Six months later, the iPhone 14 Pro is everything I love and hate about phones

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By Webdesk

Listening to a baseball game on the radio while following the score on your phone can make you feel a little psychic. I watch the score tick down to 10-8 on the iPhone 14 Pro’s screen, before Dave Sims goes berserk on the air and calls out Cal Raleigh’s home run. This is a lot less fun when you see the score go the other way, but that wasn’t the case on Sunday when the Mariners finally defeated the Blue Jays in extra innings. It was a classic – a grand slam, a tablet shattered in a fit of rage, all the things you like to see. I kept the final scorecard on my lock screen even after the match was over, just to keep enjoying the win.

I’m coming back to the 14 Pro after testing a range of powerful Android phones. I used the iPhone quite a bit last fall, but a few things have changed for the phone’s marquee features since then. The Dynamic Island – that’s the free-floating notch at the top of the screen where information can be seen at a glance – and the always-on display can do a little more these days since Apple opened up Live activities to third-party developers. Oh, and baseball season is back on, which is a major use case for me.

At launch, Dynamic Island was limited to tasks such as timers and phone call information.
Image: Nilay Patel/The Verge

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 for time-sensitive events. They appear on the lock screen of most iPhones, but on the 14 Pro and Pro Max, some of that information also appears on the Dynamic Island so it’s visible while you’re doing 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 fuzzy version of your lock screen. You can put your phone down and still check the game score or the location of your Uber ride without lifting a finger.

This nice little trifecta – more apps supporting Live Activities, the Dynamic Island and the always-on display – captures the whole vibe of the 14 Pro better now than it did six months ago. And I like it. I like being able to keep an eye on a Mariners game without signing up for notifications or picking up my phone and opening an app. I like knowing if my Uber ride is in five minutes or just around the corner without having to obsessively check the app.

I love to browse my favorite websites while keeping an eye on the game score.
Photo by Allison Johnson/The Verge

Ultimately, these features help address what I want fewer from my phone. I want to spend less time fiddling around in apps – that “What was I doing here?” scrolling when all I wanted to do was check the weather. I want a little less friction during my daily phone chores.

I know I’m not alone. In fact, there seems to be some kind of consensus lately that phones as they exist today are categorical bad, and they need to be replaced with something less disruptive and terrible for our mental health. That’s the thinking behind something like the gadget that Humane, uh, “demoped” during a recent TED Talk. Based on leaked videos, it appears to be some kind of replacement technology for your phone with a small projector that you put in your shirt pocket so you can use your hand as a kind of quick info display. The premise is shaky and the company is secretive about what it actually makes, but it’s not the first ill-advised attempt to put something in front of us that isn’t a phone.

The thing the “phones are bad” crowd forgets is that phones are still essential to modern life. How exactly am I going to get my child out of daycare with a small projector that I clip in my pocket? There are also many things we generally like about our phones that aren’t destructive to our mental health. I like that my phone allows me to confidently navigate public transit systems I’m unfamiliar with. I like having a device in my pocket that allows me to video call my parents in an instant 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 in the library, and check out another book while on the bus.

I feel like apps – not phones – are to blame for this. App developers have a lot of incentive to make us scroll and buy stuff and very little incentive to help us maintain a healthy relationship with our phones. This is how we ended up in our current notification hell, with phone makers throwing us a few life preservers in the form of focus modes, weekly screen time totals, and scheduled notification summaries. Thanks guys.

Apple also offers another small life raft with the 14 Pro’s new hardware features, but the lasting impression I have after a trip back to Dynamic Island is that they could do much more. There are obvious things that aren’t currently supported, but seem to be well within current capabilities. While the Uber app supports Live Activities, Uber Eats doesn’t (yet?) support real-time updates on your diner’s whereabouts. There’s also no way to just sign up for all real-time updates for every game your team plays. Instead, you’ll get a notification that the game is about to begin, and tapping it will take you to the Apple TV app to enable live updates.

Live activities are designed for events with defined start and end times. (Don’t worry about baseball games going on forever. We’ve got the pitch clock now. Are you happy, monsters?) They’re events that you obviously want to track in real time, be it a game, a timer, or a rideshare ride, and once they’re over, the information disappears. In fact, what I would like more of are features that pull up information about my habits and daily activities, which is a bit trickier.

Surely there are other useful things my phone could do for me without me having to sell anything

Why can’t I have bus arrival times appear in a lock screen widget when I’m rushing to the public transit stop near my house? What if my phone automatically opens the app our daycare uses when I approach the building, like I do five damn times a week? I can set up an automation for this, but it’s far from straightforward and depends on me telling my phone what to do, rather than anticipating my needs. In addition, have you tried setting an iOS shortcut more complex than “open X app”? You need an advanced engineering degree to understand it. I 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 candles they just bought so they can show me the right ad. I’m sure there are other useful things my phone can do for me without having to sell anything.

That’s what makes the 14 Pro’s new features a little refreshing. They put useful information where I need it when I need it – usually with no 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 to happen as Dynamic Island looks like it will be on all iPhone 15 models. If so, it’s just in time to help me keep an eye on the Mariners’ postseason games.

Correction May 5, 3:45 PM ET: An earlier version of this article stated that it was not possible to set an automation to open a particular app upon arrival at that location. It is possible to use a slightly different installation method and this article has been updated to reflect that: hats off to MacGyverLite. We regret the mistake.

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