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How to Use Your iPhone’s Always-On Display

published by Chand Bellur
November 13, 2022 at 2:24 p.m.
  • An “always-on” display (AOD) can show background wallpaper and interactive widgets while your iPhone screen is locked.
  • The feature provides a helpful way to quickly glance at information without unlocking your iPhone.
  • Nokia devices pioneered the always-on display, with Apple’s first offering coming 21 years later.
  • Apple’s always-on display is power-efficient and won’t rapidly drain your iPhone’s battery.

What Is an Always-on Display?

As the name suggests, an always-on display presents visual information on your iPhone’s lock screen. For now, the feature only works with Apple’s newest iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max smartphones.

Although Apple is very late to the always-on display market, the newest iPhone 14 Pro models aren’t their first devices with continuous lock-screen graphics. Apple Watch Series 5 was the company’s first device with persistent screen technology.

Devices require a specific graphical processing chipset to deliver a display running continuously without draining battery life. Apple built these capabilities into the A16 Bionic processor. This is why other iPhones released in 2022 don’t feature an AOD. Outside of jailbreaking (which we don’t recommend), no software update will enable an AOD on any other iPhone.

An always-on display works by using a variable refresh rate display controller. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max can lower refresh rates to 1 Hz. This means your screen is only refreshed once per second. Apple’s AOD also dims the display to preserve battery life.

If you’re wondering why your always-on display shows a dash for seconds on timers and clocks, this is how it conserves energy. Theoretically, it could refresh the “seconds” value for a clock or timer since it does refresh once per second. But updating this information requires more processing power. 

The Apple Watch also replaces seconds with a dash when its AOD is active. By doing this, the processor only needs to update data every minute or more, even though the screen is refreshed every second, or 1 Hz.

How to Turn On Your iPhone’s Always-on Display

Before we drill down into Settings, let’s check if your always-on display is already activated. Press the side button on your iPhone to lock it. If an image on the screen persists after it’s locked, your always-on display is already set up. A blank screen means this feature has yet to be turned on.

If it’s off, let’s turn it on. Launch the Settings app and tap on Display & Brightness, then switch on Always On. Now, when you lock your iPhone, you’ll see that the display is still showing something. In the next section, we’ll configure your iPhone’s always-on display to suit your needs.

Configuring Your iPhone’s Always-On Display Wallpaper

Your iPhone’s AOD is similar to an Apple Watch’s watch face. In fact, the Apple Watch is where they tested always-on display technology, which they later ported to the iPhone.

Much like an Apple Watch face, you can’t put everything you want on your always-on display. For example, it won’t be able to play video because that would use too much electricity. Since iPhone users complain about battery life so much, Apple limited configuration options for the always-on display, like most other smartphone manufacturers.

Your iPhone’s continuous lock-screen graphics can show a background wallpaper, date, time, one preset widget area, lock-screen notifications, and current activities, such as timers, sports scores, or media you’re currently playing.

You can glean a lot of information with these capabilities without unlocking your iPhone. If your AOD prevents you from opening your phone, it’s saving battery power.

The first task we’ll accomplish is to set a background wallpaper for your AOD. Here’s a step-by-step guide for changing your always-on display’s wallpaper:

  1. Launch the Settings app.
  2. Tap on Wallpaper. A screen showing your iPhone’s Home and lock-screen wallpaper appears.
  3. Tap the “+ Add New Wallpaper” button below the two iPhone screen depictions.
  4. Browse for an appropriate wallpaper choice and tap on it.
  5. Different wallpapers offer appropriate modifications. For example, the Collections wallpapers allow users to enable/disable the depth effect. You can play around with these settings to customize your wallpaper.
  6. Press Add on the top right corner to add the wallpaper to your iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max. A large panel appears at the bottom with two choices: Set as Wallpaper Pair or Customize Home Screen.
  7. For this tutorial, choose Set as Wallpaper Pair.

You may have noticed widgets in the wallpaper customization screen. These tiny apps run on your Home screen or lock-screen to present information at a glance. Weather, stocks, Music, and other features make for excellent widgets. In the next section, we’ll cover how to add widgets to your AOD.

How to Add Widgets to Your iPhone’s Always-on Display

Widgets are tiny apps providing relevant information at a glance. The most popular widgets tend to be time, date, and weather.

In the previous section, we drilled down into Settings to configure the AOD’s wallpaper. There’s another, easier way to do this. Like the Apple Watch, one can press and hold the lock screen on the best and newest iPhone models to enter the configuration workflow.

In this section, we will access AOD configuration options directly through the lock-screen instead of drilling down into Settings. Here are step-by-step instructions for adding widgets to your iPhone’s always-on display:

  1. Tap the lock screen once to “wake” your device. Your always-on display will increase its brightness.
  2. Hold your finger on the lock screen until you feel a light haptic response. The Home and lock-screen customization workflow appears.
  3. Tap on Customize to edit your iPhone screens. A screen with your Home and lock-screen appears.
  4. Tap on your lock-screen on the left. Your lock-screen will appear in edit mode.
  5. Tap on “Add Widgets.” A large widget gallery panel appears at the bottom of the screen.
  6. Browse widgets and pick the ones that suit your lifestyle. If you’re concerned about stocks, add a Stocks widget. If the weather is on your mind, add some related widgets. You can add widgets by dragging them onto the “Add Widgets” area above the widget gallery. Remember, you can only have up to four small widgets, two large widgets, or one large widget and two small ones on the screen at a time.
  7. When you’re finished adding widgets, press the “x” button on the top right of the widget gallery. The widget gallery will close.
  8. If you’re happy with your changes, tap Done. The Collections screen will appear. Tap on your modified lock screen to exit.

That’s it. With a little practice, you’ll be adding widgets like a pro, so you can justify owning an iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max.

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