Pixel Pals put a kitten on the iPhone 14 Pro and I love it

Pixel Pals put a kitten on the iPhone 14 Pro and I love it

The dynamic island – Apple’s re-envisioning of the notch – is one of the hallmarks of the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. The transforming black bar is now a small home for music, timers, incoming calls and other system notifications. And since iOS 16.1 dropped in October, Dynamic Island is now open for developers to do with it as they please.

It will take some time for all your favorite apps to access the island, but I’ve already found my favorite use for it. Thanks to an app called Pixel Pals, I now have a little virtual cat that always hangs out on the dynamic island whenever I use my iPhone. It adds zero functionality and offers zero utility – and I love it so much.

How Pixel Pals work

The Pixel Pals app on an iPhone 14 Pro Max.  A digital cat chases a red ball on top of Dynamic Island.
Look at my little guy chasing his ball Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Getting started with Pixel Pals is actually pretty easy. Open the App Store on your iPhone, download the Pixel Pals app and that’s all. When you open Pixel Pals, you’ll see a little cat (named Hugo) hanging out on top of 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 creatures.

Tapping the Pixel Pal shows its age, weight and six hearts you can fill up as you grow your relationship with it – which you do by feeding or playing games together. I like to give Hugo fish (because he deserves it), followed by a short round of beacon ball. Hugo tends to take a nap after such a big day, and I can’t blame him one bit.

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Pixel Pals app on iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

These are functions Developer Christian Selig also added his Reddit client, Apollo. Everything works equally well here, and it’s a smart way to use Dynamic Island without using the Live Activities API. But where Apollo keeps your virtual fluffs exclusive to the app, Pixel Pals do use the API – so you can take your Pixel Pals with you wherever you go on your iPhone.

From the Pixel Pals app, tap the switch next to it Always show Pixel Pal. When you swipe up to go home, Pixel Pal flies into Dynamic Island and continues to hang out with you on your home screen or in other apps you’re using. You can change what your Pixel Pal does on the island – including running, sleeping or just chilling like a badass. And if you pay for Pixel Pals Premium, you can have two Pixel Pals on the dynamic island right away.

What it’s like to live with a cat on my iPhone

Pixel Pals app runs in Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro Max.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

So, how is all this actually in everyday use? Just as cute as you’d expect. Whether you’re scrolling through Twitter, looking at photos on Reddit, or managing email in Outlook, Pixel Pal stays on the dynamic island throughout.

It doesn’t do anything outside of the animation you choose, but I’m perfectly fine with that. Just having a pixelated kitten with me on my phone is both relaxing and soothing in ways I didn’t expect. Responding to messages from Microsoft Teams 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 Dynamic Island, you have a couple of ways to interact with Pixel Pal when it’s stuck on the island. Tapping on your pet returns you to the Pixel Pals app, while tapping and holding shows a larger view of the Pixel Pal, its name, and shortcuts to feed and play with it. I wish you could interact with Pixel Pal directly on Dynamic Island instead of 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 couple of other quirks to note. Since Pixel Pals uses the Live Activities API, you’ll see a small widget for your pet on the lock screen when Always show Pixel Pal the setting is enabled. Furthermore, when the Pixel Pal hangs on the dynamic island, it makes the island slightly larger than it normally is. They’re easy things to adjust to, and a small price to pay for such a sweet companion.

More of these Dynamic Island apps, please

An iPhone 14 Pro Max with the screen turned on.  We see the home screen and the Pixel Pals running on Dynamic Island.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

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 in cuteness and whimsy. Dynamic Island is a whimsical feature by design, and Pixel Pals fully embraces it in the best possible way.

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 soccer game, etc. These are objectively more useful implementations of Dynamic Island, and stuff I’m really looking forward to using as more developers/apps support the feature.

But Pixel Pals also shows the fun side of 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 great example of how that’s still possible in 2022.

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