We’ve never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as witnessed during this year’s MWC show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next. No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple’s notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven’t even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display.
It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. We are absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they’re purely cosmetic. Apple’s notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus have a sizeable “chin” at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look not function, look like an iPhone.However we do sympathizes with manufacturers like Asus who are desperately scrabbling around for a distinguishing feature. We also saw the Zenfone 5 Lite at MWC, which had a simpler design with symmetrical, though still small, bezels, but felt anonymous by comparison. If we challenge you to describe what the Zenfone 4 or Zenfone 6 looked like, you’d struggle but we all know that the Zenfone 5 is a shameless iPhone X clone. That degree of notoriety and attention is worth something to smaller contenders in the smartphone market like Asus, Ulefone, Doogee, and Noa.As every phone manufacturer pursues a minimalist design philosophy, a problem emerges of how to add charm, humanity, and character to devices that are becoming essentially just a big screen. Apple took the risky step of introducing its signature notch, and the positive response from iPhone X owners together with the industry reaction at MWC this week have vindicated that choice. Others will ride the iPhone X’s coattails, they’ll soak up some of the halo effect by notching their own screens, but that fad won’t last. People will quickly learn that all notches are not made equal and this time next year we’ll probably be looking at some other disfiguration of Android devices as the latest experiment.