An informed rebuttal to ‘notched’ Android smartphone releases
Notches are here to stay, for better or for worse. It’s safe to assume that the public opinion on said design characteristic has been quite polarizing; the lack of unanimity harkens back to the time when the appeal of skeuomorphic design implementations began to fade, as tech giants experimented with minimalistic patterns as a means of replacement. Ever since the release of the iPhone X, smartphone manufacturers, both popular and small-scale, have been inclined towards adopting the notch. They also seem prepared to put up any argument for the sake of justification. Suffice to say, with leaks and rumors swirling around of even Google’s next flagship taking things up a notch (#punsgalore), here we find ourselves with no choice but to either live with it or simply ignore its existence altogether on the day-to-day.
There have been countless journalistic critiques about the emergence of this design trend in the market – one of my favorites being this article (Credit: Vlad Savov, Senior Editor at The Verge) which perfectly sums up the industry’s shift towards notches in one sentence:
“… the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look – not function, look – like an iPhone X.”
Taken at face value, one may consider Savov’s thoughts to be generic reiterations of your typical Apple Fanboy rant but in this scenario, sadly enough, the truth isn’t much stranger than fiction.
Apple incorporates its Face ID technology within the iPhone X’s notch, with several components painstakingly engineered to fit into one singular enclosure – a design refresh that enables not just advanced security features but also an automated, adaptive user experience. Relative to such a feat of engineering, the vast majority of Android smartphones out there that are equipped with a notch, simply allow for more content real estate; flush with the ability to hide the notch entirely via user customizations – thanks, in part, to the open-sourceness of Android. Irrespective of such tendencies, it wouldn’t be exaggerated to suggest that the aforementioned design feature has gone virtually mainstream with much ado about notching.
However, despite the increase in smartphones with notches, there is one glaring flaw that defeats the very purpose of adopting the notch altogether – the unexplained presence of a chin on the opposite end. The bipolarity of such design choices underscores the kind of brazen cynicism and ulterior shrewdness we’ve come to expect from the smartphone industry.
When Apple set out to revamp the traditional aesthetic of the iPhone, they intended to do away with any bezels whatsoever so as to achieve an edge-to-edge viewing experience and switch to a fully gesture-based user interface for iOS. The notch was a crucial design change for Apple since it paved the way for the removal of the iconic home button and fingerprint sensor – hardware components that were part of the very fabric of the iPhone since its debut. Thus, in its absence, the company ended up creating a flexible display for their 2017 flagship, one that folds underneath the glass in order to make their smartphone seem truly edge-to-edge.
In comparison, so far there hasn’t been a single Android handset which incorporated the notch in favor of eliminating the chin. One can argue that these chins house the display drivers since there’s no room left up top due to the inclusion of the notch. Having adequately interpreted Apple’s stance on the matter, when examined against the functional aspects of notches found on recent Android flagships, there simply isn’t a compelling reason for the existence of a notch on those devices (save for the purposes of making a cosmetic statement). Another rationale sympathizes with the position such companies find themselves in — the lack of substantial profit margins translates to an inability to invest in the development of advanced technologies such as flexible displays; perpetually scrambling to figure out a feature that can be marketed as new or improved. Ideologically, such affairs are akin to circumstances wherein multimillion dollar corporations operate part-time throughout the year with insufficient earnings, until the announcement of a radical new product by one corporate rival; the rapid spread of polarizing reactions combined the ubiquity of media coverage leads said corporations to replicate the new hardware schematics with little effort (or attention). Even Samsung, a company embattled in patent wars with Apple since the dawn of smartphones, avoided such notoriety by going instead with exceptionally minimal top and bottom bezels and a gorgeous curved screen, as seen in recent Galaxy S flagships. The independence and risks associated with such decision-making helps us, as potential buyers, gauge the acceptance rate of technical standards that are set to constantly evolve in a market with limitless potential.
It is essential to understand that as various manufacturers adopt foreign design philosophies in the name of developing radical new changes, the ephemerality of their interests could ultimately lead to a total loss of excitement and anticipation amongst prospective buyers as every device in circulation would end up with the same hardware traits, making products from even the most recognizable brands indistinguishable in plain view. Plagiarizing design choices may get a community to accept recurring implementations of a specific philosophy as ongoing trends, however, a company risks losing out to alternative ways of influencing consumer preferences, without the possibility of any vindication whatsoever – why?
Because, innovation doesn’t lend itself to the risk of redundancy; it lends itself to the risk of doing things differently.