You can feel like a little psychic when you listen to a baseball match on the radio and follow the score on your smartphone. Dave Sims announces Cal Raleigh’s homerun after I’ve watched the iPhone 14 Pro display tick up to 10-8. It’s less exciting when the score goes the other way, but on Sunday the Mariners beat the Blue Jays in extra innings. It was classic – a grand slam and a tablet that got smashed by a fan. All the things you like to see. The final scorecard remained on my lockscreen even after the game ended, so I could continue to enjoy the win.
After testing several high powered android phones, I’m returning to the 14 Pro. The iPhone’s main features have changed since I last used it. Since Apple has opened Live Activities up to third-party developers, the Dynamic Island – the floating notch that displays at-a glance information – and the Always-on Display can do more. Oh, and the baseball season has started again. This is a very important use case.
Live Activities are a feature of iOS 16; they’re not exclusive to 14 Pro. Apps can use this feature to update users on time-sensitive events. On most iPhones they appear on the lockscreen, but some information is also displayed in Dynamic Island, so you can see it while doing other things with your phone. The information is also visible on the 14 Pro models’ always-on displays, which are a dimmed down version of the lock screen. Set your phone down, and you can still see the score of the game or the location of your Uber without having to lift a finger.
The 14 Pro is now more attractive than it was six months ago, thanks to this neat little trio — Live Activities, Dynamic Island and more apps that support them — which brings out the best in the device. I really like it. I like that I can keep track of a Mariners match without having to open my phone or opt in to notifications. I enjoy knowing if my Uber is just around the corner or five minutes away without having to constantly check the app.
These features are what I need from my phone to help me get less. I don’t want to waste time in the app store, scrolling around wondering “What am I doing?” when I just wanted to check the weather. I’d like to have a little less friction when I do my daily phone chores.
I know I’m certainly not the only one. There seems to be a general consensus that the phones we have today are bad, and need to be replaced by something less disruptive, and horrible for our mental health. This is the reasoning behind , the gadget Humane, uh… “demoed”, at a recent TED Talk. According to leaked videos, the device is a replacement for your smartphone that has a small projector in your shirt pocket. You can then use your hand to display quick information. It’s a shaky premise, and the company has been secretive about its actual product, but this is not the first attempt at putting something in front our faces that’s not a phone.
What the “phones bad” crowd fails to realize is that they are still an essential part of modern life. How am I supposed to sign out my child from daycare with a tiny projector that I clip on my pocket? We also like many things about our phones that don’t harm our mental health. My phone helps me navigate unfamiliar public transport systems with confidence. I love that I always have my phone in my pocket so I can video call my parents to see their grandchildren who live across the country. I love that I can read a book on the Libby App, check out a new book, and browse the library’s selection all while riding the bus.
I think apps, not phones, are at fault here. App developers are incentivized to keep us scrolling, buying stuff and have very little incentive to maintain healthy relationships with their phones. We ended up in the current notification hell. Phone makers threw us some life preservers like focus modes, weekly screen-time totals and schedule notification summaries. Thanks, guys.
Apple’s 14 Pro hardware features are also a little life raft, but my lasting impression after returning to Dynamic Island was that they could have done a lot more. It’s obvious that there are things not supported at the moment, but they are within current capabilities. Uber Eats does not (yet) support Live Activities in the Uber App. Real-time updates about your dinner are supported. You can’t opt into all live updates for each game that your team plays. Instead, you’ll get a notification when the game is about to begin, and then tap it to open the Apple TV application to enable the updates.
Live Activities are designed to fit events that have a defined start and finish time. Don’t tell me that baseball games go on forever. Now we have the pitch timer. Aren’t you happy, monsters? They are events you’re interested in, such as a rideshare, a timer, or a game. Once they’re over, however, the information is gone. What I would like to see more of is features that provide information about my daily habits and activities. This can be a bit trickier.
There are surely other things that my phone can do for me, and they don’t include selling me something
Why can’t the bus arrival time appear as a lock-screen widget when I rush to the transit station near my home? What if, every time I approached the daycare building like I do five times a week without fail, my phone opened the app that our daycare uses? Again, don’t at me. This is not something I can automate. I checked. Have you ever tried creating a shortcut for iOS that is more complex than just “open X application”? It requires a degree in engineering to understand. I bet that the majority of iOS users don’t even know what automations are, much less have any interest in creating them.
Apps on my phone know who I have been spending time with and which brand of artisanal candle they bought recently so that they can show me the best ad. There are surely other things that my phone can do for me, and they don’t have to involve selling me anything.
The new features of the 14 Pro are refreshing. The 14 Pro’s new features are refreshing because they put the information I need where I want it, when I want it – and most of the time without my input. More third-party developers will be needed to help these apps reach their full potential. This is likely to happen, as Dynamic Island appears to be available on all iPhone 15 models. It’ll help me watch the Mariners postseason games if that’s true.