On notches, chins, and foreheads

Joshua Topolsky:

The “notch” on the new iPhone X is not just strange, interesting, or even odd – it is bad. It is bad design, and as a result, bad for the user experience. The justification for the notch (the new Face ID tech, which lets you unlock the device just by looking at it) could have easily been accomplished with no visual break in the display. Yet here is this awkward blind spot cradled by two blobs of actual screenspace.


Plenty has been written about the mind-numbing, face-palming, irritating stupidity of the notch. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about it. I would love to say that this awful design compromise is an anomaly for Apple. But it would be more accurate to describe it as the norm.

Apple really, really wants you to “embrace the notch” and consider it a design element. With the home button gone, the iPhone X lost the iconic shape we’ve come to expect from iPhones, and to set a recognisable shape for the iPhone for the next decade, Apple chose the notch, and decided to embrace it.

The goal of the industry is clearly to move to truly fullscreen displays; no notches like the Essential phone or the iPhone X, and no thin chins and foreheads like the Galaxy S8 or the LG V30. With Apple trying to build a visual brand around the notch, we’re going to be inundated with article after article explaining how the notch is great design, how it’s a good idea, how it actually makes a lot of sense to have the notch because of [insert pseudoscience], how it is the pinnacle of design.

And all those articles will look entirely foolish once Android phones start moving to true fullscreen with under-display cameras and sensors in a few years from now, after which Apple will drag its feet, only to eventually move to true fullscreen displays 2-3 years later, at which point the authors of the aforementioned articles will do a complete 180 overnight, as if the notch never happened.

Notches and chins and foreheads are necessary imperfections due to technological limitations on the way to fullscreen perfection. Pretending they are not will only make you look foolish five years from now.


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