Owning the iPhone X horns

The "notch" or, as the ears and forehead as Apple refers to it internally (and casually)— though it will forever be 🤘 (horns) to me — are the most distinctive visual design element of the upcoming iPhone X. So much so that they, and not the now-deleted Home button, are what distinguish the next-generation iPhone in next-generation icons and glyphs.

Marco Arment:

This is the new shape of the iPhone. As long as the notch is clearly present and of approximately these proportions, it's unique, simple, and recognizable.It's probably not going to significantly change for a long time, and Apple needs to make sure that the entire world recognizes it as well as we could recognize previous iPhones.That's why Apple has made no effort to hide the notch in software, and why app developers are being told to embrace it in our designs.

Being distinct — iconic, even — is a huge plus in terms of brand recognition. But whether that recognition is good or bad, admired or derided, is another matter.

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:

My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.I suspect (or maybe it's just hope) what might happen is something along the lines of the evolution of the new look-and-feel that debuted in iOS 7.

There are a few custom interface elements, like the Now Playing card in Music or Drafts in Mail, where the visual cue for the layering is considered important enough that it pushes the horns back and they get blacked out. Otherwise, the horns win.

OLED iPhone Display

OLED iPhone Display (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

It's not so much that Apple has chosen not to hide the horns either. All those mockups and alternatives you've seen on Twitter or on blogs? Apple has considered and tested them and likely countless more before anyone on the outside ever heard the iPhone X project.

Beyond that, Apple built those horns to begin with. Apple could have extended the casing across the entire top of iPhone X. Instead, Apple spent an incredible amount of additional effort to make sure the display was shaped and could be filled in those curves. Not many companies have the hardware capabilities to do that. Apple does. And did:

Using innovative folding and circuit stacking technology, the OLED panel follows the curves of the device into the farthest reaches of the corners. Then it uses a process called subpixel anti-aliasing to tune individual pixels for smooth, distortion-free edges.

Apple could have made the "forehead" run all the way across iPhone X (left), even before considering "hiding" them with interface tricks (center).

Instead, Apple spent a painstaking amount of engineering time, from the silicon on up, to get those horns designed and implemented. And is now, there's no mistaking it for Samsung (left) or LG (center) — it's immediately recognizable as iPhone.

A lot of people at Apple seem to genuinely love them. But do they love them because they're truly great or simply because they're distinctively Apple? A lot of people outside Apple seem not to. But do they not love them because they're bad or simply because they're unlike anything that's come before?

After having spent some time with the horns, they still stand out at me. I still see them. They still compete for my attention with the content the display is supposed to be prioritizing. (Just like the "flat tire" on the Moto 360. Though Apple, at least, had enough marketing sense not to name the device the iPhone Hornless...)

The horns may change over time. Famously, under Steve Jobs, Apple released a wide-bodied "fatty" iPod nano and an iPod shuffle without buttons. Both were rolled back the very next year. For now, the horns are a curious experiment in peripheral data presentation. How Apple handles the horns going forward is what will determine if they're momentarily distinctive or become truly iconic.

For now, though, Apple is all in. And, iIf you really hate the horns, there's an iPhone 8 for you. It has almost all the new features with nary a horn in sight. Otherwise, come November, you, me, and everyone else outside Apple gets to try iPhone X, horns and all, and decide for ourselves.

Updated October 2, 2017, to point out the work Apple had must have had to do to support iPhone X "horns" in hardware and the ramifications thereof.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.