"The Notch"* is either the curse of 2018 phone designs – or the only interesting thing about boring phone designs in 2018, depending on how you look at it. Now details of a Microsoft phone patent have emerged that could make future phones less Notchy.
As a design feature The Notch came to prominence last summer in the first Essential phone, but then jumped species: a giant Notch is the most distinguishing feature of Apple's £999 (VAT included) iPhone X after the price.
The Notch exists because of the necessity to include traditional front-facing features – microphones, speakers and selfie cam – while maximising the display area. The trouble is, the components required to make these functions work don't run well, or at all, when covered in glass. Hence the decision to intrude on the display area.
Last year many OEMs built phones using Samsung's curved edge 18:9 ratio OLED displays – but they largely dodged the problem.
A patent application published yesterday ("DISPLAY STRUCTURE HAVING A VISUAL DISPLAY AND AN AUDIO OUTPUT") described a combined visual and audio display. A piezo-electric layer can manipulate a "deformable transparent surface layer" which bends or flexes to generating audio, obviating the need for an off-glass speaker. The application refers to OLED screens secured at the edges, hinting that a new kind of material is in the works (a gorilla glass that flexes – engineers and chemists, please enlighten us).
The display could also be used to generate haptic feedback.
The two lead inventors are ex-Nokians who are now no longer at Microsoft. And Microsoft last made a phone over two years ago, and has vowed never to make another. Or at least not a generic smartphone. Any new Microsoft mobile device would have to trailblaze a new form factor, executives have hinted. Perhaps something like this? Or a dual display foldable, like this.
Over 20 Android phones have been announced which incorporate The Notch, and you should expect to see many more. Android P – the next major version of the OS – will support The Notch natively and the "19:9" display, built to make The Notch feel comfortable, will become more commonplace.
Synaptics has an under-glass fingerprint sensor which removes the need for a vast array of facial recognition sensors that Apple's Face ID requires. So the fad may pass in a couple of years, as under-glass components come on line. And then, like flared trousers, we'll wonder why people ever wore them. ®
For younger readers, The Notch was originally pioneered by Dave Hill of Slade.