The iPhone X’s notch – coming soon to an Android phone near youApple
Eyeing a new high-end Android? It might look rather like an iPhone X. The latest Apple smartphone has a notch in the top of the display, so now every other phone has one too — whether they need one or not. Support for the “notch” has even been added to Android P, which hit preview last week, though Google is calling it “display cutout support”. Between the Android P preview, the iPhone X mimicry, and what was announced at Mobile World Congress (MWC) last month, here’s what your next Android will look like — whether you want it to or not. Android gets the notchWhen the notch was first revealed, it was reviled. Initially mocked as “an odd design choice”, “botched” and “devil horns”, it’s now seen as a smart move to give the iPhone X an edge-to-edge display while maintaining room for the front-facing camera, dot projector and other gubbins that power the Face ID authentication, as well as the speaker and microphone.Some phones are copying the iPhone X, including the notch for aesthetic purposes when there’s plenty of room on the bezel for components — we’re looking at you, Asus ZenPhone 5 and LG G7 and the leaked Huawei P20 lineup. Others are using the notch in the same way as Apple, making it a smart design decision that solves a problem rather than mere mimickary. That includes the upcoming OnePlus 6 and OPPO F7, while the Essential and Sharp Aquos S2 both featured a smaller notch before the arrival of the iPhone X. Not all smartphone makers are opting for the “devil horns”, however. Instead, the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Google Pixel 2 have opted for “the stripe”, a single bexel-bar along one side that serves the same function; the former has a screen-to-body ratio of 84 per cent, topping even the iPhone X by two points, suggesting the notch isn’t the only compromise to maximise screen space. “Consumers aren’t asking for notches, they want edge-to-edge displays,” says Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moore Insights & Strategy. “There’s only two ways to do this kind of display — notch or small bezel. Apple does a notch and Samsung has small bezel… There’s only two ways to accomplish edge-to-edge displays and the notion others are copying seems a bit silly to me.”That said, the inclusion of “notch” support in Android P suggests Google is convinced more manufacturers will want to ape Apple than Samsung, so get used to the cutout. Edge-to-edge screensThe notch is the result of the iPhone X’s near-edge-to-edge display, though it’s not only Apple making inroads into shaving away the millimeters of plastic holding phones together. Released last year, the Samsung Galaxy S8 features the same near-bezel-less front, as does Xiaomi’s flagship Mi Mix.
Why ditch the handy bezel? Do consumers want it, as Moorhead suggests? Or is it simply the next challenge to overcome in smartphone design, proof of the superiority of your R&D? As iPhone’s designer Jony Ive said last year: “For more than a decade, our intention has been to create an iPhone that’s all display… a physical object that disappears into the experience.” And thanks to the miniaturisation of sensors and components, that’s increasingly possible, letting smartphone makers ditch the top and bottom bezels. Hence the Samsung Galaxy S9 and also Sony’s efforts to slim down the bezels on its XZ2 and XZ2 Compact. Dual camerasApple first introduced a dual-lens camera on the iPhone 7 Plus back in 2016, with Samsung doing the same on the Galaxy Note 8, bringing the idea to smartphones with the Galaxy S9 Plus. It’s now become the norm, with dual cameras on the Asus Zenfone 4, Essential, Huawei P10, LG G6 and OnePlus 5. At Mobile World Congress, plenty of others continued that trend: the Alcatel 5, Nokia 7+, and the Asus Zenfone 5Z. The Sony Xperia XZ2 didn’t double up the cameras, but Sony is known to be working on a super sensitive, dual-camera setup called Fusion that it says is “coming soon”, so expect that to land on their smartphones soon enough. Faces to the frontApple ditched its fingerprint scanner rather than make room for it on the front or relegate it to the rear, and plenty of other Android smartphones have led the way here. “Samsung had retina scan well before Apple’s Face ID,” notes Moorhead. And while the Galaxy S9 features both facial recognition and iris scanning, both rely on 2D images, a step behind Apple’s more complicated 3D scanning Face ID tech that’s crammed into that notch.
But it’s not all about unlocking your phone with your face: there’s emoji to animate using your own face, too. Apple’s Animoji has been knocked off by Samsung’s AR Emoji and more recently by Asus with ZeniMoji, though the latter two use a basic front-facing camera without 3D abilities. That means they can roll out on any old smartphone, so expect other manufacturers to follow suit, but without depth-sensing cameras on the front, there’s only so good they can get. On the insideYou won’t see this on your phone, but inside: Android P supports the 802.11mc Wi-Fi protocol, which does a better job with indoor positioning thanks to round-trip-time. It uses wireless access points to triangulate your position inside buildings to an accuracy of one or two meters, Google says. That means you’ll get better navigation inside buildings, handy if you’re the sort to get lost in airports and shopping malls, but Google also suggests it’ll be handy for “disambiguated voice control”, when your smartphone tells you to “turn left here” or offers extra information, such as for museum tours. This being Google, the it’s also possible to build location-based advertising or promotions. Under-OLED sensorsA few of these hardware evolutions are direct responses to the drive for edge-to-edge displays. But what if the components that previously lived in bezels and now reside in notches could be hidden away beneath the display?That’s reportedly what Apple was hoping to do with Touch ID on the iPhone X, but wasn’t able to make the system work before its launch. “Apple didn’t want a notch as the company couldn’t get under display fingerprInt to work as they wanted,” Moorhead says. The Vivo Apex, a concept phone, showed off a similar idea at MWC, hiding the fingerprint and proximity sensors beneath the glass. However, plenty more than sensors live in bezels. The ambient light sensors is tucked away at the top of the phone, and rather than cram the camera under glass, it pops out at the top of the phone in less than a second when the selfie setting is tapped in the camera app. Such ideas show there are routes besides the notch to solving the problem of where to house components when a phone design thins the bezel to nigh on nothing, but it remains to be seen whether any will catch on — until Apple rolls them out, of course.