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When Apple introduced the iPhone X with its gorgeous full-screen OLED display, the company also highlighted the fact that the display wasn’t quite full screen, and did so in its usual unapologetic fashion, with just about every promotional photograph of the iPhone X, from those shown on stage to those on its website, making the notch look like a positive design decision.
Some people hated it, most people tolerated it, but we don’t think anybody actually loved it. However, the notch was a necessary evil, as there was really no practical way for Apple to include the advanced TrueDepth camera system required to power its new Face ID implementation without actually making room for it on the front of the phone. It was an obvious compromise, but of course Apple wasn’t about to admit that, so instead it actually worked to make the notch look like a feature.
Two years later, most of us are so used to it that we’ve come to ignore it, and once Apple was brave enough to put it out there, just about every other smartphone manufacturer also copied it some form or another. However, that doesn’t mean that the aesthetically focused Apple hasn’t been looking for ways to get rid of it, whether that’s making all of the TrueDepth camera tech small enough fit into the bezel or finding a way to see through the OLED screen.
Getting Rid of the Notch
In fact, we heard rumours back in September that Apple was already prototyping a 6.7-inch iPhone that would eliminate the notch using a design similar to that found on the 2018 iPad Pro, which includes Face ID but manages to avoids a notched screen due to its larger size. The theory behind this particular rumour was that, like the iPad Pro, the larger-sized iPhone could have enough bezel space to accommodate all of the necessary front-facing camera hardware without requiring a notch in the screen. Whether it would be able to pull this off with the non-Max sized iPhones is a more open question, however.
Either way, this would also mean Apple sacrificing the more immersive edge-to-edge display technology that it introduced on the iPhone X and has been a signature of all of its OLED-equipped iPhones since — a feature that was such a priority for the company that it actually pioneered a special “Liquid Retina” LCD display for its iPhone XR and iPhone 11 just to get that particular display as close to the edges as it possibly could.
While the September report from leaker Ben Geskin suggested that we could see at least one notch-less iPhone next year, later supply chain reports from analysts didn’t really bear that out, and while Apple may have had a prototype in the works, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they had worked out all of the details to actually ready it for production.
Still, a new presentation by Credit Suisse, as reported by LetsGoDigital and 9to5Mac is actually predicting that Apple will in fact release a notch-less iPhone this year by moving to an embedded Touch ID sensor and eliminating Face ID entirely, placing a simpler selfie camera under the screen instead.
In Display Touch ID vs Face ID
While not directly related to the notch, we’ve already seen numerous reports that Apple is working on an iPhone with in-display Touch ID that could arrive next year, but there’s been a lot of confusion around this, since some reports have suggested a lower-end iPhone that would include only Touch ID and not Face ID, while others have suggested that it would come only to the premium “Pro” models as an alternative to Face ID. However, we’ve seen very few indications that Apple would eliminate Face ID across the board — especially in its highest-end iPhone models.
Certainly, if Apple were to eliminate Face ID from the iPhone in favour of a return to Touch ID under the glass, that would allow them to eliminate the notch more easily, but we think that’s too high of a price to pay — especially for something that Apple has already put out there with a positive spin anyway. While a front-facing camera would still be required, something less complicated than the TrueDepth camera that powers Face ID could fit more easily into the bezel. However, we join many other analysts in our skepticism that this would come to anything but the very lowest-end models, since the TrueDepth camera powers a lot of other advanced features, including Portrait Mode selfies, Animoji, Slofies, and cool selfie effects in Apple’s Clips app.
If Apple is going to include the TrueDepth camera anyway, there’s absolutely no need for them to pull out Face ID, which is a great feature in its own right. However, the TrueDepth camera system doesn’t come cheap, so it does make a lot of sense for Apple to product a future lower-end iPhone that omits it by moving exclusively to an in-display Touch ID sensor for authentication.
This would also allow it to adopt the iPhone X design without the additional expense, eliminating the older-style bezelled home button models from the lineup entirely. It’s unlikely, however, that Apple would only eliminate the notch on its lowest-end iPhones, while keeping it on the premium “Pro” Face ID equipped models.
Although we remain pretty skeptical that we’ll see Apple get rid of the notch by next year’s iPhone lineup — they’ve got a lot more important things to focus on this year — there’s probably little doubt that it’s going to come in some form eventually, but sacrificing Face ID simply to get rid of the notch doesn’t seem like something that Apple is about to do. No matter how you feel about the notch, Apple has never made any apologies for it, and if anything the company is becoming even less focused on aesthetics over function in its recent decisions.