Listening to baseball on the radio while catching up on the score on your phone can make you feel like a psychic. I watch the score drop to 10-8 on my iPhone 14 Pro screen a few times before Dave Sims goes wild on the broadcast calling Cal Raleigh’s home run. It’s less fun when you see the score go the other way, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday when The Mariners eventually beat the Blue Jays in extra innings. It was a classic – Grand Slam, Smashed tablet in a fit of rageAll the things you like to see. I kept the final scorecard on the lock screen even after the match was over, only to keep winning.
I’m going back to the 14 Pro after testing a series of high-powered Android phones. I used the iPhone quite a bit last fall, but a few things have changed since then for mobile features. The Dynamic Island — that’s the free notch at the top of the screen that hosts quick info — and the always-on display can do a bit more these days since Apple has opened up direct activities to third-party developers. Oh, and baseball season has started again, which is an important use case for me.
Live Activities is an iOS 16 feature; It’s not exclusive to the 14 Pro. It’s a way for apps to provide live updates on time-sensitive events. They appear on the lock screen for most iPhones, but on the 14 Pro and Pro Max some of this information will also appear in the Dynamic Island so that it’s visible while you do other things on your phone. On the 14 Pro models, it also remains visible on the always-on display, which, unlike a traditional AOD, is just a dim version of your lock screen. You can set your phone down and still check the game score or where you are on an Uber ride without lifting a finger.
That nifty little trio — more apps that support live activities, a dynamic island, and an always-on display — brings the entire look of the 14 Pro into better focus now than it was six months ago. I love it too. I love being able to catch a Mariners game without opting in to notifications or having to pick up my phone and open an app. I love knowing if my Uber ride is five minutes away or just around the corner without having to obsessively check the app.
Ultimately, these features help address what I want less from my phone. I want to spend less time fumbling around in apps – what was I doing here? Scrolling when all I wanted to do was check the weather. I want a little bit of friction while doing my daily phone business.
I know I’m not alone. In fact, there seems to be a bit of a consensus lately that phones as they are now are definitively out of date bad, And they need to be replaced with something less annoying and Terrible for our mental health. That’s the thinking behind something like a gadget that’s been “personified” by humanity, uh, in a TED Talk. Based on the leaked videos, it appears to be some kind of alternative technology for your phone that includes a small projector that you put in your shirt pocket so you can use your hand as a kind of quick information display. The premise is shaky, and the company is secretive about what it’s actually making, but it’s not the first ill-advised attempt to put something in front of our faces that isn’t a phone.
The thing people forget that “phones are bad” is that phones are still absolutely essential to modern life. How exactly am I going to register my child from daycare using a small monitor that I clip in my pocket? There’s a lot of things we generally like about our phones, too, that don’t ruin our mental health. I like that my phone allows me to confidently navigate public transit systems that I am unfamiliar with. I like that I have a device in my pocket that I can use to video call my parents at a moment’s notice so they can see their grandchild who lives across the country. I like that I can finish a book in the Libby app, browse what’s available from the library, and check out another book while you’re sitting on the bus.
I have a feeling apps — not phones — are to blame here. App developers have a lot of incentive to keep us scrolling and buying things and very little incentive to help us maintain healthy relationships with our phones. That’s how our current notification hell ended up, with phone makers throwing in some life-saving gadgets in the form of focus modes, weekly total screen time, and scheduled notification summaries. Thanks guys.
Apple introduces another small set of new hardware features for the 14 Pro as well, but the lasting impression I have after returning to Dynamic Island is that they can do a lot more. There are obvious things that are not supported now but that seem fine within the current capabilities. While the Uber app supports live activities, Uber Eats does not (yet) support real-time updates about where your diner is. There’s also no way to opt-in to all real-time updates for every game your team plays — instead, you get a notification that a game is about to start, and tapping it will take you to the Apple TV app to enable live updates.
Live activities are designed for events with specific start and end times. (Don’t worry about baseball games going on forever, we’ve got ballpark clock now. Are you happy, monsters?) They are events that you have a clear interest in following in real time, whether it’s a game, a timer, or a share journey, and once it’s over, the information is gone. What I’d actually like more are features that show information regarding my daily habits and activities, which is a little trickier to do.
Surely there are other useful things my phone can do for me that don’t involve selling me something
Why can’t I display bus arrival times in the lock screen widget when I’m in traffic at the transit station next to my house? What if my phone automatically opened the app the nursery uses when I approached the building, as I do without fail five times a week? Again, not at me. I can’t set up an automation for this. I made sure. And anyway, have you tried setting up an iOS shortcut more complicated than “Open X App”? You need an advanced engineering degree to understand it. I’ll bet most iOS users have no idea what an automation is, let alone any interest in setting one up.
The apps on my phone can see who I’ve been hanging out with lately and what brand of craft candle they just bought so they can serve me the right ad. Surely there are other useful things my phone can do for me that don’t involve selling me something.
That’s what makes the 14 Pro’s new features feel kind of refreshing. They put useful information where I need it when I need it – mostly without additional input from me. To live up to their full potential, more third-party app makers will need to get on board, but that seems likely given Dynamic Island looks like it will be on all iPhone 15 models. After the season ends.
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