Why the iPhone X needs its notch


iPhone X notch
The "notch" is not a problem.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Ever since Apple unveiled the iPhone X, naysayers have been complaining about “the notch.” But in today’s video, I’m going to do my best to convince you that the controversial cutout at the top of the iPhone X screen is totally not an issue.

Here’s why I think the iPhone X actually needs the notch.

It’s notch an issue

People’s main complaint about the iPhone X notch is that it gets in the way. But if you’ve seen our iPhone X review, you know from our experience that after spending some time actually using the phone, you just don’t notice the notch.

It sits at the top, primarily to house the front-facing TrueDepth camera system, which powers iPhone X’s Face ID facial recognition system (and Apple’s Animoji feature).

Sure, the sophisticated hardware array takes up some space. But the notch does not get in the way when browsing the web or watching videos (especially if you don’t have them scaled up edge to edge). Even then, the notch doesn’t bother me!

The only real downside about the notch is that it leaves less room for information, such as the iPhone X battery percentage.

Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t offer a solution for showing this crucial info other than to swipe down to show the Control Center or a Notification Center widget. Would it have been that hard to give us the option to customize the notch to show a percentage instead of just the battery icon? No.

iPhone X notch: It’s all about the Apple brand

So, why does iPhone X need the notch? It’s all about branding.

Companies, especially Apple, love to show icons of their products. The images look nice and clean on websites, apps and manuals.

With previous models, the iPhone icon showcased the Home button. It set the device apart in a sea of Android phones with capacitive or on-screen buttons.

With the Home button missing from iPhone X, the notch takes its place — on the icon as well as the phone. If you were to draw the iPhone X without a notch for an icon, it’d just be another rectangle. The notch makes it easy to differentiate the iPhone X from other phones. It’s the main distinctive visual feature.

Apple’s designers undoubtedly see the notch as a feature, not a design mishap. The iPhone X icon makes it stand out from other devices.

Why I (and devs) love the iPhone X notch

All that aside, the notch actually helps me. For example, I tend to go to sleep long after my fiancee is already fast asleep. That means I must creep into bed in the pitch black. Then I fumble around for my iPhone wire and plug it in. I’ve usually got a website or video playing. Thanks to the notch, I can easily see which end of the phone is the top.

Finally, while the notch does take away space from the information in iPhone X’s status bar, that means it doesn’t interfere with portrait-mode apps. It cuts out some space at the top, but app developers can work with the area below the notch.

I don’t know if this is going to convince you to think differently about the iPhone X notch or not. But if you’re on the fence about buying an iPhone X purely because of the notch, you’re missing out on a fine phone for no good reason.

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  • tonyblunt

    I consider the notch to be very poor design. If they had carried the black bar fully across the screen it would look so much better. As it is, the notch is very noticeable and distracting.

    • Henri Sizaret

      I concur

    • James B

      I completely agree

    • Rick Gold

      And then it would look like every damn phone out there… the notch is distinctive… you KNOW it’s an iPhone X by that notch alone… don’t pretend to think you know better then world renowned industrial designers at Apple.

      • tonyblunt

        Actually, in this case, I believe I do….

      • Rick Gold

        I’m sure Jony will hire you right away…

      • Hugh G. Rection

        Essential phone is a good example of distinctive practical design

      • Mr.G

        Yes, it’s distinctive because it’s ugly and covers content in landscape videos, photos, and games.

    • John Carr

      They should have had a configuration option to drop the status top bar fully under the notch, for whoever doesn’t like it this way. The notch doesn’t bother me, but more options wouldn’t hurt. But more options go against apples design patterns, where all must comply to the same rules…

    • Ann-Louise Winter

      I disagree. I think they put it there on purpose to distinguish it from all those Android phones that look alike. If they’d put a solid black bar across the top it would look like an LG or Sony. With the notch you know it’s an iPhone.

      • tonyblunt

        Yes, but that would make it a marketing decision, at the expense of aesthetics. Poor design criteria.

    • Emmanuel Lemor

      Totally disagree – the notch is not a big deal EXCEPT when developers don’t update their apps and even then not really a big deal.

      Stop being a baby, you have the most advanced iPhone [if not cell phone] ever made and you’re complaining..

      You should all consider yourself lucky – millions of people can’t even afford any phone!

      • Mr.G

        Have you seen how it covers content in landscape photos, videos and games? In some first person shooters, the bad guy hides behind the notch! It looks fine only with black backgrounds.

      • Emmanuel Lemor

        Yeah and I think you missed my: ” EXCEPT when developers don’t update their apps ” – perfect example is Wheel of Fortune [who btw doesn’t even have correct width calculations in their apps so that if you have a LONG phrase letters are off the screen and there is no landscape mode or way to scroll sideways… [DESIGN fail but not on the part of the phone but the Game Developer!

      • Mr.G

        Yes, and you missed your “and even then not really a big deal.”. It’s an iphone design fail that Game Developers have to accommodate. It is a big deal.

      • james

        so wait were not allowed to complain about a feature on a phone that costs over 1k?

  • Henri Sizaret

    you don’t get it. The notch is ugly and invasive. it looks as if it was a Chinese or Korean design. Not Apple, i think it would have looked better if the sides where black.

    • GoatsLegsUK

      Agreed. Apple’s design has been far less attractive since Steve Jobs died. Camera bump on the iPhone 6 onwards – totally not necessary; Google found an elegant way around it.

      Now the notch. Good lord! Claiming it is a design feature to differentiate it from other phones is, well, living in an alternative universe. Apple could have chosen a different aspect ratio rather than following the likes of Samsung, LG, Essential, Google, et al. What’s so special about 2:1 ratios. Surely Apple, with its obsession with great design, could have gone with the Golden Ratio, which would be far more appealing to the eye.

      • Rick Gold

        What bloody elegant way did Google find around it???

      • GoatsLegsUK

        The Pixel phones (first generation) taper from top to bottom.

        I’d never buy one, but good design is good design.

      • Steve Solomon

        I agree that “Design” was a hallmark of Steve Jobs, but honestly, I think the lens “bump” is a non-issue anyway, because IMHO, “every” iPhone should be in a case, which makes the raised area around the lens moot. Not being a designer, I feel that the iPhone’s design, while certainly elegant and visually attractive, does not lend itself to “Secure” holding!

  • Anthony Velazquez

    The notch is simply a NON ISSUE, not sure why people are turning this into a big deal. Every video I watch I enlarge to the full display and the notch simply disappears. I love they didn’t just waste space by making the status area black, otherwise it would look exactly like every other android phone out there.

  • AM Manohar

    Notch is nothing but a bezel positioning all sensors. Apple should agree to this while claiming that iPhone X screen is bezelless.

  • In all peoples griping about the notch, everyone fails to notice I think the greatest upside. If apple continued the bezel accross the whole top, you’d now be losing the centimeter below that for your phone status information. Instead, apple squeezed that info into the two sides next to the notch, and voila you ultimately have more screen real estate. Having two distinct sides to offer two pull down options is another win. Seems like the elegant design solution that we’re used to having from Apple, and I’m quite happy with it.

    Now just give me the option to display battery percentage instead of the useless battery picture, and I’ll be set.

  • John Carr

    I don’t get the big drama regarding the notch. It’s a smart compromise, considering the current technological challenges, to create, as much as possible, the impression that the screen stretches side to side, top to bottom. It actually takes from the screen real estate (notch area is unusable as a display) at the cost of a smaller form factor. Also, I am not an Apple fan boy, I am a Samsung note line fanboy (currently owning both note 8 and iPhone X) and I consider this “notched” iPhone being the best iPhone apple ever had (design/features/performance), side the ridiculously high price, which doesn’t seem to bother many anyways when considering the sale volumes.

  • Null Static Void

    It looks like a clipboard.
    Is Apple solvent. Sure.
    So is QVC.

    Selling overpriced, ugly junk to rubes.

  • Steve Solomon

    Yeah well, though I don’t find an issue with “the notch”, I just couldn’t justify the premium over the already excellent iPhone 8. Granted, the screen, specs, and camera are better, but man, how much damn “tech” does one need in what is, first and foremost, a “phone”?! For us “purist” photographers, I use a dedicated camera anyway. Thus, the iPhone 8 is totally fine for my needs. Thanks, and Happy Holidays to all!

  • Steve Solomon

    Well said, JDS! I got the iPhone 8, simply because I wanted to avoid the “Notch” the iPhone X would have made in my wallet! :-) Happy Holidays!

  • It took less than an hour for me to stop noticing the notch. If you hate it, then don’t buy iPhone X. It’s that easy. Just buy iPhone 8 instead. Same innards, but different display.

    • Mr.G

      No. Admit it. The notch is the first thing you notice every time you pick up the phone. It’s impossible not to notice unless you have a constant black background.

  • Bastion

    I agree with the author that the notch provides not only an instantaneous branding cue, but more importantly, a functional one: which way is up.

    It is like the “attractive” entry doors on some office buildings – you know the ones – with the glass and stainless steel bars, but *no* cue at all for which way the door is meant to be pushed. Also called “Norman doors”. ;-)

    You may call it bad design, but I think Don Norman might disagree…

    Apart from that, what it requires is for devs to simply start coding FOR the notch. I.e. make the bulk of their app fit below/beside the notch, and potentially *use* the notch space for special user info or even controls. The possibilities to actually *use* the space in interesting ways are endless, and as I think it lives in the wild more, we will see devs do just that.

    • Mr.G

      So, cover parts of screen content in videos, photos and games so that people will know which way is up and so people will know it’s an iPhone? Hmmm…no. Not good.

  • Mr.G

    I’ve had almost every iPhone since the first one, which I still have, and I wouldn’t use the iPhone X if someone gave it to me free! Ugly as sin. A black notch covering content. Really?!!?

    • JDS

      I don’t mind the black notch at all. In fact I rarely notice it. Stick with your old iPhone then.

  • tr00don

    The notch is a distinctive mark, and as such, a marketing tool more than anything else. For me, as a user, it’s nice to have if I only use the iPhone X as a phone. But for me, as a developer and gamer, it’s a disaster because it creates an unnecessary paradigm shift. The two chunks of display to the left and right sides of the notch act as secondary micro-displays. In phone only mode their function is to act as dome kind of top bars. However, if the user runs an app in full-screen mode, e.g., a video game, they not only create confusion but also technical constraints for the developer. If they are to support the app, what should the app display there? If not, how can they be graciously hidden? This situation reminds me of the stupid and stubborn decision to force tvOS devs to support the Apple TV remote (dropped after one disastrous year).

  • dougom

    If these are the best reasons you can come up with for the notch, you’ve lost the debate.

  • Jody Wasson

    Dear Cult,
    How can I get hooked up with companies like Apple or Apple or Apple or maybe even a company like Sam, we’ll, never mind that… but I’d like to be a hardware tester. I’m not a developer but I’m m running the public betas on all my devices. I’m hungry for tech and the the thrill of something, anything that’s new. I’m always the guy my friends and family come to for their tech requests/problems. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/95b54588953ecc3e42ecd8e0d273900d2a7b3485b9a433c8ce68844918a30a6f.jpg
    Jody Wasson