Future of mobile devices — Achieving the true edge-to-edge display

At the 2019 Mobile World Congress, we saw radical smartphones innovations like foldable phones and 5G mobile network. These technologies are a breath of fresh air in a smartphone industry where innovation has been incremental in recent years.

It is not necessarily that innovation in the industry has ceased, I rather think we consumers have become desensitized and demand more radical innovations to become utterly wowed.

Therefore, screen size as a design feature has become a central differentiator. To maximize the “screen real estate” on a given surface and achieve the perfect full-screen display is one of the most difficult design challenges for smartphones. Designers search for unused areal anywhere on their devices. This has lead them to remove all physical buttons from the front (like the home button) and create “edge-to-edge” displays. Eventually, the literal only space left to steal areal from, was the top edge where front camera, speaker and sensors are located.

The bus pocket

Apple was the first to attempt an edge-to-edge display. They introduced the notch, or the “bus pocket” where the front camera and sensors are located. The notch is found on the two latest generations of iPhones, the X, XR and XS. This gave the iPhone the appearance of a fuller screen. Other phone producers like Huawei and Google later copied the notch to their devices.

The bus-pocket has received mixed reception. It has even caused so much annoyance that “notch remover” apps to hide the bus pocket have been created.

The teardrop front camera

This solution is similar to the notch, but instead of a full notch it is just a small dedicated space to the front-camera, usually found centered along the top edge. The teardrop takes up less place than a notch, giving the appearance of an even bigger screen. Huawei’s latest flagship Huawei P30 Pro is one of several models that has this front camera design.

The punch-hole front camera

With its new Samsung Galaxy S10, Samsung skipped the notch and went straight to punch-hole front camera. Samsung simply cut a hole in the upper right corner of the screen for the front camera. Whether consumers regard the punch-hole front camera as less annoying that the notch remains to be seen.

What the notch, the teardrop, and the punch-hole front camera all have in common, is that they in various ways interfere with the screen areal. Although small, the notches can cause annoyance, for example when turning the phone to landscape to watch films or play games. One can also simply find it aesthetically displeasing.

Some a going for edge-to-edge

Recently we have seen several smartphones with innovative design features that hides the front camera when not in use. This allows the screen to fill the entire surface of the phone, and stretch edge-to-edge.

The first smartphone with a true edge-to-edge display was the Oppo Find X. At first glance, this smartphone has no cameras. But both cameras are hidden, and elevate from the top with a motorized mechanism. Samsung Galaxy A80, which releases this May, uses a similar mechanism, but it has a camera bar that spins around. This way, the same cameras are used for photography and selfies. The OnePlus 7 Pro, which just released, locate the front camera on a motorized “stick” that pops up.

Oppo, Samsung and OnePlus have used creative design choices with mechanisms to hide the front camera. They maximize the screen real estate and achieve the true full-screen smartphone, without notch, teardrop, or punch hole front camera. This gives a better full-screen experience when watching films and gaming, and hopefully dampen the irritation consumers have built up due to the bus pocket.

What we really want?

With these three smartphones we see that the critics finally have got their will. It seems like every year consumers and producers have pushed for bigger screen usage. The notch, the teardrop and the punch-hole all have their critics, but now we finally have models offering a surface that is covered entirely with screen.

This is it. There is literally no way to make the screen bigger, without also increasing the size of the phone. Will these somewhat quirky pop-up cameras be the default for future models? Is a notch or a hole in the screen really that annoying?

It seems smartphone producers cannot agree on the best solution, but rather experiment back and forth. As Apple undeniably is a major trendsetter in the industry, I think it will be interesting to follow their design option for the next generation iPhone. I do think that pop-up mechanisms will become more mainstream and refined by the major producers in the next couple of months.

Eirik is a tech blogger and writer from Norway. Writes mainly about topics from the tech world, but also business, travel and lifestyle.