I had an epiphany the other day.
I was finalizing my review of LG V30, which would be my third review of a “bezel-less” phone in a row. And as I struggled to find the words to describe the V30’s design, which is so similar to all the other big-screened Android flagships that came out lately, I finally realized that the iPhone X’s “notch” is not only a good design choice — it’s a necessary one.
With the notch, the iPhone X has one extremely important advantage over most other flagship smartphones: It’s different.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t like the notch. I’d still prefer the iPhone X without it — the idea of a phone that’s essentially just a screen is so wonderfully futuristic that I’d be the first in line to buy one (I’ll actually be the first in line to buy the iPhone X anyway, but that’s because it’s kinda my job).
But in a sea of Android smartphones with very slim bezels, the iPhone X will be immediately recognizable when you pull it out of your pocket. You’ll get the “oohs” and “aahs” and “is that the new one” comments. You’ll get the jealous looks. Perhaps this is not why you, personally, are interested in the iPhone, but the reality is that a lot of people will be buying a $999+ phone for the exclusivity. And the notch, as odd as it may be, separates the iPhone from every other phone out there.
This is why the screens on Samsung’s flagship phones curve over the edges — a design choice that doesn’t actually serve any functional purpose (Samsung will say otherwise, but really, it doesn’t).
The fact that smartphone makers are trying to make their phones stand out from the rest isn’t exactly new. In fact, I’m sure a few readers will call me out for stating the obvious with this text. But the rumors about the mythical new iPhone went on for years. It was supposed to be, well, just a screen. No bezels, no notches. The pinnacle of Apple’s elegant, simple design. So when the iPhone X came out looking as it does, many (me included) saw the notch as an eyesore. It’s so distracting, so clumsy, so un-Apple-like.
And yes, just a few weeks ago, I thought that Apple would look to get rid of the notch as soon as it can — as soon as it can find away to somehow make the speaker and the front cameras invisible. Perhaps even in a year’s time. Now, having been swarmed with Android phones that all have a beautiful, big, notch-less screen, I don’t think Apple will remove the notch from the iPhone X’s successor. The last thing Apple wants to do is drown in a sea of Androids.
The last thing Apple wants to do is drown in a sea of Androids.
In fact, it’s the Android phone makers that have a problem. A few years ago, phone designers could at least use that home button below the screen to make the phone stand out. Now that phones are just screens with tiny bezels, all you’re left with is the screen (and the phone’s back, but there’s only so much you can do with the back). And it doesn’t matter if it’s a top-notch (no pun intended) OLED or a lowly LCD: All screens look very, very similar. That joke app, that adds a software “notch” to your Android phone? It might not be a joke after all.
The phone is a utility device, but it’s also a fashion statement. Perhaps we’d all be most comfortable in blue jeans and black turtlenecks, but people like to dress differently; they like to make a statement with the way they look, and the smartphone is a big part of that. Especially if it costs a thousand dollars of more.
Ultimately, the notch might turn out to be the iPhone X’s best feature. It’s so distinctive that it will become that one little thing that separates the iPhone owners from owners of, well, all other phones. On the iPod, it was the white colored earphones and cables. On the MacBook, it’s the Apple logo on the back. And on the iPhone, it’s going to be the notch.
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