The Dynamic Island – Apple’s redesign of the notch – is one of the distinguishing features of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The morphing black bar is now a little home for your music, timers, incoming calls, and other system notifications. And since the release of iOS 16.1 in October, the dynamic island is now open for developers to do with it as they please.
It will take a while for all your favorite apps to tap into the island, but I’ve already found my favorite use. Thanks to an app called Pixel Pals, I now have a little virtual cat that always hangs around the dynamic island when I use my iPhone. It adds no functionality and offers no utility – and I love it so, so much.
How Pixel Pals Work
Getting started with Pixel Pals is actually quite simple. Open the App Store on your iPhone, download the Pixel Pals app, and that’s it. When you open Pixel Pals, you’ll see a little cat (named Hugo) hanging above 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 more creatures.
Touching your Pixel Pal shows its age, weight, and six hearts that you can fill as you grow your relationship with it – something you do by feeding or playing games together. I like to give Hugo some fish (because he deserves it), followed by a game of tag. Hugo usually takes a nap after such a big day, and I can’t blame him at all.
These are features developer Christian Selig also added to his Reddit client, Apollo. It all works here just as well, and it’s a smart way to use the dynamic island without using the Live Activities API. But where Apollo keeps your virtual floofs app-exclusive, Pixel Pals Is use the API – allowing you to take Pixel Pals with you wherever you go on your iPhone.
In the Pixel Pals app, tap the button next to Always Show Pixel Pal. When you swipe up to go home, your Pixel Pal flies inside the dynamic island and stays with you on your home screen or in any other apps you use. You can change what your Pixel Pal does on the island, including running around, sleeping, or just chilling like a villain. And if you pay for Pixel Pals Premium, you can have of them Pixel Pals in the dynamic island at once.
What it’s like to live with a cat on my iPhone
So what does all of this actually look like in everyday use? As adorable as one would expect. Whether you’re browsing Twitter, looking at photos on Reddit, or managing emails in Outlook, your Pixel Pal stays in the dynamic island throughout it.
It’s not do anything outside of the animation you choose, but that’s fine with me. Just having a pixelated kitten to accompany me on my phone is both relaxing and soothing in ways I never expected. Responding to Microsoft Teams messages throughout the day isn’t particularly exciting, but when I have Hugo to accompany me, it’s a much more pleasant experience.
Like other apps that use Dynamic Island, you have multiple ways to interact with your Pixel Pal as it hangs around the island. Tap your pet to return to the Pixel Pals app, while tapping and holding displays an enlarged view of your Pixel Pal, its name, and shortcuts for feeding and playing with it. I wish you could interact with your Pixel Pal directly in Dynamic Island rather than those shortcuts always redirecting you to the app, but that’s a limitation with Apple’s API rather than the app itself.
There are a few other quirks to consider. Since Pixel Pals uses the Live Activities API, you’ll see a little widget for your pet on the lock screen whenever the Always Show Pixel Pal setting is enabled. Also, each time your Pixel Pal hangs out in the dynamic island, it makes the island a little bigger than it normally is. They are easy things to adapt and a small price to pay for such a cute companion.
More of these Dynamic Island apps, please
There isn’t much more to say about Pixel Pals. It didn’t drastically change my iPhone 14 Pro Max or add any additional features. But what Pixel Pals lacks in practicality, it quickly makes up for in cuteness and whimsy. The dynamic island is a whimsical feature by design, and Pixel Pals fully embraces it in the best possible way.
Many of the examples we saw for Live Activities/Dynamic Island were very information-driven – ride data for an Uber ride, updates on your Starbucks order, live scores for a football game, etc. These are objectively more useful implementations of Dynamic Island, and things I look forward to using as more developers/apps support the feature.
But Pixel Pals also shows off the fun side of Dynamic Island, and that’s one I hope to see more of in the future. Phones are meant to be fun, and Pixel Pals with Dynamic Island is a great example of how that’s still possible in 2022.