First, there's the sheer innovation of the thing. Originally introduced with the iPhone X, the notch was far more than just an expansive cutout for your selfie camera. It was a system featuring eight distinct components – some working in concert – to do everything.
It let you snap decent (though only 7MP) selfies, housed the earpiece for calls and music playback, noticed when your face was close to the phone to turn the display on and off, took a 3D depth map of your face, and most importantly, allowed your face to unlock your phone. It's that last point that let Apple finally (though not completely, oh hey, iPhone SE) retire the physical home button too.
All these things taken together were known as the TrueDepth module. It was innovation at a cost, with substantial screen real-estate given to this black artifact, taking chunks out of photos, videos, websites, and games.
Not everyone loved it
The notch sharply divided Apple fans. Was the ability to unlock your iPhone with your face worth all this? Perhaps it was its AR capabilities that won people over. Or maybe people just stopped noticing it.
Even when I reviewed the iPhone X back in 2017, I noted how I stopped fixating on it and quickly began focusing on the phone in total and its innumerable capabilities. Still, Samsung took Apple to task in a cutting ad that showed a guy and his family with ridiculous "notch-style" haircuts. Samsung has since pulled the ad off of YouTube.
My thinking is that Samsung realized you can't take a competitor to task for pushing boundaries with divisive design choices if you someday plan to do the same yourself.
Recently I wrote about the screen crease on Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 foldable smartphones. It's noticeable to the touch and eyes, but like that notch, quickly fades into the background when you're using the devices.
Similarly, the notch was noticeable at first until you used your iPhone and forgot all about it. I think that's why Apple didn't sweat the notch much over the years and ensuing iPhone models; though it did manage to shuffle its TrueDepth components and shrink the notch on the iPhone 13.
Now, though, it seems likely Apple will do away with the notch altogether, at least on the anticipated iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone Pro Max. It might even get rid of it on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, though I doubt it.
Unless the rumors are totally off-base, however, Apple's high-end iPhone 14 devices will no longer have that instantly recognizable cutout and, instead, will feature up to two Super Retina XDR screen drill-throughs: one a circle and one a pill-shaped opening. All of this will reportedly accommodate the 12MP camera in the small opening and the dual AR sensors (IR projector and IR camera) in the pill cutout.
It might look a little messy, or, knowing Apple, perfectly done. To my mind, however, it may also look a little bland.
Love it or hate it, the notch became one of the easiest ways to identify an iPhone at a glance. Sure, you might see the Apple logo on the back if there isn't a case covering it, but not one covers their screen (at least not with anything that isn't transparent).
You might argue that the camera array on the back, that stove square, is the design signature of the iPhone, but it's easy enough for Android manufacturers to copy. No one is going to add a notch to their phones because they think it's a bad idea. I see it as useful and, yes, even endearing.
When the notch goes – maybe not with the iPhone 14 but it will someday, and soon – it will become another artifact of a bygone iPhone era, like the physical home button and the two-tone, black and metal back. Time and design march forward, but I wonder if I'll be alone in mourning the Apple's particular flavor of notch when it's gone.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.