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iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy Z Fold Show How Phones Are Evolving

Commentary: Apple's Dynamic Island and Samsung's foldable phones both aim to change how we interact with apps on our phones.

Dynamic Island feature on three iPhone 14 Pro models
The iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island was one of the standout features at Wednesday's Apple event.
Apple

Apple and Samsung are both rethinking the smartphone, but in very different ways. With its Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro, Apple is changing how the iPhone's software displays information from apps and services. Samsung, on the other hand, is updating the physical shape of its phones through its foldable Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip smartphone lines. 

Apple launched the iPhone 14 Pro on Sept. 16 after unveiling it at its "Far Out" event, and one of its standout new features is a redesigned notch area called the Dynamic Island. It's a pill-shaped cutout for the front camera and Face ID sensors that Apple has also repurposed as a miniature secondary display for showing notifications and other content. 

At first glance, Apple's Dynamic Island and Samsung's foldable phones have little in common, if anything. But the intention behind both is the same: to improve how our phones surface information. 

The iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island explained

The Dynamic Island is essentially Apple's answer to faster multitasking on the iPhone. While Android phone-makers like Samsung support the ability to open multiple apps at once on screen, Apple instead uses the Dynamic Island to expand and contract to show contextual information. It can expand to show alerts and may change shape depending on the app. 

For example, the Dynamic Island can show the song you're listening to even when you're on the home screen. If you have a timer running at the same time, it'll display both the timer and the music playback information at the same time by splitting one into its own little bubble. Similarly, you can see turn-by-turn directions on the Dynamic Island without having to jump from one app to another. The same goes for sports scores. Tapping the Dynamic Island will take you right to that app, making multitasking on the iPhone 14 Pro a bit easier.

Apple says the goal behind the Dynamic Island is to clearly show information without distracting from the app you're in. "With this change, we reconsidered how you interact with your iPhone," Greg Joswiak, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said during the company's keynote last Wednesday. Our full review of the iPhone 14 Pro has more detail about what it's like to use the Dynamic Island. 

How Samsung's foldables and the Dynamic Island are similar

Samsung's foldable phones and the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island are inherently different. But they both aim to change the way we interact with apps on our phones. 

Samsung has been promoting the Z Flip 4's Flex Mode, for example, which splits compatible apps between the top and bottom portions of the screen when folded halfway. When opening the camera in Flex Mode, the top half of the screen serves as the camera viewfinder while the bottom half displays controls like the shutter button. You can also take photos and send canned responses in certain messaging apps on the Z Flip 4 without opening the phone by using its cover screen. 

The Galaxy Z Fold 4, Samsung's book-shaped foldable, is designed to provide more screen real estate in a device that still fits in your pocket. You can also open multiple apps on the Z Fold 4's tablet-sized screen at once. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 held side by side

Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The common thread between the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island, the Galaxy Z Flip and the Galaxy Z Fold is that they all change the way apps are displayed on our phones' screens -- with the ultimate goal being to make apps more useful. The Dynamic Island and Samsung's foldables are designed to make our phones more adaptable based on the situation. Apple's new notch replacement pins information from certain apps to the top of your screen and morphs according to what you're doing. Samsung's foldables allow you to change the size and position of your phone -- and the apps running on it -- to fit different scenarios.

It's too soon to know whether either approach will meaningfully impact the way we use our phones over the long term. Apple's new iPhone 14 lineup just launched, so it's unclear how useful the Dynamic Island will be in everyday life over the course of months or even years. Foldables have been widely available for roughly three years, but they still make up a tiny portion of overall smartphone sales.

What is clear, however, is that Apple and Samsung are both trying to improve the way we absorb and manage the massive amount of information flowing through our phones each day. Now that phones have matured to the point at which most updates feel incremental, it's refreshing to see changes that genuinely feel different.