An Always-On Display Could Change Your Relationship With the iPhone

Sometimes the smallest changes make the biggest impact

  • Apple is rumored to add an always-on-display to its upcoming iPhone 14 Pro.
  • An always-on display will allow some content to be shown to users without them turning the screen on fully.
  • Always-on displays aren’t new for the industry but are new for Apple.
iOS 16 lock screen hero image


It's taken a lot longer than some had hoped, but the rumor mill has Apple bringing an always-on-display (AOD) to iPhone in a move that could change how people use it.

Android phone makers like Samsung have been putting AODs on their phones for upwards of a decade at this point, but Apple has waited until it believes the time is right. That time is now, if the rumors are to be believed. Being able to see an iPhone's clock at all times is cool, but it goes way beyond that with the upcoming iOS 16 release—combined, widgets and the AOD could change the game for iPhone owners around the world.

"I keep my iPhone on my desk a lot, and being able to glance at it to see what is happening is really appealing," Apple-focused YouTuber Christopher Lawley told Lifewire via direct message. Not everyone wears an Apple Watch, and seeing information at a moment's notice without fully firing up the iPhone, is a bigger deal than it might first seem.

Information That’s Always There

Having information that's always available can really come in handy. In the case of iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max (the standard iPhone 14 handsets miss out), that will likely include the day, date, and app-based widgets. The iOS 16 unveiling in June gave us a glimpse of what to expect. When it ships this fall, it will allow all compatible iPhones to display new widgets on the Lock Screen, but iPhone 14 Pro will go further. Those same widgets are expected to be available all the time, whether the screen is lit up or not.

It's anticipated that the same will apply to notifications, with iPhone 14 Pro owners able to see what's going on at a glance, something that's already exciting Lawley. "I think notifications will be a big thing. In iOS 16, we have already seen how Apple is tweaking how notifications are served," he said. "I'm betting the count option will become the default for the always-on-screen mode."

Seeing information at a moment’s notice, without fully firing up the iPhone, is a bigger deal than it might first seem.

Lawley also touched on what that could mean for Apple's Focus Mode, a feature that lets users control which apps and notifications are available based on other conditions—like the time of day or other triggers. "As somebody that lives in Focus modes (better notification handling), [it's] really appealing to me," he said when discussing how Focus modes could limit what information appears on-screen.

Apple SVP Craig Federighi recently commented on how he believes iOS 16 will help people achieve a "healthy relationship" with their devices, thanks to Lock Screen widgets removing the need for people to unlock their iPhones to see data. That'll save them from distractions, he thinks. And Apple looks set to take things a step further by making it possible to see those widgets without even touching an iPhone, let alone unlocking it.

Apple should work to make the most of the AOD, however. Current iOS 16 betas only allow for a single row of widgets beneath the clock, with a lot of space left up for grabs. Apple-watcher Federico Viticci agrees, saying he really likes widgets but wishes he "could have two rows of widgets under the clock." Perhaps Apple is holding that back for the iPhone 14 Pro announcement, likely to take place next month.

Better Late Than Never

Apple is a decade late to the AOD game, but it's doing it in a way that it believes will offer benefits not previously available to it. With iPhone 14 Pro, Apple is implementing a new display technology that is capable of slowing its refresh rate to just 1Hz, reducing the amount of power needed to make it function. Apple is of the opinion that waiting for such a technology ensures that the AOD won't negatively impact battery life—something that could have happened if it jumped on the AOD bandwagon sooner.

"Apple doesn't want people getting worse battery life because of an always-on screen," Lawley points out, noting that "anytime Apple [messes] up, it becomes world news." 

Something the company no doubt wants to avoid.

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