What Dynamic Island means for app developers

by: | Dec 20, 2022

At Apple’s annual iPhone launch event, the company announced the black “notch” for the front camera and Face ID sensors has evolved into Dynamic Island — a new screen area to display the most crucial and timely information from apps running in the background.

For users, it means more multi-tasking options. But what does Dynamic Island mean for app developers? Much like the new Lock Screen widgets, Shared With You, and App Intents in iOS 16 — Dynamic Island helps developers increase the utility of applications.

In this post, we’ll explain the ins and outs of Dynamic Island — and dig into the opportunity that it presents brands and businesses to increase their apps’ user engagement.

Why is Dynamic Island important?

Users can now see timely information and micro-content from apps running in the background — without interrupting the app that’s on the screen. This information can remain visible for ongoing activities (called Live Activities) such as sports scores or an Uber ride status. Dynamic Island can display up to two live activities from the most recently opened apps. And the user can tap the information in Dynamic Island to either get more information (with a long press) or open the full application.

Apple Live Activities Dynamic Island Example

This example from Apple shows how the design of Dynamic Island can expand after a long press. (SOURCE: Apple)

How is Dynamic Island different from Widgets?

There are a few differences. Widgets ​​are a way to show content in your app on the iOS Home Screen and Today View, and on the Lock Screen. The Dynamic Island is visible from all screens — except the Lock Screen. If the Lock Screen is active, the information from Dynamic Island displays in a tile above any notifications. Widgets provide information when you are not using an app, Dynamic Island provides information when you are.

The Dynamic Island information is, aptly, dynamic. It’s continuously updated live. With Widgets, data is updated periodically, not continuously.

With Widgets, users can personalize the content, including defining their size and position on the Home Screen. Dynamic Island is not personalizable by the users.

Last, Dynamic Island uses uniquely crafted animations and transitions. Widgets, graphically, are static, only displaying updated data.

What are some useful examples of Dynamic Island?

There are a few different categories of applications that stand out as obvious opportunities:

  • System alerts and notifications — Basic iOS functions such as incoming calls, accessory connections (e.g. Bluetooth® headphones), low battery alerts, Apple Pay confirmations, calendar alerts, etc.
  • Live Activities — On-going calls and video chats, map application directions, clock timers and alarms, sports scores and updates, and screen recordings.
  • Now playing — The status of any Music, podcast, or audiobook apps like Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, Audible, etc.
  • Communications and social media — Communication or status updates from applications such as Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Voice, etc.
  • Delivery, ride, and order updates — Status of deliveries and food orders (“Your order has been delivered”) and transportation app updates (“Your Lyft is 2 mins away”).
  • Connected products — Status alerts for connected smart products like security cameras, car battery status, lighting, thermostats, and irrigation systems.

We recently challenged our design team to come up with a good example of how one of our clients could take advantage of Dynamic Island. With the Magellan Rx app, users could be notified via Dynamic Island when their prescription has shipped. And when the user long-presses, they’ll see the entire status of that shipment:

Apple Live Activities Dynamic Island Example

Dynamic Island mockup in the Magellan Rx app.

What kinds of experiences DO NOT make sense for Dynamic Island?

Dynamic Island is a small space, so any app data that requires a lot of screen real estate may not work well. For example, you’re never going to read a magazine article, stream videos, or play games. However, those types of apps might have alerts that could tell you when a new article is posted, when a new video is released, or when a gamer friend is online.

How can Dynamic Island help brands and businesses?

Dynamic Island can help brands and businesses increase their app’s user engagement. Because it offers snippets of information and alerts in a designated space, companies can now provide useful information from their app even when it’s running in the background. This brings a snippet of their app to the foreground and creates an opportunity for re-engagement. And, similar to any notification, Dynamic Island can provide another entry point to your full app if the user taps on it.

How do developers support Dynamic Island?

Developers can add support for Dynamic Island with the ActivityKit framework. They can add Live Activities for both Dynamic Island and the Lock Screen. To create Live Activities in an app, developers need to add code to the widget extension — either updating an existing widget extension or creating a new one. The ActivityKit framework APIs allow you to configure, start, update, and end a Live Activity.

Unlike widgets, Live Activities are updated by logic inside your app and remote push notifications, which allow for timely updates by your app or backend services.

The UI for both Dynamic Island and Lock Screen is done in SwiftUI. Live Activities come in different views for the Lock Screen and the Dynamic Island. By default, those views use a black background color with white text and they can have a height of up to 160 points. However, it is possible to tweak the design by changing the text color or adding opacity.

When creating the expanded view that displays with a long press, you can define where to position your content — including the center, leading, trailing, and bottom areas. You can find more information about the UI design of Live Activities on Apple’s developers’ site.

What happens when multiple background apps have information for Dynamic Island?

A maximum of two apps can appear on Dynamic Island at any time. If you have two apps running in the background, Dynamic Island can split into two sections to accommodate both. When more than two apps are running in the background, Dynamic Island will show two of the most recently used apps.

Do users have to enable Dynamic Island for different apps?

No, there is no user configuration required. It is on by default for all apps that support it. Users can choose to deactivate Live Activities for an app within the Settings app. Dynamic Island is only available in the iPhone 14 Pro‌ and the ‌iPhone 14 Pro‌ Max. It will not be available to older iPhone models, nor the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.

How does Dynamic Island support Apple’s ‘multitasking?’

Think of it as a multi-tasking shortcut, allowing people to gracefully switch between one app and another — while presenting short information updates that don’t get in the way of the foreground app experience.

Want to support Dynamic Island in your app?

Dynamic Island is just one of the exciting iOS 16 features to help brands and businesses increase app user engagement. ArcTouch is happy to review your app and provide recommendations to take full advantage of all the advancements in iOS 16 and Android 13. Contact us for a free consultation.