How The Notch Became Popular

In just the past two years notches have shown
up on almost every flagship smartphone in the market. And today we’re going to find
out why this design element has become so popular and what might happen to it in the
future. This is Greg with Apple Explained and if you want to help decide which video
topics I cover, make sure you’re subscribed and these voting polls will show up in your
mobile activity feed. Now I do have an announcement to make before we start, and it’s that Apple
Explained finally has merch, and it’s called the iGenius plush doll. I made it to pay homage
to one of the most influential tech icons in the business, and I hope you guys love
it as much as I do. Check it out at Now when most people hear the word notch,
they probably think of the iPhone X. Since it was the first popular flagship smartphone
to include one. But the origins of the notch goes back to a lesser known device called
the LG V10 released in 2015. Here’s Dave Haynie, a former computer engineer, writing
about the device in a response to a question on Quora. “The LG V10 from 2015 essentially
had a “notch”… only they configured the piece of display to the right of the notch-out
cameras as a “second screen”, so that it didn’t intrude on the regular, un-notched
rectangular display. LG did ok with this phone — not iPhone numbers, but ok — but this
trick kept anyone from noticing the weirdness that’s inherent in a full implementation
of The Notch.” He also went on to describe how the Essential phone, released just one
month before the iPhone X’s introduction, could also be considered as having a notched
design. “The Essential phone really did deliver a notched main display. But the notch is so
tiny, it’s easily ignored. And Essential sold less than 100,000 phones in their first
few months.” This is a story we’ve heard before when
it comes to Apple. They typically aren’t the first to bring a new piece of technology
to market, but they almost always introduce a refined and modernized version of the technology
to maximize functionality. And I think that’s the case with iPhone X’s notch. But that
doesn’t explain why the notch design element was being used in the first place. Why not
just keep the display perfectly rectangular by creating an even thinner bezel that could
still house the earpiece, camera, and sensors? After all, that’s what many android devices
like the Galaxy S8 began to do. Well Stan Schroeder from Mashable put it this way “I
finally realized that the iPhone X’s “notch” is not only a good design choice — it’s
a necessary one. With the notch, the iPhone X has one extremely important advantage over
most other flagship smartphones: It’s different.” “In a sea of Android smartphones with very
slim bezels, the iPhone X will be immediately recognizable when you pull it out of your
pocket. You’ll get the “oohs” and “aahs” and “is that the new one” comments. You’ll get
the jealous looks. Perhaps this is not why you, personally, are interested in the iPhone,
but the reality is that a lot of people will be buying a $999+ phone for the exclusivity.
And the notch, as odd as it may be, separates the iPhone from every other phone out there.” Schroeder may have a point, but I disagree
that design differentiation was the primary reason why Apple decided to utilize the notch
on the iPhone. Because to quote Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and
feels like. Design is how it works.” Apple’s priority with every product they create is
to make sure it works well, and to not simply give it a unique design for the sake of standing
out in the marketplace or to appear more exclusive. So from a practical standpoint, why did the
notch prove to be the most suitable design solution? Well, if you look at the smartphone’s
evolution since 2007, you’ll notice a trend toward larger displays with thinner bezels.
It became apparent that manufacturers were trying their best to achieve a true edge to
edge display. The Galaxy S6 Edge used a curved display to eliminate the left and right bezels,
while the Galaxy S8 thinned out the top and bottom bezels to squeeze in as much display
as possible. But at that point, Samsung still didn’t use a notch in their smartphone’s
design. So what prompted Apple to? There are a few reasons why Apple thought using a notch
on their new iPhone was the best decision. I think these comments on Reddit made a good
point, “I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as “pro notch” but I can try to explain
potential advantages. It’s best to think of the notch as additional screen space that
wouldn’t be there in a traditional display, like ears for the screen. In an app that normally
hides the status bar like Google photos, the “ears” of the display could continue to show
the time and connection status instead of being hidden.” “Playing devil’s advocate
here, you do get more screen real estate vertically, and that part of the screen can just be turned
off in landscape, so you’re not losing anything there except for the extra bit which you wouldn’t
have had in the first place if not for the notch.” Apple recognized that by using a notch instead
of a bezel, you could achieve a higher screen-to-body ratio. Which means you get more display and
less bezel, and that’s exactly what customers had been clamoring for. But the notch raised
a question, how would you utilize the extra screen space? The gaps on either side of the
notch were far too small to display something like extra app icons, which is what the Essential
phone and Galaxy S6 Edge did. Matthew Panzarino with Techcrunch received some insight on this
problem when he spoke directly to Apple’s vice president of User Interface Design Alan
Dye. Dye said, “We’ve got this amazing True Depth camera system packed into this
space at the upper center of the display. And we thought a lot about how to design for
that. And ultimately we felt really comfortable with this notion of being really honest about
it and allowing for the content to push out into those beautiful rounded corners. We did
look at various different design iterations and considered some things that kind of acted
as digital bezels if you will. But ultimately we never really felt comfortable with this
notion of cropping into the content. We really love the new display, we love that it’s
edge-to-edge. We love the way that it fits. It feels so perfectly designed for the overall
form and so we’re encouraging people just to kind of push the content right out to the
corners.” That might sound obvious, but it’s a solution
that many notched smartphones in the coming years would overlook. Apple understood the
empty space on either side of the notch could house system information like battery life,
wifi and cellular connection, and the time, freeing up the rest of the display to showcase
content more important to the user. Apple also used the notch as an opportunity to designate
a new living space for Control Center. Swiping down from the right side of the notch summoned
the feature, while swiping down from the left or center activated notification center. Something
that may’ve been more confusing if the iPhone X had a flat bezel instead of a protruding
notch. Although it should be said that the notch
is still a compromise, as Chris Smith mentioned at BGR: “The iPhone X notch that Apple introduced
in late 2017 is a compromise between gorgeous design and sophisticated functionality. Apple
wanted to make an all-screen iPhone for years, but it waited for technology to catch up with
its dreams. But the iPhone maker couldn’t create a phone with a screen that occupies
the entire front of a phone in 2017. The notch had to exist, to house all those smartphone
features that can’t be relocated or killed, including the new Face ID facial recognition
system that had no rivals over on Android.” There were also compromises when it came to
viewing certain content. Safari had to display letterboxed websites to prevent them from
being covered by the notch, YouTube videos weren’t completely viewable fullscreen,
and developers had to design UI elements around the notch in order to ensure buttons or controls
weren’t obstructed. Apple even released a tech talk video for developers titled “Designing
for iPhone X” in which Apple explained how to create apps that look good and run properly
on their new notched smartphone. But despite these compromises, the benefits
of the iPhone X’s notch cannot be understated. Again, it not only allowed for more screen
space and a new spot for control center, but it housed one of the biggest technological
achievements of the iPhone X, it’s Face ID system. Those benefits outweighed the drawbacks
and made it clear to Apple that the iPhone X needed to have a notch in order to deliver
the best overall user experience. But it’s design was a radical break from tradition,
and proved to be very controversial when it was revealed to the public. On September 12th
2017 the iPhone X was introduced by Apple CEO Tim Cook. And it was met with a strong
response from the audience. [clip] Cook said it was the biggest leap forward since the
original iPhone and I think many would agree. There were many new features to love about
the iPhone X, like its large edge to edge OLED display, its cutting edge face ID system,
and fluid gesture-based navigation. But when it came to the internet’s response, opinions
weren’t so positive. “That ugly notch on top of iPhone X. Steve Jobs would have
never let that happen.” “That iPhone X notch makes my eye twitch. I’d just want
a continuous rectangle.” “The iPhone X camera notch is going to be gross for photos,
movies, and games.” “I would have been just as happy with an iPhone X with slightly
larger top and bottom bezels instead of a notch. Made these quick mockups.” And this concern with the notch were echoed
by professional reviewers like John Fireball who said “THE NOTCH: It offends me. It’s
ungainly and unnatural. Clearly, the ideal of an “all-screen” design — to use Apple’s
own words — has no notch at all. This is not that. But what I dislike more than the
notch isn’t the notch itself but that Apple is fully embracing the notch in software.
I really wish their software design rendered the “ears” with black backgrounds while
using apps. I’d be fine with embracing the notch on the home screen and lock screen.” And that was a critique Ewan Spence also brought
up. He said, “The obvious solution – use the OLED properties to create a black strip
including the notch for a solid status bar with signal strength, battery reserves and
other indicators – has been disallowed by Apple. Because every iOS app goes through
the App Store and has to meet Apple’s design criteria, the edict is to leave it alone.
The notch must remain as Apple intended: Don’t attempt to hide the device’s rounded corners,
sensor housing, or indica tor 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.” And while that approach may appear reasonable
on the surface, I don’t think it actually makes good design sense. Because when designing
an operating system, it’s important for UI elements to remain consistent. And remember,
there were software features built around the notch. If there’s a black bar at the
top of the display while using an app, you don’t know exactly where Control Center
is. It also gives users the feeling that their display is being sliced off, since some apps
like weather have content that fills every corner of the display. Not to mention the
symmetry of the iPhone’s rounded corners would be ruined by a rectangular black bar.
I’d even bet that trying to black out the notch would only draw more attention to it.
Because as you use the iPhone X, you sort’ve become blind to the notch and eventually don’t
notice it anymore. In the middle of all this criticism, Samsung
took the opportunity to rub some salt into Apple’s wounds. Releasing an ad in 2017
poking fun at the iPhone X’s notch, and creating a second, more direct ad
in 2018 [clip] So it was clear that the iPhone X’s notch was
a point of contention for many people, but the hate began to die down shortly after the
iPhone X was released and people actually started using it. Here are what a few users
on Reddit had to say about the notch: “Don’t even know it’s there, just blends in.”
“What notch?” “It’s a total non-issue. You barely ever notice it and it’s not like
it’s covering anything.” “It’s notch so bad after the first 24 hours. I’ve had
my 10 since day 1, no regrets.” “Eventually you don’t notice it. Maybe even forget it’s
there, at least until you watch a full screen video. It isn’t all that bad though. At
leads not as bad as some make it to be.” So as you might’ve expected, the public
outcry over the notch was blown out of proportion, and the proof is in the iPhone X’s sales.
Johnny Evans reported “On launch, Apple sold around 3 million iPhone X units in just
20 minutes. That works out to be around 150,000 phones per minute and 2,500 iPhone X sales
per second. That’s by far the biggest product Apple — or anyone — has to sell right
now.” The iPhone X was off to an amazing start,
one that very few analysts ever predicted. And it’s record-breaking sales contributed
heavily to Apple reaching a trillion dollar valuation in August 2018. So what started
as a perceived failure in smartphone design turned out to be one of the biggest successes
in the industry’s history. And Apple’s competitors took note. Let’s face it, businesses
exist to make money. So when companies like LG, OnePlus, Huawei,
Asus, and Google found out how well the iPhone X was selling, they wanted piece of the pie.
So they released new smartphones that had a conspicuous similarity to the iPhone X.
They all had a notch. Here’s the OnePlus 6, the LG G7 ThinQ, the Huawei P20 Pro, the
Asus Zenfone 5, and the Google Pixel 3 XL. And many of these phones received similar
complaints from customers as the iPhone X. Here are some comments from a Reddit thread
about the Pixel 3 XL’s notch: “I mean c’mon, they could have gone the Essential
route and made the notch super tiny (basically only for the selfie camera) or the Huawei
route and just jam in a tiny earpiece in between the camera and proximity sensor. What I don’t
understand is how it’s so long. The width is fine, the length is what bothers me”
“I really don’t like it. The only way Google could sell me on it would be if it was permanently
blacked out.” “The problem isn’t the notch but the general ugliness. Just look at the
bottom of the phone, it’s hideous.” I think what’s happening with the bottom
of these devices is worth discussing in more detail. Because if you take a closer look
at all of the models I mentioned, all of them have a bottom bezel that protrudes slightly.
But the iPhone X doesn’t, and there’s an interesting reason for this. You see, when
you put a display in any product you need space for a component called the controller,
a chip that allows the screen to display images. And traditionally this chip is placed inside
the bottom bezel. But Apple was able to create technology that allowed the controller to
curve underneath the display, and therefore allow the bottom bezel to be just as thin
as the sides. In addition, Reddit user Njwest made an interesting observation, they said,
“They have some proprietary display driver tech and they fold the screen along the bottom
to avoid the chin (which is probably one of the reasons they removed the headphone jack
in the 7, to prepare for the X where they legitimately couldn’t put one in the bottom).” So is it true that the iPhone can’t accommodate
a headphone jack because of the iPhone X’s display technology? Well, not everyone agrees.
Ash Redpath on Quora refuted this concept with evidence from an iPhone X teardown [clip]
“The iPhone X does NOT have a 180 deg curved display!! That’s what Apple implied by their
marketing but it’s not true. Here’s a video that let’s you see a disassembly of
the display. As you can see the display certainly isn’t curved underneath. The display flex
cable and associated circuitry is curved underneath but this is the same as EVERY single AMOLED
panel. Most LCDs also have the display controller underneath as well so highly misleading to
say they needed to bend the display to hide the display controller!
The renders in their advertising imply that there is a continuous curved panel folding
180 deg and extending back underneath the display portion. That’s not accurate and
would be an expensive, irrational idea as you can’t see inside the phone so why waste
money including OLEDs on the panel inside?” So whether the iPhone X had unique display
technology or not, the fact remains that its competitors like the Pixel 3 XL and Huawei
P20 Pro had prominent bezels at the bottom of their displays, something that the iPhone
X managed to avoid. It’s also worth discussing the motive behind Apple adopting the notch
compared to other companies. Apple wanted the iPhone to have an edge to edge display,
and because they managed to eliminate its bottom bezel, they had an opportunity to achieve
this design goal since that only left the top bezel to deal with. And they understood
that using a notch would free up the top two corners of the iPhone’s display and allow
content to be pushed to up the edge, adding even more valuable screen real estate. Also,
Apple got as much use out of the notch as possible. Since it housed eight different
components. An infrared camera, flood illuminator, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, speaker,
microphone, front camera, and a dot projector. Which made iPhone X’s
notch the most feature-filled out of any smartphone on the market. So we understand why Apple decided to use
the notch, but what about their competition? Well here’s what Nick Statt from The Verge
wrote, “With the Pixel 3 XL, Google’s justification for the notch is that it’s
been able to reduce the bezels of the device and provide a larger display, while the notch
is there to accommodate better speakers and an improved dual selfie camera system. Google
even claims it has a better notch-to-display ratio than some of its rivals, and the whole
argument is that you’re getting more screen, not less. But I find it unconvincing, and
here’s why. For iPhone owners, it was a no-brainer. The notch on the original iPhone
X, though maybe not ideal from a design standpoint, was not too wide, not too long, and it packed
in a huge amount of impressive technology in a nice-looking display. There’s Face
ID, which is enabled by the TrueDepth camera module and Apple’s proprietary security
and facial recognition software. There’s the ability to do some neat camera depth tricks
with the front-facing lens, thanks to that hardware and software blend. And there’s
goofy, ridiculous software features like Animoji and Memoji that are a fun little distraction
now and again, but only enabled by the hardware in the iPhone’s notch. On the Pixel 3 XL,
the screen underwent a similar improvement, and it’s clear Google has built the best
display its Pixel line has ever seen. But the substantial benefits you get from buying
a phone with a notch in this case are the improved speakers and the wide-angle selfie
cam. There’s no facial recognition, no Animoji-like selfie tricks, and no camera features exclusive
to the larger version of the phone. In fact, there are no software benefits restricted
to the larger of the two Pixels whatsoever. Everything you can do with both the front-facing
and rear-facing cameras on the Pixel 3 XL can be achieved on the standard Pixel 3. And
the wide-angle lens for better selfies and the improved speakers? You get all that with
the Pixel 3, too, and in a conventional, notch-less package that costs less.” So although many of the iPhone’s competitors
began adopting the notch in their upgraded designs, most of them didn’t utilize it
properly. Instead, it appeared they were following a design trend in an attempt to steal some
of the iPhone X’s thunder instead of creating a fully fleshed-out smartphone with an industrial
design driven by function rather than form. We’ve come to understand why the notch was
created in the first place, and how it was adopted by most smartphone manufactures. But
there are still questions left unanswered. What’s in store for the future of the notch?
When will it be phased out, and what technology is required to start that transition? Well,
we’re already beginning to see alternatives to the notch that may or may not lead to its
demise. For example, the new Samsung Galaxy S10 features a cutout or hole-punch design
for the front facing cameras, which may look better than a notch to some users, but it
does have limitations. Samsung either wasn’t able to develop or fit an advanced facial
recognition system in the S10’s small cutout, which meant its face Unlock feature was extremely
insecure. Lou from Unbox Therapy was actually able to unlock his S10 by simply showing it
his face from a YouTube video. [clip] And considering virtually everyone has photos
of themselves online today, I think this security flaw renders the face unlock feature useless.
So does this prove smartphones need the extra space a notch provides for sufficient technology
like Apple’s Face ID system? I think that depends on how the cutout or notch is implemented.
And certainly new technology could justify the adoption of cutouts, but I don’t think
Apple would ever heard in this direction. Instead, the iPhone would likely feature a
smaller notch in the near future until the advent of new technology makes the notch obsolete.
Jack Turner said, “The dream, of course, is no notch or hole, but simply an entirely
flat, unblemished screen. At a recent presentation to investors, Samsung let slip that it was
working on a camera that could sit behind the screen and take photos without any need
for a dedicated opening.” I think that type of technology, once fully matured, is what’ll
be required to finally achieve true edge to edge displays with no interruptions. Now if you want to a behind the scenes look
at what happens on this channel, check out the Patreon page where you can ask me questions
and chat with the community. And don’t forget about our awesome new iGenius plush doll available
at Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.

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