There’s a horrible trend in smartphones happening right now, and I’m afraid it’s not going away very soon.
I’m talking about the smartphone notch. It’s the way the newer, edge-to-edge screens on several upcoming top smartphones are cut to make room for the camera, speaker grille and sensors. Andy Rubin’s Essential phone has it. Sharp’s Aquos S2 has it. And it looks like Apple’s upcoming iPhone 8 will have it, too.
The notch is an awful idea.
The notch is ugly, though your opinion on that will inevitably vary. Sure, it’s going to look great in those iPhone 8 promo pics, but — make no mistake — in real life it’ll be an eyesore at worst, and a slight distraction at best. For a simple test, look at it this way: Would you prefer your smartphone’s front side to be 100% all screen, or would you prefer the notch? I thought so.
Even more importantly, the notch turns a rectangular screen into an oddly-shaped one, in a world where 99% of the content we consume is rectangular. Photos. Videos. E-books. Web pages. There’s a reason why you’re reading this on a rectangular screen (unless you’re reading this on an iPhone 8 prototype, ha-ha) and not an oval one. There’s a reason why all screens are similar. Except in some very specialized cases, like a car interior, the best shape for a screen — be it a monitor, TV, or a smartphone screen — is a simple rectangle.
Of course, Apple could just make the area left and right to the notch black most of the time (see here for some examples of how this could look like). But what’s the point of that near bezel-less screen, then? On the other hand, if the area around the notch does end up being used for status bar icons, Apple will have to cram them into a lot less space than before, which also isn’t ideal.
Now, though it’s unlikely, Apple’s new iPhone might end up looking completely different than what we’ve seen in leaked photos. But we don’t have to speculate about how we feel about a notch on the iPhone 8. We can turn to Andy Rubin, whose Essential phone’s (much smaller) notch is definitely real.
“We notched it [the camera] out and yes, it looks funny, but it’s in a place where we know that Android, the icons for the notifications grow inward for both the static ones and also the dynamic ones, so you actually don’t lose any real estate. The display is a 19:10, so when your watching a 16:9 video, it doesn’t interfere with the video either,” Rubin said at Recode‘s Code conference in May.
That doesn’t sound very reassuring to me. Rubin flat out admits that the phone looks “funny,” and then goes on to explain how watching a video in a narrower format won’t be a problem.
That’s fine, but where are the benefits? The only benefit I can think of is an illusion of a bigger screen, despite the fact that the “notched” portion of the screen will be useless in most scenarios.
The notch is just a crutch.
Let’s be honest and admit that the notch is just a crutch. It’s a last-minute replacement for an ideal phone that’s all screen on front, a beautiful window into the future. But that future just isn’t here yet. Smartphone makers haven’t figured out how to fully hide the camera, the fingerprint scanner, and various sensors from the front of the phone (although the speaker grille can now be invisible). The technologies that take care of each of these problems have been developed — most notably, a fingerprint scanner can be hidden under the phone’s display — but they’re probably not ready for mass production yet.
Likely under the pressure to innovate, smartphone makers came up with the notch. But it should’ve died as soon as someone first brought it up at an Apple research lab. Someone should’ve said: Look, if we can’t do this bezel-less screen thing right, let’s not do it all.
And you know what? There’s a more conventional approach that’s better. Just take a look at Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and the LG G6. Those phones have beautiful, nearly bezel-less screens. Would either of them benefit from having a bit more screen on the top left and top right? I don’t think so.
Does the notch mean the iPhone 8 will be a horrible phone? Probably not. The notch will be one more minor thing to get used to, a reminder that technology hasn’t really caught up with our (or Apple’s) ambition yet. Apple will probably keep it for the next generation iPhone to save costs, and then get rid of it. But in the meantime, we’ll have to endure an eyesore on the top of our phones.
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