How Apple turned ugly into normal

When it first appeared, critics railed against the notch. Now, more phones are adopting it.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Video: iPhone X review

They're a little precious at times, the Cupertinians.

Every time a new phone comes out, so does a video voiced by Apple's head of design, Jony Ive.

How much time does it take him -- and his no-doubt equally precious team of scriptwriters -- to come up with a new turn of tortured vocabulary that matches the glory of the new gadget?

My favorite is him describing the iPhone 5c as "unashamedly plastic."

Read also: iPhone X clone? Xiaomi Mi 8 has notch, face unlock

Still, when iPhone X came out, so many critics thought it unashamedly ugly. One specific part of it, that is: The notch.

That odd indent at the top of the screen that hosted the front-facing TrueDepth camera system incited ululations of derision.

"It offends me. It's ungainly and unnatural," offered famed, pained Apple-watcher John Gruber.

I confess to have suffered almost hemorrhoidal discomfort, but for a different reason. It seemed as if Apple wanted to pretend the notch wasn't even there.

In its advertising, it described the phone with these words, "It's all screen." Which had the naked Emperor exclaiming: "There goes Apple copying me again."

Yet, here we are, a mere seven months later, and the notch has become something of a norm.

Why, here's the latest rumor that the new Google Pixel 3XL will have, oh, a notch. It would therefore accompany the LG G7 ThinQ and the OnePlus 6 to have notch.

Moreover -- and, some might say, worse -- a whole industry quickly emerged to create lookalike phones that, unashamedly, have notches.

The psychology is both fascinating and painful. Many competitors seem not to believe their own eyes. Instead, they seem to say that if Apple does it, it must be what people want. So, they copy it.

It used to be that Apple was accused of operating a reality distortion field, as Steve Jobs mesmerized acolytes and uncontrolled fanpersons into believing that Apple's latest gadget was design nirvana and everyone should adjust their eyes and hands to its beauty.

Yet now, the level of design confidence of Apple's competitors plunges monthly.

Of course, it could be that Cupertino simply employs designers of greater talent and spends more time thinking about how phones should look. The notch was simply the best answer they had, with the technology that was available.

Indeed, I confess that, when I got hold of an iPhone X, I didn't find it as visually offensive as, say, every so-called smart speaker made by Google and Amazon. I barely noticed it, in fact.

And I haven't heard anyone -- iPhone X owners or others -- complaining that the notch has so offended them that they've gone back to using an iPhone 6 or entered a Carmelite community.

Of course, the Apple design takeover will only be complete if its biggest competitor succumbs and releases a Samsung Galaxy SNotch.

Read also: Next year's iPhones: More X? More notch? Here are our guesses

For now, though, Apple can focus on allowing everyone to speculate as to whether its next phones will be bigger or smaller versions -- or, gasp, both -- of the iPhone X.

They'll all have a notch, though, won't they? And no one will be offended anymore.

The perfect phone: 13 features I've dreamed of

Previous and related coverage

iPhone X has the notch but this is Samsung's solution for full-screen displays

Why have a notch when you can cut holes in a full-screen smartphone display?

Samsung mocks Apple fans' blind loyalty despite iPhone X notch, no headphone jack

Samsung's new ad takes a swing at Apple over the notch, missing headphone jack, and wireless charging.

Editorial standards