Apple’s classic cocktail of convenience and cover up on the Dynamic Island.
Love it or hate it, you probably have strong feelings about Apple’s Dynamic Island. I have to hand it to Apple for embracing a cutout and turning it into something you’re willing to open your wallets for. It’s a very “Apple way” of dealing with a problem that most Android phone makers have been ignoring and even hiding for years. It’s an expertly executed fusion of hardware and software, albeit with a terrible name and some room to improve.
Instead of catching the hype train and placing an order for the new iPhone 14 Pro, I decided to give it a little bit of thought. Would I rather have a dynamic island or stick with a notch on top of the display? Unlike a lot of people around me who I know absolutely love Dynamic Island, I am here to make a case for the notch.
Look, Dynamic Island is a cool spin on the cutout and it’s probably the best use of engineering and design I’ve seen in a long time. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has some glaring issues. Hear me out!
More intrusive than a notch
One of the main issues I have with Apple’s new Dynamic Island is that it takes up more vertical space. It’s obvious just by looking at it, but here’s a visual representation of courtesy of Ian Zelbo:
The fact that it cuts more into the display means it’s inherently more distracting than a notch while watching videos, reading a webpage or a document, browsing social media, and pretty much anything else. Yes, the iPhone 14 Pro’s display is ever-so-slightly taller in comparison to the 13 Pro’s display (5.81-inches vs 5.78-inches) to compensate for the Dynamic Island. But even when you line up the devices from the bottom to adjust the height, you’ll notice that it still cuts in.
This is lined up from the top. Since the device is slightly taller, when lined up from the bottom is looks like this. Slightly better but still cuts in more pic.twitter.com/61PEusAW8W
— Ian Zelbo (@ianzelbo) September 11, 2022
“But Karthik, is it really a deal-breaker if you lose a couple of millimeters of the content when it can do so much more than a notch?”
It’s not just about the Dynamic Island cutting in my content, though. The notch, in my opinion, is easier to ignore while watching widescreen videos, for instance. The fact that it’s an island now that floats over the content instead of sticking to the very edge makes it that much harder to ignore. Perhaps I am used to seeing notches so much that my brains refuse to look at the space between the cutout and the edge of the display. It’s just a waste of space that you can’t use for anything, really.
I also find a busy and persistent cutout like this on top of apps very distracting. I am not entirely against the idea of having an interactive UI, but I would appreciate it more if there was an option to disable it on certain apps. I’d disable it in a heartbeat while using, say, the web browser for reading articles or other important web pages, and not have a live activity distracting me.
Fingerprints all over the camera
Not only is Dynamic Island more intrusive than the traditional notch, but it’s also constantly drawing your attention. It looks alive with fancy animations but the only way you can interact with the dynamic island is with touch inputs. You’ll find yourself poking this cutout a lot throughout the day, meaning you’re also touching the selfie camera or the area surrounding it.
Granted none of the animations force you to directly touch the camera, but accidental touches are inevitable over this small touch area. Sure, you can try to be careful not to touch the selfie camera while interacting with the island, but it’s definitely easier said than done. Remember the Galaxy S8 and Samsung’s perplexing decision to place the fingerprint scanner right next to the camera lens at the back?
As someone who pre-ordered the Galaxy S8 not knowing how this deliberate design choice would affect my usage, I ended up developing this habit of cleaning the rear-camera lens each time before taking pictures. To this day, I find myself instinctively cleaning the lenses now regardless of the phone I am using. To think that I may now have to do the same with the selfie camera too makes me want to reconsider my purchase decision. Maybe we’ll all develop the alaclarity to interact with Dynamic Island without always smudging up the selfies camera lens one day. Or maybe we’ll just ignore and adapt to it because, well, Apple and its weird and unwelcoming design choices, right?
All the cool features are hard to reach
Apple’s Dynamic Island is located towards the top edge of the display. It’s arguably one of the most difficult parts of the phone to reach with one hand. It may not be an issue on the smaller iPhone 14 Pro or for those with bigger hands. But as someone who finds it a little difficult to reach the notch on the iPhone 13 Pro, this is going to be quite the task for me. And I know I speak on behalf of a large subset of users when I say the dynamic island is hard to reach, and even harder on the larger iPhone 14 Pro Max. This means I now have to adjust the way I hold and use my phone to take advantage of the Dynamic Island.
It’s not like we folks with smaller hands can entirely ignore the cutout and continue using the phone without it. That’s because it’s constantly staring at you, bouncing and animating around, and seeking attention. I also expect to be fully forced to pay more attention to the dynamic island as more developers will start building some cool features for it. This will most certainly happen because the dynamic island is here to stay and it’s only going to evolve over time. It’s also reportedly making its way to the affordable iPhones next year, so get ready to stretch your fingers, especially on the Plus and the Pro Max models.
The arrival of Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro is just the start, and I am sure Apple will add more features to evolve this cutout in the future. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, then how about the person who helped design this new interface? Here, take a look:
The new project I designed arrives today – the Dynamic Island.
Its goal is to feel like a living, elastic bubble that can fluidly shape shift into different alerts and experiences.
This is just the start, but I’m excited to see it begin its life! pic.twitter.com/HTkhSK69LU
— Chan Karunamuni (@chan_k) September 16, 2022
It’s just a cutout, after all
Alright, now we’re really getting into what most would describe as “nitpicking” territory, but I have to mention this. Design is entirely subjective, so I’ll save a few words instead of ranting about the shape and size of this cutout. But what I can’t ignore is how the individual cutouts look under a direct source of light.
The members of the r/iphone subreddit were quick to react to this image, most of which echoed my thoughts. The Dynamic Island, in case you’re wondering, looks the way it does in this particular image because Apple is essentially using an OLED display to turn off individual pixels to blend the two cutouts. The screen and the cameras have different materials underneath that reflects the light differently. Does this affect the Dynamic Island functions? No. But will it take some time for me to get used to how bad it looks under a direct light source? Probably.
I can’t help but draw some parallels between the visible cutouts and the folding crease in the middle that creeps up on some foldable phones when viewed at an angle. The crease, just like these individual cutouts, isn’t exactly noticeable unless you specifically look for it. I also vividly remember the time when everyone got upset about the under-display fingerprint scanners on Android phones being visible under sunlight with the display turned off. Look, all of them are perfectly fine as they don’t interfere with your day-to-day usage. They just look a little off and like something Apple would never ship.
Well, those are some of my thoughts about Apple’s new Dynamic Island. You may not look at it through the same lens as I did, and that’s okay. XDA’s Senior Editor Ben, for instance, noted how he really likes the Dynamic Island in his iPhone 14 Pro Max hands-on post. If you like being on the cutting edge of technology and like getting first hands on some new tech before others, then don’t let me stop you. I personally think Dynamic Island creates more problems than it solves.
It’s a textbook Apple feature if I’ve ever seen one, so it’s bound to have some polarizing thoughts and opinions. For me, it’s just a satisfying cover-up for the huge cutouts which Apple will use as a pit stop for the next few years as it figures out a way to get rid of the holes on the display.
But don’t let any of that take away from the fact that the new iPhone Pro models are great phones. In fact, I think they’re some of the best iPhones Apple has ever made. There are a lot of other things that truly differentiate them from regular models.
I might even consider buying an iPhone 14 Pro down the line. If I do then you know it’s because of features like the new chipset, the always-on display, and the upgraded cameras, and not the Dynamic Island.