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Apple's dynamic island: form over function?

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When Apple launched the iPhone 14 Pro in 2022, one big thing stood out during its presentation: Dynamic Island. After years of notching, Apple moved the front camera and Face ID module into a large pill-shaped cutout near the top of the display.

But the iPhone’s Dynamic Island is more than just a sensor box. Apple used iOS to make it an area you can interact with to see notifications, control your music, and more. But is Apple’s Dynamic Island really the next big thing, or is it more style than substance?

It’s the biggest notch change in years

The notch of an iPhone X

We first discovered the notch in 2017 with the announcement of the iPhone X, and since then the notch has become an iPhone staple. It even made its way to the MacBook. But even years after the iPhone X was released, the notch has remained remarkably the same.

It took until the announcement of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max for Apple to show us what its vision for a next-gen iPhone would look like. At the center of this new iPhone experience is Dynamic Island.

But Apple hasn’t completely replaced the traditional notch. The base iPhone 14 still has a notch, and it’s unclear if the company will eventually bring the Dynamic Island to all iPhones or if it will remain a premium feature.

We’ve come to know and maybe even love the notch. But the notch was bound to disappear eventually, at least on the Pro model.

How Dynamic Island affects notifications

Even though Apple’s marketing for the iPhone 14 Pro seems to be focused on the dynamic islandyou might be surprised to learn that most apps don’t use Dynamic Island at all.

Sometimes you’ll see the Dynamic Island play a bigger role in your daily life when you get an incoming phone or FaceTime call. It will adapt its shape and grow to show your incoming call. Pretty cool, right? However, most of your notifications, such as emails, social media alerts, and even built-in apps like Messages, completely ignore the feature.

We’re pretty used to how notifications work on iOS. And even on the iPhone 14 Pro with Dynamic Island, most of your notifications slide down from the top, as they have for years now. This has caused some people to wonder if the dynamic island is worth the extra cost.

Dynamic and multitasking island

iPhone 14 Pro on a blackboard

The iPhone was able to run full apps in the background for a while. But unlike Android, which lets you see multiple apps simultaneously on the screen, iOS still doesn’t have split-screen multitasking capabilities. This means you can only interact with one app at a time, regardless of how many apps are running in the background.

However, with Dynamic Island, a few select apps may remain on screen while you do other things. For example, you can do things like activate a timer and keep an eye on it while browsing social media. You can see Apple Music album art and quickly access your media controls on the fly. Also, you can follow directions ahead from Apple Maps.

Although Dynamic Island only integrates with a few apps, for now, we could see Apple adding more features in the future.

There’s no doubt that the iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island is at its best when it comes to multitasking. And while Dynamic Island certainly isn’t reinventing the iPhone experience, it does give iPhone more functionality than ever before.

Dynamic Island actually takes up more of your screen

iPhone 14 Pro on a white table

One of the biggest problems people have with smartphone notches is that they cut through your screen real estate. Some people find notches distracting, especially when watching movies or playing games in landscape mode.

To combat this, Android makers have explored tons of different solutions. We’ve seen devices with camera cutouts and camera pills, and there was even a time when pop-out selfie cameras were a thing. Either way, the goal was simple: create an all-screen device or get as close to it as possible.

But Apple’s dynamic island is quite different. Not only is the dynamic island much larger than the camera cutouts on most flagship Android phones, it sits lower on the iPhone screen. This means that compared to the notch, the dynamic island of the iPhone 14 Pro is actually much more visible.

So while you can hide the notch with a smart background or smart app design, Apple’s Dynamic Island cutout is still present and highly visible.

People’s reactions to Dynamic Island have been mixed. In fact, people have been put Dynamic Islands on their Android phones. But if you find the notch annoying, you’re not going to enjoy using a device with Dynamic Island at all.

Will we see Dynamic Island on more Apple devices?

16-inch MacBook Pro on a white table

Apple is branding Dynamic Island as the next big thing for the iPhone, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a staple on all of Apple’s devices. The iPhone is by far Apple’s biggest product, and every year Apple comes up with design changes to convince you to upgrade. But when it comes to the rest of Apple’s product lines, they get major updates much less often.

We first saw a MacBook Pro with a notch in 2021, but it was the first time the MacBook Pro got a complete redesign in five years. It could be that long before we get another full overhaul. And some were convinced that the M2 iPad Pro would be reworked with a Dynamic Island. Instead, Apple only provided an improvement in internal specs.

Even the revamped 10th generation iPad, which got a landscape-oriented front-facing camera in 2022, hasn’t been updated with the dynamic island. So while we may see a MacBook or iPad with Dynamic Island at some point, don’t expect it anytime soon.

Dynamic Island doesn’t change the overall iPhone experience

iPhone 14 Pro in box

Dynamic Island has a lot of features, and it’s the biggest change to the iPhone in years. But it’s not as big an upgrade as Apple wants you to think.

There’s no doubt that it’s handy to use Dynamic Island to keep things like timers, music, and navigation on screen. But keep in mind that all of this information was never out of reach on iOS. If you’re on a call or using navigation, iOS already gives you a shortcut to the full app at the top of your screen, whether your iPhone has Dynamic Island or not.

If you’re listening to music and want to change songs, media controls are already available in the control center, which you can access at any time with a simple swipe down. And unlike Dynamic Island, The control center is fully customizable. This means getting quick access to the apps and functions you use most often.

Dynamic Island does some things differently, no doubt, but it doesn’t do much that you couldn’t already do with an iPhone.

Probably not worth upgrading just for Dynamic Island

At the end of the day, Apple’s Dynamic Island design often feels like a step aside more than a giant leap forward. It makes some small changes to how notifications work on the iPhone, but most alerts still work the same way they always have.

And while its addition is handy for multitasking, it’s hardly worth buying a new iPhone just for it alone. Sure, Dynamic Island is undoubtedly different and makes the iPhone look fresh, but that probably won’t change the way you use it.