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Apple’s iPhone X notch is an odd design choice

  • Apple's camera array is significantly larger than the single sensor on the Essential Phone, making the cut-out a lot bigger as a result.
  • It cuts into the screen, hiding scroll bars and creating white bars on the sides of webpages.
  • The notch has generated a lot of discussion online, both during the leaks and after Apple's official announcement.

Apple's new iPhone X has a spectacular edge-to-edge display that dominates the entire front of the device. Well, nearly the entire front. Unlike Xiaomi's Mi Mix 2, Samsung's Galaxy S8, and LG's V30, Apple hasn't kept the iPhone X top bezel intact; and compared to the Essential Phone, its camera array is much, much more noticeable... and odd-looking.

While the iPhone X design was leaked several times before Apple was able to officially unveil it, the company revealed this week that it is fully embracing the notch and not hiding it away with software. It's a move that has generated a lot of discussion online, both during the leaks and after Apple's official announcement. Some say "Steve Jobs would have never let that happen," while others have mocked it by creating a "notch mode" for Chrome that adds a black cut-out to every YouTube video. There's a mix of surprise, sarcasm, and intrigue that Apple has chosen to go with a screen layout that leads to design compromises.

While Apple isn't hiding this notch like it has done with some hardware features before, it's not fully embracing it in software either. The iPhone X renders webpages with white bars on the side if you're using it in landscape orientation.

And the scroll bar literally disappears behind the notch as you move down a webpage.

Many games will simply have a section missing thanks to the new display, and some apps that go fullscreen (into the status bar area) will also have a black section. Thankfully, movies and photos won't fill the entire screen by default — they'll require a double-tap to extend into the notch and status bar area. Apple is hiding the notch in some ways, though. If you take a screenshot on the iPhone X, for example, then iOS 11 simply ignores the existence of the cut-out, as you'd expect.

The entire notch exists because Apple is introducing Face ID with the iPhone X, a replacement for Touch ID that uses infrared cameras to scan your face and log you into your phone. Apple's camera array is significantly larger than the single sensor on the Essential Phone, making the cut-out a lot bigger as a result. Apple definitely could have avoided this, either by creating a device with a slightly larger top bezel to accommodate the camera array, or by using a black background across the status bar to hide it.

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Both of these options would have resulted in compromises elsewhere, whether in apps that couldn't fill the status bar with custom colors, or extend to full screen, or simply by the iPhone X looking very similar in design to Samsung's Galaxy S8. Most iPhone X users will use the phone in portrait mode for the vast majority of tasks, so the notch likely won't be an issue outside of viewing photos and video or playing games.

Apple's design choice looks ugly thanks to the permanent notch at the top, but its decision to embrace it should also encourage developers to do the same and offer more unique ways to handle the display. Some have already created rough examples of content flowing around the notch, but Apple's own developer guidelines appear to forbid it:

Don't mask or call special attention to key display features. Don't attempt to hide the device's rounded corners, sensor housing, or indicator for accessing the Home screen by placing black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Don't use visual adornments like brackets, bezels, shapes, or instructional text to call special attention to these areas either.

It looks like developers will be stuck with that obstructive notch when it comes to creating iOS apps.

Apple's quest to build a full-screen iPhone means that the notch is here to stay. At least until it can figure out how to embed all those sensors under the display. The screen-cut-out trend started with the Essential Phone, and Apple has now thrust this design into the mainstream. It will likely be something you'll learn to ignore in daily use, so if you're an iOS fan prepare to get used to having parts of your display missing if you want the latest and greatest iPhone.

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