The Dynamic Island — Apple’s re-envisioning of the notch — is one of the hallmark features of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The morphing black bar is now a tiny home for your music, timers, incoming calls, and other system notifications. And since iOS 16.1 dropped in October, the Dynamic Island is now open for developers to do with it as they please.
It’ll take some time for all of your favorite apps to tap into the Island, but I’ve already found my favorite use for it. Thanks to an app called Pixel Pals, I now have a tiny, virtual cat that’s always hanging out in the Dynamic Island when I’m using my iPhone. It adds zero functionality and offers zero utility — and I adore it so, so much.
Getting started with Pixel Pals is actually quite simple. Open the App Store on your iPhone, download the Pixel Pals app, and that’s all there is to it. When you open Pixel Pals, you’ll see a small cat (named Hugo) hanging out on top of your Dynamic Island. You can also change it to Rupert the dog, and you can pay for the premium version ($1.49/month or $10/year) to unlock six other critters.
Tapping your Pixel Pal shows its age, weight, and six hearts you can fill up as you grow your relationship with it — something you do by feeding or playing games together. I like giving Hugo fish (because he deserves it), followed by a short game of beacon ball. Hugo usually takes a nap after such a big day, and I can’t blame him one bit.
These are features developer Christian Selig also added to his Reddit client, Apollo. All of it works just as well here, and it’s a smart way to use the Dynamic Island without actually using the Live Activities API. But where Apollo keeps your virtual floofs exclusive to the app, Pixel Pals does use the API — letting you bring Pixel Pals with you wherever you go on your iPhone.
From the Pixel Pals app, tap the toggle next to Always Show Pixel Pal. When you swipe up to go home, your Pixel Pal flies inside the Dynamic Island and keeps hanging out with you on your home screen or in any other apps you use. You can change what your Pixel Pal does in the Island — including running, sleeping, or just chillin’ like a villain. And if you pay for Pixel Pals Premium, you can have two Pixel Pals in the Dynamic Island at once.
So, what’s all of this actually like in daily use? Just as adorable as you’d expect. Whether you’re scrolling through Twitter, looking at pictures on Reddit, or managing emails in Outlook, your Pixel Pal stays in the Dynamic Island throughout all of it.
It doesn’t do anything outside of the animation you choose, but I’m perfectly fine with that. Simply having a pixelated kitten to come along with me on my phone is both relaxing and calming in ways I didn’t expect. Responding to Microsoft Teams messages throughout the day isn’t particularly exciting, but when I have Hugo to accompany me, it’s a significantly more pleasant experience.
Like other apps that use the Dynamic Island, you have a couple of ways to interact with your Pixel Pal when it’s hanging out in the Island. Tapping your pet takes you back to the Pixel Pals app, while pressing and holding shows a larger view of your Pixel Pal, its name, and shortcuts to feed and play with it. I wish you could interact with your Pixel Pal directly in the Dynamic Island rather than these shortcuts always redirecting you to the app, but that’s a limitation with Apple’s API rather than the app itself.
There are a couple of other quirks to take note of. Since Pixel Pals uses the Live Activities API, you’ll see a small widget for your pet on the lock screen whenever the Always Show Pixel Pal setting is enabled. Furthermore, whenever your Pixel Pal is hanging out in the Dynamic Island, it makes the Island a bit larger than it normally is. They’re easy things to adjust to, and a small price to pay for such a cute companion.
There’s not much more to say about Pixel Pals. It hasn’t radically changed my iPhone 14 Pro Max or added any extra functionality to it. But what Pixel Pals lacks in practicality, it makes up for in strides with cuteness and whimsy. The Dynamic Island is a whimsical feature by design, and Pixel Pals fully embraces that in the best way possible.
So many of the examples we’ve seen for Live Activities/Dynamic Island have been very information-focused — trip data for an Uber ride, updates on your Starbucks order, live scores for a football game, etc. Those are objectively more useful implementations of the Dynamic Island, and things I’m very much looking forward to using as more devs/apps support the feature.
But Pixel Pals also shows the fun side of the Dynamic Island, and it’s one I hope to see more of in the future. Phones are supposed to be fun, and Pixel Pals with the Dynamic Island is a prime example of how that’s still possible in 2022.
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