Last year, Apple unveiled a smartphone that looked completely different from all the other phones on the market.
Thirteen months later, that design is everywhere.
Here’s the OnePlus 6.
Here’s the LG G7 ThinQ.
Here’s the Huawei P20 Pro.
Here’s the Asus Zenfone 5.
And here’s the all-new Pixel 3 XL from Google, announced this week.
See any similarities?
All of these smartphones have what people typically call a “notch,” or a cut-out at the top center of the phone. Though Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone was actually the first to introduce this design a few months before the iPhone X last year, it wasn’t officially “a thing” until the iPhone X went on sale.
Google, in particular, is driving the adoption of notches among Android phones. Aside from the new Pixel 3 XL, Google’s latest version of Android, its smartphone operating system, supports notched smartphone designs, which will make it easier for other Android phone makers to build those kinds of phones. Great.
Copying Apple, for better or worse, is nothing new
Apple’s smartphone designs have inspired the industry, and countless imitators, for years. Fingerprint sensors and virtual assistants weren’t “a thing” until Apple put those features in an iPhone. These days, you can’t find a smartphone without those features.
It happened again this year. In the 12 months since Apple unveiled the iPhone X, with its edge-to-edge display and “notch” at the top of the phone, numerous phone makers have introduced new smartphones that look just like the iPhone X — notch and all.
What’s particularly funny is that the notch, in many ways, represents an imperfection with current smartphones. Apple specifically said the goal of the iPhone X was to make a smartphone that was “all screen” — and based on that definition, the iPhone X falls just short. That notch, though it powers a highly sophisticated security system, is the only blemish on an otherwise seamless display. It is edge-to-edge, technically, but not “all screen.”
Android phone makers are squandering a golden opportunity to leapfrog Apple
What’s interesting is how few phone makers are even trying to solve this problem, as if the notch is not a clear design flaw.
To give credit where it’s due, some companies are trying different things. Samsung chose not to go down the notch path at all with its Galaxy S and Note phones, and a handful of smaller companies, like Chinese startup Vivo, are experimenting with ways to hide the selfie camera when it’s not in use. Still, many companies, including Google, have simply accepted the notch without challenging it, or at least shrinking it.
Perhaps some phone makers think it’s better to look like the competition than to try something different. But some day, probably soon, the iPhone will no longer have a notch, and other phone makers will then follow suit, eliminating the notches from their own phones. And we’ll look back on this time — the Notch Era — and shake our heads in wonderment. We’ll ask: Why did so many phone makers simply follow Apple, when they had a golden opportunity to jump ahead?