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What the iPhone X notch means for developers and advertisers

by Lewis Leong on Oct 24, 2017

I walked through the door to my local coffee shop and hopped in line to get a pour over and a donut when I saw it. A man was browsing Instagram on his phone, which had an edge-to-edge screen and “ears,” making it immediately stand out. It was the iPhone X.

When the iPhone X was announced in mid-September, people were immediately up in arms about the “notch” at the top of the phone’s display, which is where the iPhone’s Face ID cameras are located. Users were concerned about content being cropped out and developers were worried about how to work around it.

Apple could have easily avoided the notch by creating a screen that doesn’t fill up the corners with “ears” but it was a conscious choice. Vlad Savov from The Verge posits that Apple chose this design to make the iPhone X iconic since most smartphones look the same. This argument has some merit, as Samsung is doing the same thing with its near-bezel-less and curved edge displays.

iPhone X AR game

What the notch means for developers

When the iPhone X launches, there will be many apps that don’t take advantage of the full screen, leaving apps letterboxed. Like the transition from the iPhone 4’s 960×640 resolution display to the iPhone 5’s 1136×640. This just means developers will have to update their apps to fit both the 19.5:9 aspect ratio of the iPhone X and the 16:9 of the iPhone 8/7/6.

Updating apps to new fit the new screen aspect ratio is one thing, but it’s another to incorporate the notch into app design. Developers will now have to think about how the notch will obscure UI elements, especially in landscape mode. For example, the scroll bar and other elements on a web page may be obscured by the notch.

To help developers adapt to the new display size, Apple published the Human Interface Guidelines for the iPhone X. The guidelines state: “Don’t attempt to hide the device’s rounded corners, sensor housing, or indicator for accessing the Home screen by placing black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.” This will force how developers think about UI design to ensure no controls are hidden by the notch or the new iPhone’s rounded corners.

What the notch means for advertisers

Developers aren’t the only ones who will have to adapt. Advertisers will also have to think about ways to provide a full-screen immersive experience that incorporates the notch. Our research has shown that full-screen ads will always outperform letterboxed ones, simply because users are more immersed if an ad takes up all viewable screen. What that means is that iPhone X will require ads that are specifically tailored to its notched screen.

Beyond just the headache of the notch, advertisers are tackling a bigger industry-wide trend: tall screens. Apple is far from the first company to deviate from the traditional 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Popular Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8, LG V30, and Pixel 2 XL have tall screens and varying aspect ratios. For example, the Galaxy S8 has an 18.5:9 aspect ratio while the LG V30 and Pixel 2 XL have 18:9 screens.

LG-V30-screen

The lack of standardization has made it difficult for advertisers to provide the same ad experience across different devices. Right now, advertisers will have to make device-specific ads if they want to provide a full-screen experience, which is impossible to scale. The compromise now is to simply letterbox video, interstitial, and playable ads. Stretching assets dynamically to fit different screen sizes is even less ideal, because the advertisement will look warped, and it still doesn’t fix the fact that the iPhone X notch will hide elements.

Until there’s a standard screen aspect ratio as we’ve had with Full HD (1920×1080) screens, advertisers will simply have to letterbox. No, it’s not ideal, but it’s the best solution at the moment.

Getting creative with the notch

Some developers are taking up the challenge of making great-looking apps with good user experiences for the iPhone X. For example, Zev Eisenberg found a creative solution for the scroll bar to bend around the notch.

The weather app CARROT redesigned its app to be a full-screen experience that follows Apple’s interface guidelines by not hiding the notch.

Others are throwing caution to the wind and developing apps that hide the notch with black bars, going against Apple’s request.

Even Apple appears to have trouble following its own guidelines about now hiding the notch with its Apple Music app as seen during the iPhone X annoucement.

Whether you like it or not, the iPhone X notch is here. Developers will have to find creative solutions to work around the notch, and advertisers will have to deal with yet another non-standardized screen size. In the end, the iPhone X notch may simply face the same growing pains as when Apple transitioned from the iPhone 4 screen to the iPhone 5—it may be annoying now, but soon it’ll be the status quo.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.

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