So, it finally happened. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max got an always-on display. If you’ve used a modern Android phone, you probably have experience with always-on screens — and don’t need to be convinced why they’re a useful feature — but this is something new in the iPhone world. And Apple, of course, does it a little differently than everyone else.
Always-on displays allow a phone to display basic information such as the date, time, and notifications, even when it is locked and lying on a table. Most of the time, your entire screen won’t stay on, just the most important parts of it. For example, on Google’s Pixel phones, you may see a black screen with just the clock and some app icons lit up. This is especially useful because you don’t have to tap or pick up the phone to see important information.
Apple changes that formula. Things are a little different (and maybe a lot better) with Apple’s implementation: instead of an always-on screen that usually fromApple’s always-on screen stays on, just a bit dimmer.
The next version of iOS, due out next week, will add widgets and complications to the lock screen. All those widgets and complications remain visible on the iPhone 14’s always-on screen, even when the phone is not actively in use. Apple’s big twist is that the iPhone also continues to display the wallpaper, colors, and everything from your lock screen, just dimmed significantly. The whole screen really remains “always on”.
Apple and Image: Apple
So why has Apple waited so long to add this feature? At least one reason is that it was waiting for technology that would allow the always-on display to outperform competitors.
Apple first waited for the iPhone to have an OLED screen, where only the illuminated pixels need power and they can all be illuminated at different levels. That’s something OLED screens of all sizes, whether they’re in phones, smartwatches, or TVs, have in common. This makes OLEDs much more energy efficient than other screen types, and always-on screens take advantage of that unique ability to drain the battery much less than normal in a fully “on” state.
But that’s not the whole picture. While every iPhone 14 model has an OLED screen (like many models since the iPhone X), only the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max have the extra hardware needed to power an always-on display. Apple marketing chief Greg Joswiak said: the Pro’s always-on display is made possible “through some new technologies that make the display incredibly energy efficient,” including multiple coprocessors within the chipset. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max screens can dynamically adjust their screen refresh rate from a battery-intensive 120Hz to a power-efficient 1Hz mode, meaning it only refreshes once per second.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are getting more technical, using a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) screen in the screen to dynamically adjust the refresh rate, and Joswiak said it also allows “the screen to intelligently dim the entire lock screen.” Similar technology can also be found in the Apple Watch Series 5 and newer (excluding the Apple Watch SE), plus some Android phones, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra. It’s a fairly new technology for phones and not something that you are guaranteed to find on every device.
Get an always-on screen in a phone Surely doesn’t require an LTPO display (mainstream Android phones had them nearly a decade ago, like on 2013’s Moto X, and even Nokia’s Lumia 925 Windows Phone had a limited version of it). But something that older and newer versions of the always-on display have in common is that they don’t offer quite as rich an experience as what the iPhone 14 Pro has to offer.
We won’t know how much Apple’s always-on feature will affect battery life, but previous iterations of the LTPO display and power-efficient display driver yielded great battery results, as we saw when we saw the Apple Watch Series 5 rated. My colleague Allison Johnson also noted in her Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra review that it also uses LTPO technology to deliver greater efficiency in the always-on display mode, though that phone’s overall battery life wasn’t great.
The iPhone 14 Pro presents an even bigger leap over the base iPhone model than previous years. While you might normally expect improved cameras along with a few other exclusive tricks, the always-on feature is a visible and useful change for anyone who sees it in action. Hopefully, Android competitors will look for a way to bring colorful, more info-dense always-on displays to their new phones as well.