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iPhone 14 Pro's Most Eye-Catching Feature Feels Like It's Winking at Something Else

Commentary: Is the Dynamic Island the future of iPhone widgets or something more?

Dynamic Island feature on three iPhone 14 Pro models
The iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island notifications look great. Is it the start of something new for UI?
Apple

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Apple's most popular product.

"Dynamic Island" is the most Apple name of all Apple names. The feature, a part of the upcoming iPhone 14 Pro announced at Apple's latest product event, was maybe the most surprising feature on Apple's next phone: The little black oval front-facing camera cut-out has become the unlikely home for an animated series of new notifications that will pop up, and around, where you'd normally be posing for selfies.

I looked at the feature while visiting Apple Park in Cupertino this week, and it filled me with a weird but familiar feeling. I couldn't pin down exactly where it was coming from, at first. Then, suddenly, it kicked in. And it made me think. 

I thought of AR.

Apple's long-expected AR (and VR) headset didn't make an appearance at the "Far Out" event, to no surprise. But as the questions inevitably rise about when such a headset could make its debut, so too will the questions about how that headset's OS will need to feel consistent with Apple's line of existing products and software.

Is Apple's next new interface feature, which seems to blend notifications and widgets in an animated blend, the future of phones? Or is it, maybe, the future of Apple's communication language as the company moves beyond flat screens and into a universe of VR and AR?

The Dynamic Island makes a lot more sense the more I think about it.

I've used the Meta Quest 2 for the last few years, and I'm used to seeing a number of notifications popping up in VR. I get text messages, Slacks from my phone and pings that friends are online. I see messages appear and, sometimes, I can click up and interact with them. Sometimes I can't.

The future of AR glasses and headsets, according to companies like Meta, is about serving up quick, interactive contextual information. Pop-up bubbles, in a sense. Smart and dynamic notifications. No one's really nailed this type of interface language for AR yet, because so few AR headsets right now exist, and the ones that do aren't super-connected with vast mobile ecosystems like phones. It'll help to have something more than notifications, but less annoying than standard apps and widgets. Something that could start small and suddenly become big. 

Is that the Dynamic Island?

I watched as a small phone icon bloomed out to become a Music interface widget. Or an icon showing AirPods being connected. On a phone, these types of features could be fun and useful, but how different would many of them be from the Lock Screen interfaces and widgets that are already on iPhones?

On an AR headset that moves us from our phone screens to a larger, all-surrounding immersive screen, however,  an interface like the Dynamic Island could be a way to know when other things are happening. It could also help us jump into tasks without opening up apps or having to invoke little widgets. Notifications would happen and then fade away.

I'm speculating, of course. But Apple's expected to announce its own AR-VR headset early next year, and Apple's existing product line will likely be around when that headset arrives. Is Apple going to have a common design language in its future immersive tech? If so, how will it flow?

It makes me wonder more than ever if a little thing like the Dynamic Island is the start of something bigger. Maybe not, but I see a brilliant little interface that could have a more immersive, ambient, cross-device future like the one Apple needs to create for its future headset. The Dynamic Island could be as good a place to start as any.