The introduction of the notch, that cutout at the top of the display on your smartphone, is probably one of the most controversial design decision ever made. Ever since it debuted a year ago, it has split the world into two halves – there are some who despise the notch and others who're not averse to its existence. As the debate rages on, we look at how the smartphone notch came into existence, and why it doesn’t deserve the flak it receives.
Capturing Our Imagination
The launch of Apple's iPhone X sent ripples throughout the industry last year, as much for its design as it did for its specs, thanks to the inclusion of the notch. This sent other OEMs into a frenzy and resulted in the incorporation of the notch on their own phones.
The mobile industry has leapfrogged from one innovation to another, with OEMs delivering significant upgrades in terms of performance, battery life and cameras every year. This shows how quickly technology is advancing. But while the focus was more on refining the software and the user experience before, the industry is gradually switching focus to refining hardware and design.
For a start, smartphone displays have improved massively. They've gotten sharper, brighter, more colour-accurate and more energy-efficient as well. In fact, Sony also released a couple of smartphones with 4K displays, which were certainly the epitome of advancements in mobile screen technology. Sony soon realised that these 4K displays were over-kill for a phone, and didn't necessarily add value for consumers as there wasn't enough 4K mobile content to be consumed. Other OEMs, while still improving display technology, started scratching their heads on how their smartphones could offer a more immersive visual experience without necessarily bumping up the screen resolution.
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Birth of the Notch
Samsung's Infinity Display was one way of maximizing screen real estate without having to increase the footprint of the phone. This display was loved by critics and consumers alike. But while the screen was immersive, it was still flanked by massive chins on the top and bottom. This is exactly where the idea of a notch came in. The use of the notch would help accommodate some integral sensors while still boasting of a true edge-to-edge display.
The Essential Phone 1 was the first phone to have a notch. The display was stretched to the edges and was wrapped around the front-facing camera. The earpiece and other sensors were accommodated in a slim bezel at the top. This phone, although a commercial failure, gave the industry a new perspective on how phones could look in the future.
The iPhone X
) was pretty much the next phone to feature a notch and the rest is history. iPhone X's notch was much wider in comparison to the Essential Phone's, as it had to accommodate the sophisticated sensors required for Face ID to work. Noticeably, Apple's implementation of the notch was also considered to be better as even the bottom chin of the phone was kept at a minimal.
By the next round of trade shows and exhibitions, most OEMs had embraced the notch. Most of these smartphones flaunted a notch for cosmetic reasons and not because they too had to accommodate some integral sensors for a cutting-edge feature, like Apple did. Today we have phones with notches available in all price segments.
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Is It Necessary?
While a lot of OEMs were busy implementing the notch, Vivo & OPPO surprised the industry by launching phones that had actual full-screen displays. They tackled the age-old issues of cameras and sensor placements in their own unique ways. With the Vivo NEX
), Vivo decided to place its camera on a retractable strip on the top of the phone that only pops up when the front camera is in use. The earpiece is embedded within
the upper half of the screen, which uses a linear vibrator to transmit sound through the display.
OPPO soon followed suite with the Find X, which was easily one of the best looking phones out there. Instead of a popping camera like the NEX, the Find X had a motorised module at the top that would be revealled when either of the cameras would be needed. OPPO managed to squeeze the earpiece and other sensors in their usual spots at the top.
So why are these phones not heralded as benchmarks for future designs? Well, because the execution isn't perfect. Both these phones seem to solve the problem, but with the help of moving parts which are not desired in the long run. Moving parts in a phone can cause a lot of problems and are definitely not as reliable as their fixed counterparts. So even though both these phones are wonderful, their solution to the problem is definitely not optimum. Also, their implementations are expensive and will have a hard time trickling down to budget phones in the near future.
Filling a Gap
So yes, notches are necessary. They are relatively easy to incorporate and do offer a better viewing experience than conventional screens. The recently launched OPPO F9 Pro
) and the Vivo V11 Pro
) are wonderful phones that have minimized their notches to offer an even more immersive experience to consumers. So while researchers look for better ways to offer a more immersive experience, rest assured that having a notch is the ideal way to go forward.
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