Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Dynamic Island

Sami Fathi:

In a new interview, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi, and Apple’s vice president of human interface design, Alan Dye, sat down to discuss the thinking behind the iPhone 14 Pro’s Dynamic Island and how it was developed.


“Personally, I felt as if there was a new life-saving identity on my iPhone,” Federighi said. “It’s a very delicate animation effect, but it’s a little different from anthropomorphism, but I think it gave the iPhone a new strong personality and vitality.”

Here’s the Google translation of the article, which was published in Japanese.

Craig Hockenberry:

The name “notch” entered the vernacular very quickly, but as far as I know, it has never been used by Apple. If pressed, they have referred to it as a sensor housing and other technical names.

I don’t think they particularly like the name “notch”, so they learned a lesson an consciously gave the new housing a name.

If they hadn’t, we’d all be calling the Dynamic Island a “pill” by now.

John Gruber:

Not only does the Dynamic Island now strike me as the obvious answer to what should be done with a sensor array cutout in a phone display, it’s so cool, so fun, so useful that it feels like an obvious reason why you should have a sensor array cutout in a phone display in the first place. When the iPhone X introduced the notch, there were a lot of people who thought Apple should have hidden it by drawing a black notch-height border across the top of the display. Only a fool would argue that the Dynamic Island would be better off hidden like that.


One week in and I’m hooked. I have a regular iPhone 14 to test too, and I’m doing side-by-side comparisons with my year-old iPhone 13 Pro, but those phones feel outdated. Inert. Less fun and less useful. The Dynamic Island is that good.


But instead of increasing complexity system-wide, the Dynamic Island increases simplicity. It’s a major new feature but it reduces the cognitive load of using or checking the status of more than one app at a time. “Useful new feature” always sounds good, but new features generally increase complexity. The Dynamic Island is that rare gem that reduces complexity while adding utility.

Jason Snell:

The Island design language itself can best be described as “whimsical.” It really is sort of like a cartoon character, with sharp animations that make it feel elastic and alive. It will literally bump against other interface elements, like the time, and shake as if it’s made contact with a physical object. It looks especially impressive on the iPhone Pro’s sharp display, with its ProMotion frame rate and a special subpixel anti-aliasing algorithm.

Nilay Patel:

Here’s where I think Apple missed the mark a little: in the keynote and all the ads, the island is shown as a thing that’s worth interacting with — it’s always moving around and going back and forth between the main view and the expanded view. In reality, well, it’s not like that at all.

The island isn’t a primary interface element; it sits over whatever app you’re actually using, and apps are still the main point of the iPhone. In fact, tapping on the island doesn’t open that expanded widget view; it just switches you back to whatever app that controls the widget. To get the expanded widget that’s shown in all the ads, you have to tap and hold. This feels exactly backwards to me. I think a tap should pop open the widget, and I also think you should at least be able to choose between the two behaviors.

Joe Rossignol:

There are currently around 30 things that the Dynamic Island can show, including system alerts for incoming phone calls, AirPods and other accessories being connected, Face ID authentication, Apple Pay, AirDrop, AirPlay, car keys in the Wallet app, unlocking the iPhone with an Apple Watch, charging and low battery indicators, ring/silent mode, various NFC interactions, Focus mode changes, Shortcuts, Airplane Mode, SIM card alerts, and Find My.

Notably, iPhone 14 Pro models no longer display an annoying low battery alert in the middle of the screen when the device drops to 20% battery life remaining, with or without a charger connected, as The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern confirmed to us. Instead, the low battery alert appears in the Dynamic Island and requires no action from the user.

Francisco Tolmasky:

So far what we know about the Dynamic Island is:

  1. Doesn’t work in landscape mode (the controls just disappear).
  2. Doesn’t (currently) work in Reachability. Coming in iOS 16.1
  3. Takes up more space than the notch.

This better be the best UX enhancement ever to justify this…

Jon Gales:

My least favorite part of Apple’s new Dynamic Island is how when playing media it hides what type of mobile network you’re on. You get some extremely small album artwork and a useless animation, but don’t get to know if you’re on 3G/LTE/5G.

Joe Rossignol:

One smaller detail that we have now confirmed is that the Dynamic Island is only visible in screenshots taken on iPhone 14 Pro models while it is being used by apps, or when the camera/microphone indicator dots are active. The screenshot shows the entire Dynamic Island, including any added elements, such as a circular timer icon.

On the other hand, the Dynamic Island does not appear in screenshots when it is completely inactive. In this case, the screenshot simply shows the wallpaper behind the Dynamic Island, which is the same screenshot behavior as on iPhones with a notch.


8 Comments RSS · Twitter

Other phone manufacturers had hole punch displays for years before Apple, and none of them thought of this.

Did Apple remove subpixel AA only to reintroduce it for a single UI component?

I thought maybe the pill would be better than the notch, but sounds like only in someways.

Can't wait til they both are gone.

Old Unix Geek

Mostly off topic, but I found this UI article interesting:


Basically Apple purposefully screws up the contrast of messages from people using its competitors.

@Old Unix Geek I saw that article but am skeptical about it. I’m not sure it’s actually showing the same green that iOS uses. And I think iOS has used the same green since the original version, which was several years before iMessage existed.

Old Unix Geek

Interesting. Thanks Michael.

I don't actually use iMessage, but do know that youngsters seem to hate the colour their Android using friends' messages appear in.

That pill gives me touch bar vibes.

>Did Apple remove subpixel AA only to reintroduce it for a single UI component?

I find this whole subpixel thing on the Dynamic Island fascinating.

Assuming it's even true (Apple itself doesn't seem to talk about this; most sources seem to ultimately point to The Verge), and assuming The Verge's implication that it works against arbitrary backgrounds (as opposed to only being implemented against solid black) is true: that suggests either the area surrounding the DI is no longer GPU-accelerated (maybe because they can make simpler assumptions about what content goes up there?), or, more interestingly and rarely, they've ported the entire text rendering process to run on the GPU itself. Otherwise, a subpixel pipeline isn't really possible.

In the latter case, this could be a testbed/precursor to rolling out subpixel rendering (which the iPhone never had) on a broader level, and that, in turn, could mean bringing it back to the Mac (which had it before Core Animation took over the entire UI, ca. 10.13 High Sierra).

[…] that Dynamic Island’s primary interaction model is wrong. Michael Tsai compiles commentary across two posts, which include people grumping about how a tap on Dynamic Island opens an app, whereas a […]

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