Apple might get rid of the screen notch in the 2022 iPhone. But before you start celebrating, there’ll be a hole-punch camera in its place, according a trusted analyst. If true, this will be one step forward and two steps back.
The notch is a superior solution to a hole in the middle of the display. Here’s why.
Goodby iPhone notch, hello hole punch
Either a notch or a hole punch is necessary. Edge-to-edge phone displays are what customers want, but there must be room for a front-facing camera. Apple chose to put this in a screen cutout, while Samsung went with a round camera opening that’s surrounded by screen.
But on Monday, Ming-Chi Kuo from TF International Securities told investors that Apple is switching sides. “2H22 iPhone models, at least the high-end models, would abandon the notch design and adopt the punch-hole display design,” wrote the analyst. “If production yields are good enough, all models may support the punch-hole design.”
Face ID scanners becoming invisible?
Kuo has a long history of being generally right in his predictions about upcoming iPhone features. But he seems to have glossed over an important detail necessary for a switch to a hole-punch iPhone camera.
Samsung uses a hole-punch design because a camera is all it has to embed in the display. But the iPhone notch holds multiple front-facing sensors that capture 3D info. The TrueDepth system, which powers the Face ID biometric feature as well as animated Memoji, requires a flood illuminator, a dot projector and an infrared camera.
For Kuo’s prediction to be true, Apple would have to make technology breakthroughs so these components can function from behind the display. Perhaps that’s what happened. But we won‘t see the full benefits for a couple more years. In Monday’s note to investors, Kuo predicts, “a real full-screen design with no holes/notch in 2H23 at the earliest.”
Perhaps Apple is already making progress in reducing the need for space cut out of the display. But there’s still need for a camera. And hence the hole punch.
Unless Kuo is talking about a really huge hole punch — like one the size of the notch. Which really makes no sense.
A stupid, pointless change
If Apple actually manages to eliminate or hide the front-facing sensors that are in the current iPhone screen cutout, replacing the notch with a hole-punch camera isn’t an improvement. In any way.
Let’s be clear: Practically no one likes the notch. We’ll all celebrate if Apple really eliminates it in 2023. But it’s relatively discreet. For the most part, it goes unnoticed between the clock and the wireless/battery status icons at the top of the screen. When watching landscape video, the space on either side of it is blacked out so the screen looks rectangular.
Now take a look at the hole-punch camera in the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. It’s smaller, which tempted software designers to pretend it’s not there, but a dark circle nevertheless appears in way too many places. The handset sensibly blocks out a rectangle for it when displaying video, but that just makes it into a virtual notch.
Even if you think a circular hole punch is no worse than the notch, at least the notch has the advantage of familiarity. It went into the iPhone X back in 2017. Years later, we’ve all stopped noticing it. There seems little need to replace it with a hole-punch design that everyone will need to get used to all over again. Especially if Kuo is correct and neither notch nor hole punch will be necessary the following year.