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After iPhone X, the Asus Zenfone 5, Huawei P20 and OnePlus 6 prove the notch is here to stay

All smartphone makers are following the "herd mentality" to add a notch to their display without thinking through its potential use case

Apple-iphone-x-face-id

Highlights

  • Apple made the notch a topic of discussion with the iPhone X

  • Android phones didn't really have a strong reason to have a notchon its display

  • Asus, Huawei and now OnePlus are incorporating it into their next products too

Earlier this week, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei was the latest to join the notch family with its newest flagships, the P20 and P20 Pro. In fact, ever since MWC 2018 last month, we’ve seen a lineup of devices from Asus, LG and Huawei with the notch.

For a moment, it’s easy to think that the smartphone makers are going ahead with a “herd mentality” to add a notch to their display for the sake of it, without really thinking through the purpose. On a scale of 1 to 10, the notch is either a one or a ten but definitely not something in between. There has never been a better time to admit that the ‘notch is here to stay’ whether you like it or not. Here is a timeline of the notch’s appearance on smartphone:

May 31, 2017: Andy Rubin shows his Essential Phone with notch
September 12, 2017: Apple announces iPhone X with notch
February 28, 2018: Asus brings notch to ZenFone 5 Series
March 19, 2018: Oppo R15 launched with a notch
March 20, 2018: Vivo launches X21, X21 UD with notch
March 23, 2018: Vivo V9 with notched display launched in India
March 26, 2018: Oppo F7 gets notch treatment
March 27, 2018: Huawei puts notch on its P20 and P20 Pro

The timeline above shows all the major smartphones that have launched in the past six months with a notched display. The list isn’t expansive and it excludes a ton of small Chinese players who have iPhone X’s design to the dot. But none of them are doing it for the reason Apple did and most are embracing the notched display for a simple reason, because it makes their phones look different.

Why is everyone embracing the notch?

Apple called its iPhone X as the ‘future of smartphone’ and it arguably is since it shows where smartphones are headed. A smartphone in the future will be one that will be all glass. It was the vision Apple engineers had even before they started working on the original iPhone.

So the biggest hindrance to that vision are the sensors, front-facing camera and the fingerprint sensor that can be found on smartphones from last year. Apple found a way to move those sensors or get rid of them altogether with the iPhone X. On the iPhone X, Apple decided to do away with the home button (also called as Touch ID) and moved the sensors and front-facing camera into a ‘tiny little area at the top of the display’ called as notch.

Apple’s built its case to embrace the notch with two clear justifications: 1. Edge-to-Edge display and 2. Face ID. The past year has been all about phones with a super tall display. Apple, on the other hand, went a bit further with its edge-to-edge display design. There is virtually no bezel surrounding the display on the iPhone X except for the notch. The notch on the iPhone X seems like glass bitten from the surface of the display similar to bitten Apple in company’s logo.

 

However, the major reason for notch’s existence on the iPhone X is the Face ID. “Face ID is the future of how we would unlock our smartphones and protect our sensitive information,” said Phil Schiller, SVP of worldwide marketing, Apple at the launch of iPhone X. Face ID is powered by an array of camera and sensors called TrueDepth camera system. It is made up of technology including an infrared camera, a flood illuminator, a front-side camera, a dot projector, a proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, speaker and microphone. This sophisticated technology exists in order to enable seamless and secure unlock mechanism by simply looking at the device.

Apple made biometric unlock standard on consumer electronic device with the debut of Touch ID on iPhone 5S in 2013. It wants to standardize face unlock on smartphones with the launch of iPhone X. Apple suppliers have already made it clear that tech powering Face ID will stay exclusive to Apple until 2019 and Android smartphone makers have mimicked the feature but not the security aspect of it. While they are copying face unlock, it only makes sense to copy the design element as well. We have seen this ‘herd mentality’ among consumer electronics brands in the past as well.

A simple observation would be to keep Samsung Galaxy S9+, Google Pixel 2 XL, Apple iPhone X and Huawei P20 Pro next to each other. All the phones feature taller display but Huawei P20 and iPhone X will definitely stand out for their notched display. By adopting the notch, a smartphone maker stands to gain more screen real estate. The Google Pixel 2 XL has an 18:9 display while Galaxy S9+ pushes it a bit further with 18.5:9 display. The Huawei P20 Pro and iPhone X have an even taller 18.7:9 and 19.5:9 aspect ratio displays. By adopting a notch, the user gains a taller display but it is not necessarily useful in daily life.

Is the notch really useful?

Let me admit here: I am not an Apple fanboy and honestly, I don’t own any Apple product. However, the presence of notch on iPhone X seems justified for all the technology benefits it offers. But all said and done, that’s not the case with other smartphone makers. Samsung, the company which lost a design patent lawsuit to Apple, was wise enough not to copy the iPhone X’s notch with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+.

Since these phones feature a taller display and most content are designed with a 16:9 aspect ratio display in mind, users will end up with black borders while watching YouTube videos on most of these smartphones. While there is an option to fill the screen with the video, it often will end up cutting some part of the video and on a phone with notch, let’s not talk about it because it looks absurd.

The best example of how weird a notch can get is Huawei’s P20 and P20 Pro. The Chinese smartphone has designed its software to enable or disable the notch. I mean if they want to disable the notch then why did they add it in the first place. Like the disappearing 3.5mm headphone jack, the introduction of a notched display is a user hostile decision for the time being.

Who is getting notched next?

OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei has confirmed that OnePlus 6 will feature a notch, as well as a chin. This clearly suggests that none of the phones in the market embracing the iPhone X-like notch will even have an edge-to-edge display. Google might also join the crowd with its next Pixel smartphones since it has already added native support for the notch in the Android P developer preview.

I personally don’t think we don’t need a notch on our smartphones, and I’m not really a fan of the rather sophisticated implementation of facial recognition and authentication in the form of Face ID. The existing biometric recognition with fingerprint sensor (Touch ID) works really well. The elusive goal of any smartphone maker should be to build a great smartphone. It doesn’t have to end up being a great smartphone with a poorly designed notch. The notch on all the smartphones in the market seem to be invasive while Galaxy S9’s design with minimal bezels and a rear-fingerprint can easily be deemed as non-invasive and aesthetically pleasing at the same time.

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  • Published Date: March 29, 2018 2:44 PM IST