· design

The Iconic iPhone

With any Apple-related topic, there’s no shortage of opinions. Most of them are rushed, sensationalistic, and not worth anyone’s time — they’re just there to rake in ad revenue. Then there’s the small segment of thoughtful and nuanced pieces that are actually worth your time.

In any case, with this flood of opinion, you can be sure the “correct take” is included in there somewhere. However, with the iPhone X notch, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

So here’s my take:

There are two common arguments against the notch. The first is that the notch is awkward in software. It stands out in iOS’s all-white interface. And it’s there, awkwardly lurking, in landscape when you watch videos and when you browse the web.


The problem is, people aren’t using the actual phone, they are watching screen recordings. One thing with we learned from the Essential Phone, which also has a notch, is that users stop seeing it within hours. It’s like how people with glasses stop seeing their own frames. The notch being an annoying eyesore is not a problem at all.

That’s not to say the software treatment of the notch is perfect. There are many rough edges and some things are downright inelegant (like landscape browsing), but it’s important to remember that Apple has total control of the iOS interface. They’re already changing things, and the interface is only going to get better from here.

The other argument is that the notch is ugly. Why not just cover up the sides and hide it?


The ugly argument is hard to rebut because aesthetics is subjective. Personally, I think the notch is beautiful.

But’s there’s a reason why the notch isn’t hidden: it solves the all-bezel-less-phones-look-the-same problem.

The iPhone has always been iconic. Ask anyone to draw an iPhone and they’ll draw a rectangle with a home button.

Now, ask people to draw an Android phone, and you won’t get a consistent result.

Android phones can look like anything, but you know an iPhone when you see one.

So what happens when the home button disappears? The iconic iPhone silhouette goes away with it. Every bezel-less phone looks almost identical from the front. So from a differentiation standpoint, that’s a problem Apple absolutely has to solve.

Then there’s the other problem of the front-facing camera and FaceID. They still need to be in front and they aren’t ever going away — we will always have front-facing cameras.

How do you solve these two problems? Design is all about compromises and managing tradeoffs. And the notch is definitely a tradeoff. It’s there to carve out space for cameras and sensors.

But here’s the kicker: the notch also solves the all-bezel-less-phones-look-the-same problem. Apple has managed to turn a tradeoff into an elegant solution for another problem: they’ve created the new iconic iPhone silhouette. That’s incredible.

So a few years from now when you ask a stranger to draw an iPhone, they won’t be drawing this, or this:

They’ll be drawing this: