I will attempt to get through this entire blog post without referring to Dynamic Island as ‘Monkey Island’.
I really will. I promise.
As I noted during my first impressions review of the iPhone 14 Pro Max, Dynamic Island makes Apple’s latest flagship phone feel newer than its predecessors. In my opinion, we’ve not been treated to something like this for a while – arguably, the last time an iPhone looked different was when the iPhone X was introduced in 2018.
Four years later, the combination of the lovely new Lock Screen stuff in iOS 16 and the Dynamic Island provides a genuine “ooh this really is the new iPhone!” experience when you first switch the thing on.
However, I’ve been using Dynamic Island for a week now, and I have some thoughts.
When it comes to Apple, there’s a subsection of the world’s population that loves to have something to moan about. I sit among that crowd, too; whether it’s the stupid charging process for the Magic Mouse, the inability to turn your AirPods Max off, or the continued reliance on Lightning, it’s pretty easy to launch into a tirade about their antics.
I don’t get some of the disdain, though. I’ve never understood the hate for the notch on the iPhone – and certainly not on the new MacBooks (where it is practically invisible during daily use). Apple has chosen to place its camera gubbins inside that cut-out area of the screen because, for whatever reason, they don’t feel the technology is ready yet to hide everything behind the screen.
I’m cool with that. If it was in the middle of the screen, that’d be a different matter. But it isn’t – the notch is tucked out of the way and has, in the iPhone’s case, become a brand indicator.
Dynamic Island is still a notch of sorts. It has just been detached from the top of the screen, moved down slightly, encompassed by the screen itself, and given a new role in iOS.
As a result, it disappears just as quickly as the notch always has done, and only makes itself known when absolutely needed. Honestly – you barely know it’s there 99% of the time (and, no, it isn’t present during landscape video viewing, unless you zoom in, which I never do, because that ruins the framing of whatever it is you’re watching).
So, when it comes to the impact on your day-to-day phone usage, Dynamic Island is an absolute non-event. It’s just there, and completely unobtrusive.
What it does, it does well
This first iteration of Dynamic Island doesn’t actually do that much, which I guess partly aids its magical disappearing trick.
Sure, if you hunt for every Dynamic Island feature, you’ll end up with a relatively big list, but most of those features relate to fairly irregular events.
These are the Dynamic Island features I notice most regularly:
- Background audio
- Apple Pay transaction confirmations
- AirDrop file transfers
- iPhone charging status and battery life
- Silent mode turned on or off
- Face ID unlocking
- Focus mode changes
- Accessories connect
- Active timers
- Apple TV remote access
Dynamic Island will also warn you of low device batteries, reveal when your Apple Watch is unlocking, and display Shortcut actions. But even those events often pass by without you even noticing them, so small is that area of the screen, and fluid the animations that appear within it.
What makes Dynamic Island a perfect debutant feature in the iPhone 14 Pro series is the fact that Apple has clearly learned from its past mistakes.
The do-it-all first version of the Apple Watch only became the world-beating smartwatch it is today because they pared it down to a brilliant fitness device. The aforementioned Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro was never justified or improved, and was, thankfully, removed entirely from the latest iteration of that machine.
The Dynamic Island could have been incredibly annoying; they could have filled it with beautifully-animated yet ultimately pointless notifications, alerts, Memoji, and other useless paraphernalia. But they haven’t – it does what’s asked of it very well indeed.
It’s a great start. I just hope improvements and additions remain relatively minor (although I’m excited to see what third-party developers do with it).
There are some rough edges
Dynamic Island isn’t perfect. If you’re heading there for a holiday, there are a couple of things you’ll need to be aware of.
It doesn’t play nicely with certain apps. The example from Telegram, below, is, in fairness, the only big hiccup I’ve seen, and will presumably be fixed, but it’s clear that Dynamic Island will catch a few developers off guard.
There are some odd omissions, too. The most notable is the stopwatch which, when set, doesn’t disappear into the Dynamic Island as the timer does. It just… disappears. Why?
Apps also mysteriously vanish from Dynamic Island never to be seen again. I’m fairly sure this is deliberate and takes place after a specific set of actions, but I haven’t worked out what it is yet. This unfortunately results in you sometimes losing the timer that was there ten minutes ago (because you’ve been cycling through other apps since).
But these are minor gripes. Dynamic Island hasn’t annoyed me yet – that would be a much bigger problem.
My favourite feature will surprise you
You might have spotted that I’m rather more satisfied with than blown over by Dynamic Island. It’s like a new mate who entered the party late, but who has been absolutely no trouble at all; he’s just graciously introduced himself and kept a respectful distance while he slowly integrates into your inner circle.
However, it’s the small things that impress me, and my absolute favourite Dynamic Island feature by a country mile is one that I’m pretty sure won’t be spotted by many people.
When you’re listening to music and swipe the app away to go back to the Home Screen, the background audio activity slips gracefully into Dynamic Island. That alone is great, but it didn’t take me long to spot that the audio waveform animation actually reacts in time to the audio being played.
Apple is a bit inconsistent with this. In certain apps and on specific devices, its audio waveform animations are just that – pre-set animations that bounce up and down in a pre-defined loop (yes, I’ve spent far too long investigating this). They don’t react to the music. Dynamic Island’s equaliser does – those little lines expand and contract in time with drum hits, plucked strings, and vocal peaks. That’s delightfully thoughtful and a wonderful little touch.
It’s also colour coded to the album art. Which is nice.
As I say – it’s the small things that delight.
The bottom line
So, is Monkey Island worth losing sleep over?
Is it worth getting super excited about?
Is it a middle-finger salute to all of the notch haters? Kinda, although I think Apple has genuinely done something useful with that part of the screen; they’re clearly confident that it’s the best next step in the evolution of the notch.
That’s the bottom line. The Dynamic Island doesn’t feel superfluous, needless, or any other word that ends with ‘less’ and suggests Apple has simply given us another Touch Bar. It does exactly what it should do, even though we didn’t know it was needed.
Whether or not that’s enough to tempt you into an iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max, is another question.