Is the notch really an issue? And is it copied from Apple?

You might have to rethink on that.

Ever since Apple released the iPhone X, there is a love-hate relationship going on with the people who purchase it regarding a lot of things but two issues stand out in common – Face ID and the Notch. Yes, that cut on the screen which makes it look like a monster with horns (at least to me, haha!). Some have loved it, some have hated it and some have even gone to proclaim this might be the most radical redesign of a smartphone (to which I completely disagree). But there has also been an uptick of something else which we all saw coming – the rise of Android smartphones with notches. So what’s with the notch? And is it really fair to call all other phones having the notch as an iPhone clone? Let’s dive in.

So to understand why the notch even arrived in the first place we need to understand the front of a smartphone (Yes! No jokes). The front of a smartphone is a lot more than just the screen. Agreed, the screen is the first thing that catches your attention but there are a whole lot of other things that go into the picture which makes your experience seamless.

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Let’s start with the top. The top portion of your smartphone’s front houses quite small but very important components – Proximity Sensor, Light Sensor, Speaker, one or more cameras and sometimes a LED notification light.

  • The proximity sensor detects the proximity of the phone to your face and uses it to turn the screen off during calls or other application-specific needs.
  • The Light sensor (also known as the ambient light sensor) is what detects the lighting around your surrounding to adjust the brightness of your screen (that’s of course when you have set it to auto :-P)
  • The speaker is, well, we all know what it does. Doesn’t it? Sometimes it comes with the bonus of front-firing stereo setup.
  • Notification light for your important emails and calls.

Then comes your wide-vibrant colorful screen. Well, below it to the bottom, we usually have capacitive physical buttons which are slowly going away nowadays but what most people don’t know is that it also contains the display driver which runs the entire display and without which your phone’s screen will be non-usable.

So in the going the bezel-less way, smartphone manufacturers first chipped off the sides since that was the easiest one. Then began the quest of how to remove the top and bottom ends. This approach was taken in different ways by different companies. And LG and Samsung became one of the first mass-market manufacturers to take this approach – push all the sensors as much as possible to the top and create a thin symmetrical top and bottom bezel. This made the phone look clean as well as modern and almost bezel-less. The second approach was taken by Essential – pushing the screen all the way to the top and having a small notch where the camera, sensors, and speaker are placed.

No agreed that this approach wasn’t ideal but then there are only so many ways that you can make an almost bezel-less display. Even if you find some way to hide the sensors and the speaker (which Xiaomi Mi Mix successfully did) there is nowhere for the camera to go. We all need to understand that. So what Apple did here was remove the Home button altogether and expand the notch a bit and add additional sensors to create Face ID and in theory, make an almost true bezel-less smartphone. Okay, so where did the display driver go? You have to really give Apple credit for this engineering design. They carefully placed the driver under the display at the bottom of the screen!

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So, therefore, one needs to understand the physical limitations that gave rise to the notch and also that there are fewer areas to improve upon the notch and screen real estate (in my view, there is almost no other way than these three ways for now – the symmetrical Samsung Way, the notch Apple way or the shifting of camera to bottom Xiaomi way). Also, since there is no way of getting around, manufacturers have cleverly optimized their software to accommodate the notch giving you ease of usage. Next time, when you see a phone with notches, think twice before saying Another iPhone Clone?!

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