutouts: one for the selfie camera and one for the Face ID sensors.
The Dynamic Island appears (pun intended) when iOS merges the two cutouts, resulting in a feature that Apple describes as a “seamless blend between hardware and software.”
To be sure, the aforementioned statement is technically correct – the blend is indeed seamless. The problem is that Dynamic Island’s software and hardware are both suboptimal for a variety of reasons.
In the following paragraphs, I will explain why, in its current state, Dynamic Island is more of a gimmick designed to hide poor design than a truly useful feature. Two disclaimers are in order at this point.
First and foremost, this is just one man’s opinion based on his personal experience with an iPhone 14 Pro. Second, this is not an Apple rant – I consider myself an Apple fanboy and am deeply immersed in the Apple ecosystem.
Following the rather lengthy introduction, I will present my case for why Dynamic Island is a (relatively rare) example of poor execution on Apple’s part.
The Dynamic Island’s faulty hardware
On the hardware front, I’d like to address a common complaint about Dynamic Island. The goal of incorporating a cutout is to maximize usable screen real estate and achieve an optimal body-to-screen ratio. In some ways, almost every smartphone manufacturer is striving for the Holy Grail: a full edge-to-edge screen.
It should be noted that with the introduction of Dynamic Island, Apple has increased the screen-to-body ratio of the iPhone Pro lineup. Has this, however, maximize the amount of usable screen space?
The answer is unequivocal “no.” The Dynamic island is narrower than the previous generation’s notch, but the pixels above the former are virtually unusable. As a result, Dynamic Island occupies more vertical space than its predecessor.
The image above clearly shows that Dynamic Island makes poor use of screen space and is, in some ways, worse than the notch. This became obvious to me while using third-party apps. Content that would normally be visible on a “notched” iPhone is pushed down. Nonetheless, this issue is likely to be resolved soon as developers continue to optimize their apps for the new iPhones.
In fact, I dare to say that the iPhone 14 Pro would have had a more usable screen if Apple had simply slapped the Dynamic Island on the top bezel. However, Apple would have been chastised for recycling the same design that it introduced with the iPhone X five years ago.
The need for a visible design change was a major reason for Apple’s move to Dynamic Island. Dynamic Island is unique, to say the least, but not always in a good way. Furthermore, given that Apple is already working on the under-display Face ID, it would have made more sense to wait for the technology to advance before altering the iPhone’s front design.
Many other Apple products have only recently adopted the “notch” (the MacBook Air did so this year), so I believe that sticking with something that has become iconic and is more usable would have been preferable to relying on an interim solution solely to deliver a design change.
This means that no one expects Apple to keep the Dynamic Island after it has figured out how to put Face ID beneath the display. As a result, Dynamic Island was designed with obsolescence in mind.
The final section also ties in nicely with the second component of my critique. There is no point in making Dynamic Island particularly useful if it is not built to last. In fact, by keeping its functionality limited, its removal will be welcomed. As a result, Apple has no incentive to improve its software, which brings me to my next point.
Dynamic Island’s software is limited
What is the purpose of Dynamic Island?
The main reason I object to Dynamic Island being dubbed Apple’s latest “feature” is simple: it does not bring anything new to the table, only a new look to existing features.
Apple has stated that Dynamic Island will display “Live Activities.” According to a developer blog post published by the company, Dynamic Island should be used for tracking “tasks and live events with a defined beginning and end” by displaying “only the most essential content.”
The Dynamic Island’s Live Activity should update “only when new content is available, alerting people only if it’s critical to get their attention” and “give people control over beginning and ending.”
On paper, everything appears to be in order, but there is one flaw. All of this is possible with persistent banners. There is absolutely no reason to have Dynamic Island constantly plaguing your UI just to have a way to display Live Activities.
The Live Activities functionality exists to justify the existence of Dynamic Island, not the other way around. In theory, this makes them both more of an excuse than actual features.
Putting the Dynamic Island to Use
However, the theory does not always mix well with practice, so I wanted to see for myself whether Dynamic Island makes sense in everyday situations. There are a couple of use cases that I enjoy.
Tracking timers set via the Clock app is very convenient, and the ability to interact with Apple Music without opening the app is even better. I liked how I could change the song while reading the news without having to open the Control Center.
But that’s all there is to it. Is there really that much of a difference? To be honest, I don’t care how much time is left until the alarm goes off; all I need to know is that it has gone off.
Furthermore, I’ll be listening to music with my iPhone locked most of the time (funnily enough, the Dynamic Island is on the top of the display, but the lock screen player is on the bottom of the screen instead).
Now, I may be an outlier, but many reviewers have noted that Dynamic Island lacks a plethora of useful functions. Mark Gurman sums it up nicely in his Power On newsletter: “there are only four compelling reasons to use it… phone calls, music playback, map directions, and the timer.”
Dynamic Island has real potential, especially if third-party developers find a creative way to use it. Above all, it’s a clever way for Apple to hide the ugly truth: the iPhone 14 Pro has two large, unappealing cutouts on the front.
It is a seamless combination of flawed hardware and limited software that introduces a feature that could have been accomplished with a simple iOS update.
It reminds me of the first time Apple introduced AssistiveTouch. Because the Home Button had become so ingrained in the iPhone, the option to implement it virtually was added to ensure that users always had access to it. Even though the physical Home Button is no longer available, many iPhone users continue to use AssistiveTouch. I seriously doubt that a similar situation will arise when (not if) Apple removes Dynamic Island.
In any case, I’m still smitten with my iPhone 14 Pro. I genuinely believe it is one of the best smartphones of 2022, and I eagerly anticipate using it every day. The Dynamic Island, however, is not the cause of this.