We've lived with the iPhone notch long enough now that it's hard to remember how controversial it was when it first appeared on the iPhone X. It's hard, looking back, to argue that it wasn't a huge improvement over the giant bezels (relatively speaking), from the iPhone 8 and earlier models, but people did not like it at all.
Now, however, most people don't even notice it. Not only that, but the notch has become one of the most identifying characteristics of the current iPhone design. Apple even added it to the most recent MacBooks.
Maybe the biggest knock against the notch is that almost every Android device maker has moved to either a "hole punch" design for the selfie camera, or has moved the camera under the display. Apple has made it smaller over the past few years, but hasn't been able to let go.
With the iPhone 14 Pro, however, Apple is finally ditching the notch. In its place is what the company calls the "Dynamic Island," which--as Kara Swisher told Tim Cook at the Code Conference Wednesday evening--sounds like some sort of reality TV show. It is a particularly strange name for what I think might be Apple's best iPhone design feature yet.
I know that's a bold claim, and there is plenty of competition at the top of that list. The original "swipe to unlock" was one of the most innovative software design elements, for sure. On the hardware side, the home button (which later added the TouchID sensor) was another great design example. Put the small pill-shaped area at the top of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max on the list.
It's worth mentioning that maybe the most surprising things about the new design is that it's not at all controversial. I had a chance to see it in person at Apple's hands-on area after the iPhone event. My impression matches what I've seen and heard from just about everyone with an opinion--it's surprisingly well-designed.
It's not just that it pares down the surface area of the display that is used for things other than pixels, it's the way it makes use of that area. Here's how Apple's VP of human interface describes it:
Our goal was to design a space that clearly and consistently surfaces alerts and background activity in a rich and delightful way. The result being an entirely new and intuitive way to interact with iPhone--one that truly blurs the line between hardware and software.
Seeing it in person, I think delightful is the right word to describe the way the island behaves. It's the way I imagine the iPhone would look and behave if Pixar made a movie where Apple's devices were the characters. The Dynamic Island would be where the characters' emotions and expressions were shown. Think Cars meets Inside Out but with anthropomorphic smartphones instead.
But, it's also functional. Apple has rethought the way it presents different types of alerts and information, and done it in a way you can interact with. Currently those notifications appear from the top, but if you tap on them, it takes you away from what you're doing, and into an app.
Now, you can interact with whatever is in that space, without leaving what you're doing. You can, for example, control your music, without leaving your messaging app. Or, if you're responding to email, you can still see the score of your favorite sports team.
"We've designed this new space to be highly adaptive so it can can fluidly expand into different shapes using uniquely crafted animations and transitions," said Dye. "When you receive an alert, the dynamic island expands to notify you."
I really love how Apple has leaned into this design and turned it into something fun and playful and useful. That's one of the things people have historically loved about Apple--that it doesn't take itself too seriously and seems to go out of its way to delight customers. This might just be the best example of all.