On the iPhone X’s notch and being distinctive

iPhone X sensor notch

I’ve been thinking about the ‘notch’ in the iPhone X. In case you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, the X has an ‘all-screen’ design; the  home button is gone, and the front of the device no longer has bezels above and below the screen except for a curving indent at the top which holds image sensors necessary for the camera and the new facial authentication feature.

It seems somehow like a design compromise; the sensors are of course necessary, but it feels like there could have been a full-width narrow bezel at the top of the device rather than the slightly odd notch that requires special design consideration.

But my thought was: if they chose a full-width bezel, what would make the iPhone distinctive? Put one on the table face-up next to, say, a new LG or Samsung Galaxy phone, how could you tell, at a glance, which was the iPhone?

Two rows of icons for smartphone functions, using an outline that looks similar to an iPhone
icons from the the noun project

The iPhone’s single button design is so distinctive that it’s become the de facto icon for smartphones. Without it, the phone looks like every other modern smartphone (until you pick it up or unlock it). The notch gives the X a unique look that continues to make it unmistakably an Apple product, even with the full-device screen. It makes it distinctive enough to be iconic, and to protect legally—given Apple’s litigious history, not a small consideration.

Of course it requires more work from app designers and developers to make their products look good, but Apple is one of the few (perhaps only) companies with enough clout, and a devoted following, to put in the extra work—you can’t imagine LG being able to convince Android app makers to put in the extra shift in that way. So perhaps its still somewhat of a design kludge, but it’s a kludge with purpose.


Also published on Medium.