With Dynamic Island, Apple made use of the display cutout in ways Android brands just couldn’t yet

The only thing everyone can agree on when it comes to “Dynamic Island” is that it is a bad name. Otherwise, opinions on the actual usability or aesthetic of the new interactive pill-shaped cutout in the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max have been completely divisive. Personally, I was sold from the get-go, but I know colleagues who hate it, including my colleague Karthik who wrote this excellent editorial on why the Dynamic Island creates more problems than it solves.

I don’t disagree with his points actually. Switching from the notch to the pill-shaped cutout doesn’t give the new iPhones any meaningful extra screen space. The cutout actually sits further down the screen than the notch ever did. The clever UI elements Apple built as part of the Dynamic Island UI are indeed hard to reach with one hand — although that’s hardly the only UI element of iOS that’s not one-hand use friendly.

So, if I agree with my colleague’s points criticizing the Dynamic Island, why do I like it? Because I like that the island embraces a necessary hardware compromise of modern smartphones — the need for selfie cameras to eat into the screen — by building a fun and clever user interface on and around the cutout. Instead of ignoring the screen blemish, or even trying to hide it the way many Android brands have, Apple is embracing it, drawing attention to it, and making use of it.

Android brands see the hole as a flaw, and Apple sees it as an opportunity

I’ve been covering the Android scene for years, and the most exciting period in my opinion (at least until next year when the foldable wars really heat up on a global scale) was when Chinese Android brands bent over backward in 2018 trying to find ways to not need a notch. We got phones with pop-up camera modules, slider mechanisms, with entire full-sized screens on their backs — all so that a selfie camera can exist without eating into the screen.

The Nubia X, released in 2018, with a fully functional screen on its backside.

Those phones were absolutely fun to test for a gadget geek like me, but they were not practical, and those brands knew it. Because before long, they were all back to the notch, and eventually settled on the hole-punch cutout solution that’s ubiquitous in the Android scene.

But even now, Android brands seem sheepish about the existence of the selfie hole, because some brands like Xiaomi would dedicate marketing material and keynote time to brag about their phones having a “smaller hole than competitors.” Samsung and ZTE sacrificed selfie camera quality in favor of nascent under-screen camera technology.

Underscreen selfie camera of the Z Fold 3

Samsung chose to sacrifice the selfie camera in its Z Fold series in order to give us a slightly less noticeable hole.

Some Android skins, such as Oppo’s ColorOS or Motorola’s MyUI, give users the option to hide the cutout with a digital bezel.

Meanwhile, here’s Apple, not only embracing the hole-punch, but it designed software to make it bigger. Depending on the context, Apple would use black pixels to fill out space around the cutout to make it morph into different shapes and sizes.

For example, start a song on Spotify (or Apple Music) and swipe out of the app, and you’ll see the app fly into the island, which then expands to show the album cover art, along with an audio wave bar that thumps along to the tunes. Apple has even built a mini physics engine for this action, so depending on how you swipe, the app flies into the island at a different trajectory, and the island “catches” the app with the corresponding animations.

Like the Twitter user above, I am a sucker for animation flourishes, and little touches like this make the iPhone feel alive.

But it’s not just superficial flair, the Dynamic Island brings real functional use. Navigate with Apple Maps running in the background, for example, and you’ll see a constant arrow pointing you in the direction you should be going. Call a ride with Lyft, and you see the status of your ride. Start a timer, and you see the clock ticks down the seconds, all on the island.

And because Apple is Apple, there is a great chance all major apps will make use of the island eventually. Google Maps will surely adopt similar real-time navigation. If you fly a major airline, particularly a US-based one, you’ll probably see something like boarding time and gate information directly on the island. There are myriad different ways the island can be used, and I am confident it shall be used much more than it is being used right now.

Like it or not, the Dynamic Island is here to stay

Just like the original iPhone X notch, there will always be vocal Android diehards who will criticize it. But I am almost certain the Dynamic Island won’t alienate existing iPhone users, nor will it scare off the average consumer open to trying an iPhone. Remember, there was a similar outcry about the notch too when it debuted in 2017, and guess what, go to any major city in the US or Europe, and you’re seeing notches everywhere. In a year or two, you’ll be seeing Dynamic Islands everywhere. The question I’m more curious about is whether Android brands will follow suit and design similar UI interfaces.

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