For the most part, the iPhone 14 Pro is a bit better than the previous model, offering an improved SoC, camera, and a new colour, Dark Purple. By all standards, it could be considered a fairly benign version, but since Apple is Apple, it’s managed to bring in two new features that have created quite the craze, Dynamic Island and its Always On Display.
Always-on displays were a thing before Apple’s announcement, and they’ve been around for years across different platforms like Symbian, Meego, Windows Phone, and Android. While Apple has always been the locus of jokes by rolling out “revolutionary” new features that have been on other platforms for years, this year it really managed to show something completely unique. That’s because Apple’s offering of Always On Display goes against what we’ve seen and expected.
The iPhone 14 Pro’s Always On Display is just an extension of the iOS 16 lock screen, and that’s a problem
With Apple, you don’t get a neat and simple look with little icons that pop up when you get a new notification. No, this is very simple. Alternatively, you can have a lock screen that looks exactly how it works when your phone screen is turned on, displayed in full color, with a custom wallpaper, with notifications appearing on the screen as normal. The only difference is that the phone screen is very dim, but it can also adjust automatically depending on the environment.
Just like all of the other recent Always On apps, Apple manages to make this happen by relying on a new OLED LTPO display that does most of the heavy lifting, with a refresh rate that can reach up to 1Hz. Just for reference, last year’s model only dropped to 10Hz.
So the basis is here, and Apple had the ability to come up with something magical, but the experience fell pretty amazingly low. The always on screen works, it does everything it promises, but its core is really what Apple has always struggled with. Instead of going into everything and really exploring, it steals the advantage of its capabilities due to how restrictive Apple is in its implementation. In this scenario, Always On Display is just as powerful as the information it can display, and in its current form, it doesn’t really display much.
In its current version, with iOS 16.0.2, the lock screen offers three areas that can be customized. The top line can feature one of the following: date, calendar events, international clock, alarm, activity tracker, and various weather information. Below is the largest space of the three, which is reserved for time. The latter area is the most versatile and can be loaded with up to four small tools or two medium sized units. However, the information that can be viewed here does not change much from the first section, but it does contain additions, such as a battery widget.
In short, the lack of third-party support at the moment really kills the lock screen, which also kills the Always On Display experience. It’s also somewhat distracting, taking the phrase “Always On” somewhat literally. Something a little quieter and darker would have solved this.
BWell, there really is a bigger issue at hand here, as the new Always On Display on the iPhone 14 Pro has an even bigger issue.
Drinking battery like there’s no tomorrow
The biggest problem with Always On Display is that it puts battery life at risk. Now, that’s to be expected, but for a feature that doesn’t do that much for me, it felt like a huge trade off. I think that since iPhones are known to have great battery life, this battery drain came as a bit of a shock. I went for the iPhone 14 Pro expecting great battery life, but my experience was literally short-lived, and I was struggling to get to the end of the day – what made it so surprising was that the phone turned off cellular and just relied on Wi-Fi.
While this may be an isolated experience, during my use I found that the phone lost about an extra 20 percent of battery life when Always On Display was turned on. The iPhone started its day at six in the morning and usually found its way back to the charger around midnight. Again, this could be a single finding or have something to do with the current program architecture, but by the same timeline of a few days the results have generally remained the same. On top of that, there were very few interactions, and notifications were coming in as usual.
I’m not sure how others have imagined the always-on display and lock screen, but for me, I thought it would be more flexible out of the gate, taking advantage of third-party apps and tools. I also felt that Always On Display would be really useful and have more information that I need to see. Maybe it was my fault because there were expectations, but in my mind, I imagined it would work almost as well as the Apple Watch and its multiples. Although the customization options on the Apple Watch are limited, it still manages to provide a good experience mainly because it can show you everything you need to see at a glance. The Apple Watch offers plenty of app integrations, too, with this data saved by the intricacies on the watch. I think it’s important to mention that he has never felt so limiting.
Of course, it’s not fair to compare a new feature to a product that has matured over the course of seven years. The Always On Display and Lock Screen for iPhone 14 Pro is still in its infancy. If Apple feels like it’s putting energy into it, a lot can change. So, for my current use, Always On Display will still work, mainly because of battery life issues but also because it’s not very useful, at first, because it relies on a limited lock screen. Perhaps when Apple adds support for Live Activities, it’s worth reconsidering. But for now, I’m turning off one of the main features of my new phone.
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