The first Android P developer preview has been available for a couple of days now and one of the most notable features is native support for notches. This will allow app developers to optimize their apps for phones with notches of varying sizes. This raises a lot of questions. Is Google doing this in anticipation an onslaught of notch-filled Android phones? Does this imply that the next crop of Pixel phones will come with a notch? And will notches be the future of Android phones?
We’ve seen a lot of features become trends in smartphones over the years, including dual cameras, fingerprint sensors, and 18:9 displays. But if notches do indeed catch fire, it will be one of the strangest trends to ever gain popularity. The Essential Phone was the first real mainstream smartphone to feature a notch but it wasn’t until the iPhone X that the notch became a big deal. These phones used notches out of necessity though and not for stylistic reasons. The Essential Phone’s bezels were too small so a notch was required for the front-facing camera. The iPhone X had an abundance of sensors for its Face ID technology so a notch was needed to create room.
As per usual with everything that Apple does in the smartphone world, it doesn’t take long before other OEMs start to replicate it. During our time at MWC 2018 we saw many iPhone X clones from Chinese manufacturers such as Oukitel, ILA, Leagoo, Ulefone, OtOt, the list goes on. Hall 7 of MWC was filled with notches galore, and we saw a lot of iPhone-like notches with none of the sensors Apple needed the notch to accommodate. A “feature” that was necessary for Apple had become a trend for everyone else. This is typically expected from lesser known companies but one of the biggest announcements of the show, the Zenfone 5Z from ASUS is another iPhone X clone, notch and all.
We’ve also seen recent leaks of the LG G7 Neo in photos and video that have indicated that LG is jumping on the notch train. If this is indeed true it is an odd decision by LG as they’re typically not known for copying very many Apple-esque traits. It’s starting to seem inescapable at this point that we’re going to see a ton of Android phones in the very near future with notch displays. If it’s out of necessity that’s fine but if it’s purely for aesthetic reasons, as was the case with many of the Chinese clones at MWC and the Zenfone 5Z, this is going to give Android phones a bad look.
Notches might be the future of our smartphones but it’s definitely not a future I’m looking forward to. It would be better if companies found more innovative ways to incorporate all the necessary sensors into our smartphones without cutting into the displa. Fortunately, some of them already have. The concept Apex Phone from Vivo that we got to check out at MWC provided an uninterrupted display with sensors hidden underneath the glass or at the top of the metal frame, and a front-facing camera that smoothly pops up in a sleek and elegant fashion from the top of the phone. Notches aren’t the only solution for stowing away sensors, and the Apex Phone was proof of that. The notch is like the second coming of the flat tire on the Moto 360, except for smartphones. Sure, you’ll probably get used to the look but you’d most likely rather not if given the option.
The notch is like the second coming of the flat tire on the Moto 360, except for smartphones
Let’s go back to Android P and think about it logically for a second. Even with native support for notches, we wouldn’t see a non-Pixel phone running Android P until after the Pixel 3 is launched so it’s hard to believe that this update is meant for any notched Android phone getting ready to hit the market anytime soon. If that indeed was the case it would be a long time before they would even receive the update. After all, there’s still only a small percentage of phones that are running Oreo so the likelihood of a notched Android phone running Android P out of the box or via update is still many months away.
It would be safer to assume that this update means Google plans on incorporating a notch into the Pixel 3. It wouldn’t be surprising as Google has emulated Apple’s design before with the original Pixel but let’s hope that’s not what this update is implying. It would also be a shame for a company as big as Google to not be more innovative when creating products that are supposed to propel Android forward. If Google were to mimic Apple again, it would only feel like a step backward for the company.
It’s still pretty early in the year so maybe this whole notch thing will be relatively short-lived, but if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that notches are not a feature nor should it be considered a trend.