I am okay with the OnePlus 6 having a notch, here’s why

OnePlus 5T Star Wars Edition Rear Dual Camera

Everyone has been all over town with the latest crop of android phones having notches on the top side. To put it very mildly, there are two groups of people – one set is extremely upset with the notch and the other is slightly less upset. So, in effect, there aren’t that many people who are happy with the notch. The latest handset to be a part of this polarization is the OnePlus 6. I am okay with the OnePlus 6 having a notch and here is why

First up, let me begin with a disclosure – I hated the notch when I first saw it on the Essential phone and then on the iPhone X. It looked like a usability nightmare and the initial users did confirm this. On paper, it looked like it was adding real estate on the display but it wasn’t adding value. Apple had put it to good use though to facilitate the bouquet of sensors they needed to have the sturdy and solid implementation of Face ID that they had.

Cut to MWC2018 earlier this year and you saw Android OEMs tripping over themselves to release and explain their phones with notches. Some openly declared that they have copied it from Apple and actually made it bigger than needed. The end result was that it looked like a taller and cheaper knock off of the iPhone X. They are now in serious damage control mode even before their device hits many markets.

What is good about the way OnePlus has handled it is that they have the founders talking about the notch well ahead of their next device hitting the market and they are not trying to apologize for it or get bogged down. They have stuck to the technology side of things and have done a great job of it so far. Here is an excerpt of what Pete Lau, Founder of OnePlus had to say

“Even among tech communities, the OnePlus Community is a little different. Through your tech-savviness and passion you hold us accountable for our decisions. In doing so, your help has been instrumental to our success. By now, most of you are aware that our next device will feature a cut-out near the top of the display, popularly known as a “notch”. A fiery debate has sparked online, so we wanted to give you guys some insight into our rationale behind this product decision.

One of our biggest challenges as a smartphone manufacturer is to make the most out of every square inch of your device. A well-known principle in tech is that individual components become smaller with each passing year. Our role as a smartphone manufacturer is to maximize the use of the space we free up. Since our components no longer require the entire width of a top bezel, we focused our efforts on maximizing the amount of screen real estate. It’s easy to get caught up in a debate on aesthetics, but to us this decision was simply about pursuing optimal phone design. Being able to offer more screen without compromising on size or performance is a great benefit. That said, we wanted to offer the biggest display possible without compromising on hardware, which is why we opted for the notch design.

A central placement is optimal for our front-facing camera for several reasons. Moving the module elsewhere would also affect the angle of the camera, making it harder to orient the camera and take photos quickly. Such a move would also compromise the speed and reliability of our industry-leading Face Unlock feature. We also considered using a smaller module, but decided not to as this would have lowered the quality of your photos. Other speculative technologies, such as a mechanical ‘pop-out’ camera, are currently in their infancy. While interesting, the technology is not at a stage where it can deliver on durability, speed and performance.

To offer our users the best possible viewing experience, we work with world-leading screen manufacturers. We prioritize three key considerations when implementing a new display. First, we look to maximize the viewable area. Through the notch, we can free up a considerable amount of space near the top of the display, absorbing the notification and status icons. At 19.616mm by 7.687mm, the notch occupies a minimal amount of space in the top-center part of the display. Our research has shown that the space occupied by the notch typically goes unused in standard use. The notch makes optimal use of the vacated space. You gain more viewable space, without losing anything.

Our second priority is display performance. Whether you’re looking at brightness level, chromatic accuracy, or color range, there are a lot of factors that determine whether a display is comfortable to look at. Our displays have to match a wide range of requirements, before we consider them ready for market. We ultimately selected a display that matched all of our criteria. It was also optimized for a notch-based design, which we considered an additional benefit. The result is a screen with a larger viewable area and superior performance.

Finally, as our devices gain in worldwide popularity, we need to scale up production accordingly. That means using a display that is readily procurable is the only way we can keep up with global demand. This translates to fewer delays, faster shipping, and the ability to service more people. Our mission is to share the best technology with the world. We dedicated ourselves to implementing a display that is both scalable, while delivering a viewing experience that matches our quality standards. To grow into a sustainable business, we have to deliver a high quality experience on every level. In order to do so, we will continue to make use of any opportunity to improve the accessibility of our devices around the world.

We believe in offering our community the best possible smartphone experience. By listening to your opinions and feedback, we aim to design smartphones that meet your needs and standards. While many of you have asked us not to increase the physical size of our phones, others requested larger and more immersive displays. The notch helps us accomplish both requests. No two people have the same opinion on smartphone aesthetics. Our focus was to deliver the biggest and best screen we’ve ever had, without compromising on the tech you love. When all is said and done, that’s what matters most” 

Given what Pete has said and given the track record that OnePlus had for listening and actually implementing suggestions, I am okay with the OnePlus 6 coming with a notch. OnePlus as a brand is not making excuses and actually following sound design and UX practices. Add that to how intuitive Oxygen OS already is from a usability angle and I am sure that the OnePlus 6 will be very good and I need not worry about whether there’s a notch or not.

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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