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

The one thing everyone agrees on when it comes to “Dynamic Island” is that it’s a bad name. Otherwise, opinions were wildly divided on the actual usability or aesthetics of the new interactive pill-shaped cutout in the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. Personally, I loved it from the start, 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 actually disagree with his points. The move 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 has. The clever UI elements that Apple built as part of the Dynamic Island UI are indeed difficult to reach with one hand – although this is hardly the only UI element of iOS that doesn’t lend itself to one-handed operation.

So, if I agree with my colleague’s points criticizing 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 creating a fun and clever user interface on and around the cutout. Instead of ignoring the screen bug or even trying to hide it like many Android brands do, Apple embraces it, draws attention to it, and takes advantage of it.

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

I’ve been watching the Android scene for years, and the most exciting time IMO (at least until next year, when the foldable wars get really hot on a global scale) was when Chinese Android brands bent over backwards to find 2018 Ways not to need a notch. We’ve got phones with pop-up camera modules, sliders, and full-size screens on the back—anything to allow a selfie camera to exist without eating into the screen.

The Nubia X, released in 2018, with a fully functional screen on the back.

These phones were fun to review for a gadget geek like me, but they weren’t practical and these brands knew it. Because after a short time they were all back on track and finally decided on the hole punch cut-out solution that is ubiquitous in the Android scene.

But even now, Android brands seem embarrassed about the existence of the selfie hole, because some brands like Xiaomi would devote marketing collateral and keynote time to boasting that their phones have a “smaller hole than the competition.” Samsung and ZTE sacrificed selfie camera quality in favor of emerging under-screen camera technology.

Selfie camera under the Z Fold 3's screen

Samsung has chosen to sacrifice the selfie camera in its Z-Fold series to give us a slightly less noticeable punch-hole.

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

In the meantime, here’s Apple not only embracing punching, but developing software for it make bigger. Depending on the context, Apple would use black pixels to fill the space around the cutout to make it morph into different shapes and sizes.

For example, launch a song on Spotify (or Apple Music) and swipe from the app and you’ll see the app fly into the island, which then expands to reveal the album art along with an audio wave bar that beat along to the melodies. Apple has even built in a mini physics engine for this action, so that depending on the swipe movement, the app flies into the island on a different trajectory and the island “captures” the app with the appropriate animations.

Like the Twitter user above, I’m a fan of animation flourishes, and small touches like this make the iPhone feel alive.

But it’s not just superficial flair, the Dynamic Island brings real functional value. For example, navigate with Apple Maps running in the background and you’ll see a constant arrow pointing you in the direction you should be going. Call a ride with Lyft and you’ll see the status of your ride. Start a timer and watch the clock tick by the second, everything on the island.

And because Apple is Apple, there’s a good chance all of the big apps will use the island at some point. Google Maps will surely adopt similar real-time navigation. If you fly a major airline, especially a US-based one, you’ll likely see something like boarding times and gate information right there on the island. There are countless different ways the island can be used and I am confident that it will be used much more than it is currently.

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

Just like the iPhone X’s original notch, there will always be vocal Android diehards who will criticize it. But I’m almost certain Dynamic Island won’t alienate existing iPhone users, nor will it turn off the average consumer willing to try an iPhone. Keep in mind there was also a similar outcry about the notch when it debuted in 2017, and guess what, go to any major city in the US or Europe and you see notches everywhere. In a year or two you will see Dynamic Islands everywhere. The question that interests me more is whether Android brands will follow suit and design similar UI interfaces.

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