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iPhone X: Android OEMs need to take a look in the mirror

The iPhone X represented a chance for Android OEMs to unleash better solutions for smartphones. Instead, they copied the worst parts, including the notch. Why so reactive?

Published onMay 7, 2018

iPhone X vs HUAWEI P20
Android OEMs have hitched their wagon to Apple’s design choices for years. The slavish copying of the iPhone X is particularly egregious, even though the tenth-anniversary iPhone has proven it isn’t quite the “supercycle” hit many expected.

The iPhone X can be argued to be a flop, if you only compare Apple to itself. The company sold 52.2 million iPhones, up from 50.7 million last year. In a shrinking smartphone market, especially at the premium end, a three percent gain in smartphone sales is excellent.

The iPhone X has sold well, but Apple CEO Tim Cook hinted that it wasn't quite all that.

The iPhone X is billed as the great generational change to Apple’s lineup. It’s technically a win, though perhaps without the kind of glory everyone was expecting. CEO Tim Cook amusingly called the iPhone X’s success a “Superbowl winner,” admitting it’d have been even better if it had won by more points.

“I think that it’s one of those things where like a team wins the Super Bowl, maybe you want them to win by a few more points but it’s a Super Bowl winner and that’s how we feel about it,” said Cook in a May 1 earnings call.

That’s about as close as we’ve seen to a tacit admission from Apple that the iPhone X is doing well, without necessarily being a monster.

Compared to any Android manufacturer as the proverbial orange to the apple, and the Cupertino company is crushing them in sales, average selling price, margin, and so on. Apple’s ecosystem is full of a lot of other little add-ons, and the company is squeezing them harder than ever for growth. App Store sales, products like AirPods and adapters, and services including iCloud, AppleCare warranties, and more have all grown.

However you feel about it, the iPhone X had a sort of gravity in the smartphone industry. Rather than resisting the pull and making their own mark, Android OEMs copied it. They copied something which hasn’t given iPhone X owners significant benefits over iPhone 8 owners.

The iPhone X’s lasting design impact is arguably a defect

Clones serve a purpose to some much less significant OEMs, especially in China where Shanzhai is a way of life. Racing to be the first company to produce a working iPhone X copy conveys some level of prestige in China, no matter how dubious it is to outsiders.

But the earnest iPhone X copies are just starting to hit the shelves.

My Android Authority colleague Lahn Nguyen just finished with the vivo V9, a shameless iPhone X copy from back to front, which even offers iPhone X-style navigation gestures.

The ASUS Zenfone 5 was one of the first bigger manufacturers to debut an iPhone X clone, and infamously made statements suggesting that’s simply what consumers want. Oppo’s R15 Pro — likely the basis for the OnePlus 6 — also features a notch at the top of the screen.

More notable manufacturers are all in, too, even if they’re second-guessing their choice by offering ways to turn the notch “off” via software. HUAWEI’s P20 and P20 Pro went down that road first. The new LG G7 ThinQ‘s can also hide its notch, but considering its got an LCD display, it won’t be as well hidden as on an OLED panel. At least Samsung hasn’t gone near the notch. We’ll just have to wait and see what the Google Pixel 3 has in store.

Despite being a community-driven company, the upcoming OnePlus 6 will feature a notch. As our own research demonstrated, Android enthusiasts absolutely do not like the notch so the arguments seem diametrically opposed.

Ultimately, the notch is destined to disappear. It’s a stop-gap solution that only serves to house front-facing sensors, speakers, or cameras, until a better bezel-less screen design is possible. As soon as that better idea comes around, Android OEMs will no doubt copy it, especially if Apple goes there first. Right now, we’re being told to “learn to love the notch,” but if Apple drop it later in 2018, you can be sure 2019 Android smartphones won’t have it either.

Missed OPPOrtunity

As smartphones become increasingly uniform black rectangles pretty good at everything, with few limitations — even at the low end — positive differentiation matters. Copying Apple’s design is hardly a new thing. The notch is probably just as divisive as dropping the headphone jack. Of course, Apple rarely fails to borrow the best ideas from Android OEMs (the leap from the small iPhone 5 to the larger iPhone 6 is just one tiny example).

The iPhone X copying we’re seeing is shameless, derivative, and will only hurt those doing it for no practical reason. Apple will change again and Android OEMs will again be slavishly reactive, leaving everyone wondering why they dabbled with a notch in the first place.

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