Regardless of our collective thoughts on it, the notch wasn’t devised expressly to make us hate smartphones. Smartphone OEMs have tried for years to optimize the space on the front of their handsets: larger displays on smaller frames look nicer and use less space. This trend towards efficiency occurs in every field; unnecessary parts are chopped until only what’s useful remains. The notch was only ever a pitstop on the road to full-screen phones.
It just also happened to be one of the least popular smartphone concepts ever.
Fear not, notch-haters, its time is almost up. There’s a new kid on the block, and its name is… well, actually, it doesn’t have a standard name yet. We’re calling it the “display hole.”
The display hole (or display hole camera, or camera hole) is an upcoming smartphone screen feature for housing the front-facing camera(s). Like the notch, this is a cut out portion of the physical display. However, it differs from the notch in that this cutout area is not part of the phone’s outer frame. It sits within the display with the screen surrounding it.
Though we haven’t seen a smartphone with such a screen hit the market yet, there are several indications it will be common on 2019 Android phones.
The display hole cutout is perceived as a superior solution to the notch as a less intrusive way to support the front-facing camera. Naturally, manufacturers will be keen to pursue this “better” product to increase sales. However, its advantages are up for debate.
Judging by the renders and hints we’ve seen so far, the space between the display hole and the edge of the phone won’t be of much use. Just look at the image below and consider what could be achieved in the tiny section separating the frame and the top of the cutout:
Because this camera hole isn’t built into the display’s edge like the notch, it also means it may be more distracting. This display hole might be only another few millimeters further inwards than the notch, but on small displays that could be significant. Think about how annoying a fly on the edge of the screen is, compared to one closer to the center.
Despite this, Samsung, Huawei — and I suspect most OEMs — see holes as the next evolution of smartphone displays. Samsung revealed this last month at its developer conference, while Huawei has highlighted the feature in promos.
Their pursuits, in particular, could be formative in ensuring its adoption in 2019.
Pressures and incentives
Huawei is already known to be working on a phone with this type of display (it will launch it with the Nova 4 on Dec. 17) and there are strong hints global number one smartphone manufacturer Samsung will release phones with them in the coming months too (including the Galaxy A8s in just a few days, and later the Galaxy S10).
Despite the notch being widely criticized, it appeared on many of this year’s phones. Here’s a list of just a few, all of which were released within a year of Apple’s original iPhone X.
This is not to say Samsung and Huawei would be solely responsible for its uptake — again, the industry is trending towards larger displays regardless. Still, this would indicate to OEMs such an idea can be profitable (if indeed it is).
Like with Essential and Apple’s notch adoption, Samsung and Huawei’s display hole usage may kickstart a similar movement.
More than that, it may pressure them into adopting it. No manufacturer wants to be caught trailing behind while others offer hip, new technologies.
A hole in the wallet?
One facet of new technologies that can hinder their adoption is associated costs. The phones on the list above are generally pretty expensive, but the notch even made it to phones costing as little as $150.
I can’t testify to the manufacturing costs of making a display hole versus a display notch. The hole seems trickier and therefore more expensive. If it’s considerably pricier, it may only make it into the priciest phones. However, some rumors indicate this won’t be a premium-only feature.
Huawei’s sub-brand Honor is already planning such a handset for January. Honor’s phones can be expensive, but they are often more reasonably priced than flagship offerings of other Android OEMs. The notch-toting Honor Play went on sale in August for 329 euros (~$375), undercutting phones like the Pixel 3 XL ($899) and even the OnePlus 6 ($529) by a significant margin.
We already have some clues that the display hole won’t be a premium-only feature.
We don’t know much about what Honor is planning, but it would be a surprise if the company dropped its mid-tier strategy and offered an ultra-premium product. Similarly, Huawei’s Nova 4 isn’t part of its flagship phone lineups and may be comparatively inexpensive (the Nova 3 cost the equivalent of around $450).
If the display hole is a viable mid-tier option, I suspect lots of OEMs will adopt it to try standing out in that fiercely competitive segment.
Smartphone manufacturers ultimately want devices with fullscreen displays. Such handsets will likely arrive within the next two years. Until they can be successfully implemented — and are financially viable — OEMs will continue to maximize the display area however they can.
Manufacturers probably won’t drop the notch entirely next year — it might be the next best option if display holes prove too expensive. However, I think display holes will outnumber display notches on the major Android flagships, so I hope you like them.
Whatever form displays take in 2019, one thing is certain: Android OEMs won’t keep notches around just to please fans. They didn’t with the 3.5mm headphone port and that was an actually popular fixture.