The ‘Dynamic Island’ and Apple’s strategically sharp UX design

With the recent announcement of the iPhone 14 Pro, Apple has taken the idea of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” and ran with it, using UX knowledge to transform a design constraint that people hated into a feature that people find genuinely beneficial.

The ‘Dynamic Island’ and Apple’s strategically sharp UX design

The notch on the top of the iPhone has been the home of the speaker, cameras, Face ID technology – anything that they can’t place behind the screen, at least not to the level of quality one typically associates from their product design.

It has been the source of much annoyance for users since its introduction and we understand why: even though it’s always been a design compromise, that knowledge doesn’t distract from the fact that it’s just unsightly, especially when held in comparison with Apple’s typically sleek design choice!

However, this compromise was a necessity when looking at where they’re at now. With their new ‘Dynamic Island’, they’ve reappropriated that pesky notch that has been a source of much chagrin for Apple’s userbase!

Now operating as a pill-shaped hole where the notch once stood, the Dynamic Island is an amalgamation of software and hardware design choices that aim to rewrite history: the unsightly notch has been replaced by the fast, responsive, usable ‘island’, with its new terminology attempting to shift the narrative away from ‘hardware issue’ and push it towards shiny ‘new feature’. Fast Company aptly describes it as such:

“And the true genius of that pill isn’t in its updated physical design, but in how the software so adeptly normalizes a hole in your screen. Apple has made the once-maligned camera in the middle of your precious content feel absolutely essential.”

The Dynamic Island aims to transform the notch into a live hub for both notifications and widgets, incorporating the omnipresent nature of a hole in a device that is intended to be ‘all screen’ in a way that provides genuine value for the user.

It’s an inherently adaptive feature - the idea of a container at the top of your screen displaying interactive information is far from a new concept, but its main benefits stem from its flexibility dependent on the context the user is interacting with their phone

It displays contextual information such as phone calls, Face ID, and music, as it moves between collapsed and expanded modes with a playful bounce and subtle liquid dynamics that help ground the interaction with the user and give the feature genuine personality, creating a positive environment of useful and beneficial experience.

Credit: UX Collective

This complete upholstering from compromise to conscious choice is emblematic of Apple refusing to shy away from a problem, and instead tackling it head-on with the strategic depth and knowledge that their UX designers possess.

As we said, the design space that is taken up for the tech in the notch is currently unavoidable, but Apple have now been able to strategically manipulate this unavoidable hardware limitation into a cornerstone feature of their newest devices, creating opportunity out of crisis.

The ‘crisis’ in question may only be a singular design flaw, but there’s no way something like this that could even slightly negate their position as the technological standard bearers wouldn’t be a cause for concern out there in Cupertino!

The island effectively represents quality UX attempting to plug the holes of hardware limitations. At the end of the day, the island still takes up real estate on the device that will have to constantly be accounted for by user and developer alike. As UX Planet describes it:

“The Dynamic Island is a novel concept, and a great idea on paper, but fundamentally represents a software solution to a hardware problem which honestly shouldn’t exist in the first place.”

It seems clear that Apple don’t see this as a permanent feature: undoubtedly it serves as an interesting stopgap for what Apple inevitably intends to achieve, which is removing the necessity for an unavoidable notch, island, or whatever may come next (an archipelago, perhaps?).

With the way that they describe it in their announcement as “the biggest change to the face of iPhone since we went all screen”, could there be potential for the iconography of that little pill to become synonymous with the iPhone brand, even if the notch fully disappears in the future? Wouldn’t that  just make the dynamic island even more dynamic?

Through keen UX development, Apple have came up with a temporary solution that aims to turn its flaws into strengths, attempting to shamelessly flip the narrative and turn notch haters into island lovers. The jury’s still out on how well it’ll work on practice, but it’s a shining example of the power UX development has on shifting thoughts and feelings towards products and services, and just how well the big players know how to use it.

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