LG this week unveiled the LG G7 ThinQ, and it got attention for all the wrong reasons. The phone boasts a 6.1-inch edge-to-edge screen. But as with many recent smartphones, it drew criticism from tech journalists for having a notch at the top of a screen. The notch is a dark cutout in the top of the screen that houses the front-facing camera, speaker for phone calls and other important sensors.
The G7 is the latest phone to follow the design "trend," which embodies the compromise that companies make between aesthetics and function.
Apple's iPhone X was the first mainstream phone to grab attention for its notch - and often not in a complimentary way. (Apple wasn't the first to introduce the notch; that distinction goes to Essential, the smartphone start-up founded by former Android head Andy Rubin.) The notch on the iPhone X was seen as a design compromise to make the screen larger. Many did not mince words, calling it "odd," "bad" and downright "ugly." There's even an 99-cent app on Apple's App Store called "Notch Remover," which will put a black bar across the top of the phone to mask that buck-toothed gap.
LG's head of product planning Shintae Hong told Engadget that the company surveyed 1,000 people about the design, and decided on its design after only 30 percent of people said they didn't like the notch. Crucially, however, it didn't say how many people actually liked it.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The main argument for notches comes down to simple real estate. Tech reviewers and consumers have long-complained about bezels, the dark frames many phones, televisions and even wearables have around screens. A notch gives smartphone companies an answer. Moving the time or battery indicator up to the top edge gives people that little bit of extra space for a slightly bigger Netflix or YouTube window. In other words, notches offer a way to increase screen size without making phones too large, compromising on features like a good selfie camera or having to pay to increase the size of a screen.
In other words, aesthetics can't drive everything, said Ramon Llamas, mobile analyst at research firm International Data Corporation. "Overall, the research I have says that people want a bigger display, but they don't want a bigger phone."
In the end, the question of whether "to notch or not to notch" isn't one that manufacturers should obsess over, Llamas said. Despite the complaints about the notch on the iPhone X, it's still become Apple's best-selling iPhone thanks to features that balance that small aesthetic compromise. And if Apple's rivals are looking to the notch for cachet, he said, that's really the wrong thing to be focusing on.
"The question should be how to innovate further. If [a notch is] your answer, you might want to look at some of your other ideas," Llamas said.
© The Washington Post 2018