The notch in the iPhone X is, like every part of any piece of consumer electronics, a bit of a compromise. It allows the selfie camera and Face ID technology to be forward facing while maximizing the screen real estate. I’ve no doubt that Apple had iPhone X designs that had the same bezels as the iPhone 8 but with the FaceID circuitry, an iPhone 8 Plus with wireless charging and various other combinations to try out. The iPhone X as we now know it was one choice of many, and one chosen to maximise Apple’s commercial advantages.
But it has another advantage in the wider ecosystem. It’s a power-play that shows the dominance of Apple.
Now that the iPhone has adopted the notch (after all, the Essential Phone highlighted the design cue earlier in 2017), It forces those who are ranged against Cupertino to either ignore the biggest perceived fashion trend in mobile; or spend resources, capital, and time, on their own variant.
It’s clear from the hardware launched at Mobile World Congress this year that Apple’s use of the notch has become a design element that signals a ‘flagship’ handset – such is the power of Apple’s brand and influence over discussion. It’s also clear that for this first wave of Android handsets the notch is little more than a “lets do the same” feature rather than something that a design has grown around (there are of course some high-powered South Korean exceptions).
These feel rushed out to get to market and capture the first hype wave, no matter the extra hours, the poor design, or the roughshod approach to the integration. When the iPhone’s notch was confirmed in the middle of last year, the race was on. The vital thing was to be there with a notch, no matter how much it cost in terms of reputation or individuality.
Google has followed the lead of its partners and devoted engineering time inside the main branch to provide support for display cut-outs in the new version of Android. That will have been a non-trivial task in terms of design, implementation, and testing. Another cost.
And just as the Android handset manufacturer and Google’s software engineers reveal their handiwork to make the notch available as a universal option… Apple’s patent trail reveals its works on a notch-less display that will allow the sensors to be placed directly under the glass and it can throw away the notch.
It might not sell any more iPhones, but it forces the opposition to burn through resources to match Apple just before Apple changes the game once more.
Well played, Tim Cook, well played.