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My iPhone 8 Plus might be my last iPhone

I know, clickbait headline, but really, it’s how I’ve felt since the release of the iPhone X, and still feel today. And no, this isn’t about switching to Android. It’s about not buying a newly-designed iPhone. Why not? Two reasons…

The Notch

The notch adds nothing to the iOS experience, but takes away much. Those stupid ears grab my eyes every time I see them, and there’s no way to avoid them, save never using anything but an all-black screen. When not in an app, they show status items on a black background, which is fine…as long as your iPhone’s wallpaper is also black.

But once you’re in an app, you’re in Notchville…

When not showing status items, there’s nothing in the ears that I find useful as a user. In the above shots, my eyes focus on the section of missing video, and the section of missing sky. These interruptions in the flow of the image are incredibly distracting to my eye.

Of course, you can remove the notch from videos by playing them in a smaller area, which places a border on all sides…just like any prior iPhone already had. So much for the edge-to-edge screen. But you can’t do anything about the notch in other apps.

Note: Apparently there’s hope for the future. A 2016 Apple patent filing reveals Apple is working on technology that would eliminate the notch. Alternatively, perhaps Samsung (Apple’s OLED screen supplier) will provide them with the see-through screens they’re apparently working on. Either way, this would mean the end of the notch, so perhaps there will be a new iPhone in my future at some point.

Face ID

I know it’s a marvel of engineering. I know it’s incredibly easy to use, it seems magical, yada yada yada. And believe it or not, I agree: It’s amazing, and in general, I think it’s great tech. But Face ID is single-handedly responsible for the notch, and for that reason alone, it should be banished forever.

Set that aside, though, and there are threetwo other reasons why I don’t really want Face ID on my phone…

1. It makes using Apple Pay harder

Compare these two methods, taken from the Using Apple Pay in stores, within apps, and on the web support document:

With Touch ID, I could complete an Apple Pay transaction with the phone in my coat pocket—put my hand in my pocket with my thumb on the Touch ID button, swing my pocket up near the reader, and wait for the “bing!” noise. With Face ID, I’d have to not only remove the phone every time, but also double-click a side button and look at the phone. Even when I have my phone out for Apple Pay, I’m usually not looking at the display. This takes away some of the magic of Apple Pay; it feels more like a process.

2. The Border Patrol may love Face ID

Unless you want the Border Patrol to require you to look at your phone and unlock it for them, you should probably require a passcode at all times while traveling. This is generally good advice, even for Touch ID—but Face ID is on the edge of a slippery slope as to whether or not you may be compelled to look at your device to unlock it:

“Arguably if law enforcement says use your finger to unlock, the knowledge of which finger [will unlock an iPhone] is still an item of knowledge being produced by the individual,” attorney Fred Jennings explained to Forbes “Whereas with Face ID, by design it will only unlock with a very specific and obvious and body part.” [source]

If you don’t set a passcode while traveling, you should probably still take advantage of the emergency SOS feature to disable Face ID (or Touch ID) on the fly. Don’t worry, it doesn’t actually make an SOS call, it just makes it easy to do so while disabling those unlocking methods.

3. You can’t have more than one Face ID

I wasn’t aware that iOS12 added an “alternate ID” feature, thereby allowing two faces to be used—hooray, as this was my biggest Face ID gripe. (Thanks, Rob, for the comment pointing this out.)

Seriously, no new iPhones for me…ever?

Ever is a mighty long time, and you’re probably doubting my word that I won’t buy a new-design iPhone. But it’s true; until the notch is banished to the dust bin of history, I will not be purchasing a new-design iPhone. (Because every rule has an exception, here’s mine: If the notch survives for such a long time that I can no longer purchase and/or use a notchless phone, I’ll buy a notched phone, as I’m not switching to Android.)

If Face ID were the only issue, I’d be all-in already: Face ID’s changes annoy me a bit, but they’re not visible issues every time I look at the screen. But I cannot stand the notch; it’s a design abomination.

I would much prefer Apple simply reserve the entire upper portion of the display for status items, make that area all black, and lock the devs out of the area. Yes, it’s no longer “nothing but screen,” but here’s a tidbit of truth: It’s already not nothing but screen!

Apple could easily do this with a software update, but they won’t, because they treat the notch as something to be proud of, rather than something to be ashamed of. Too bad, really, because I think the new phones are otherwise astonishingly good.

For the foreseeable future then, if/when my iPhone 8 Plus dies, I’ll replace it with another iPhone 8 Plus…at least until the efforts from that 2016 patent (or another approach) see the light of day.

14 Comments

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  1. Sorry to hear that you have so much trouble ignoring the notch. It must be something specific to some people’s visual processing wiring in their brains that determines this — my eyes pretty much automatically edit it out for me most of the time. It’s actually the rare exception when I actually notice it’s there, though I really do hate the fact that so much of my status bar information is hidden until I drag down on the control panel (battery percentage, cellular network ID, etc.). There is one bit of hope for the future that you missed, though: As of iOS 12, your complaint “You can’t have more than one Face ID” is no longer true. Apple introduced a feature they call “Alternate Appearance” that allows you to register a second Face ID. It’s not really intended for a separate person to use, but it’s working that way just fine for me and my wife!

    1. Ah, nice to know about the second appearance—I’ll update the article. And yea, I just can’t not see it. Granted, I don’t own one, and nobody in our family does, so my time has been limited to maybe three hours total during various Apple store visits. Unless it’s a black/black setup, my eyes just jump straight to the notch.

      -rob.

  2. Multiple courts have held that the police can force you to unlock your phone with TouchID without a warrant. In the article you linked to:

    “For the issue about whether you can be compelled to provide your fingerprint or your face, so far the courts are ruling that fingerprints and faces are not testimonial, and therefore there isn’t a Fifth Amendment violation”

    The courts have not agreed with Jennings’ idea about knowing which finger being knowledge protected by the Fifth Amendment.

    1. Thanks for that—I missed it when reading the article. All the more reason to always use a passcode.

      -rob.

  3. ApplePay seems to work more easily with FaceID, but maybe because I came from a 7s and ApplePay and the terminals have become more mature. But I never used it from my pocket so understand the annoyance.

    I find some of the navigating more difficult without Touch. Double click to see other apps for example.

    Luckily progress has slowed and your 8 should last for many years.

    And if DHS wants you to unlock your phone, they’ll just keep you for hours while they figure out what to do. You don’t have to unlock it, but they sure can inconvenience you.

    I’m lucky that the notch doesn’t bother me much, but I’d prefer it wasn’t there. And of course it’s not necessary for FaceID, Apple could have left “all” that unused space at the corners.

  4. “… because they [Apple] treat the notch as something to be proud of, rather than something to be ashamed of.”

    Well put. They’ve been droning on about the all-screen vision for the mobile phone for a full decade now. Their solution, after all these years of thinking about it? A cutout in the display. As if the last few percents of display-to-body ratio weren’t always the problem hindering a true all-screen phone design. And this is supposed to inspire pride (“it’s all screen”)?

    I also don’t know how Apple can square the notch with Dieter Rams; good design is as little design as possible, unobtrusive, honest (doesn’t make promises it can’t keep) and doesn’t make an innovative look an end in itself. Now Rams’ guidelines aren’t absolute, but it is striking how many of them the iPhone X appears to have issues with. Apple’s understanding of these guidelines may be better than mine, but it would be nice to hear them explain, rather than ignore them.

    1. Eric: I hardly think I’m whining. I’m explaining why I’m keeping my current iPhone. I’m not trying to keep anyone else from upgrading if they wish, but I get asked relatively often why I haven’t upgraded.

      -rob.

  5. I found that I only noticed the notch for the first few hours and now only notice it these days for a few hours after reading articles like this. I do use a black background though just like I use a neutral gray on my Mac’s Desktop. A lot of this depends on what apps you use as well. If I am going to be watching a video I am almost certainly going to be doing so on my iPad and not my iPhone so I never have that particular annoyance. For email, calendar, maps, phone, and occasional social media, which is what I use my phone for, it is a complete non-issue.

    FWIW there is one feature that I would never give up that I have in on the XS that is not available on the 8 and that is tap to wake. For example right now my iPhone is sitting about 4 inches to the right of my mouse on my desk. When I’ve been working head down for awhile and I want to do a quick check if there are any new notifications on the lock screen, it is as easy as quickly moving my hand to the right tapping the screen with my pinky as if it were the semicolon key and then bringing my fingers back to either the mouse or the home row on my keyboard. It literally takes less than 2 seconds.

  6. I’m upgrading from an iPhone 5, and I intend to purchase an iPhone 8. On the design of the new X-generation iPhones, I’m with you 100%, Rob. I realise I’m in a minority, but I actually dislike this trend to reduce bezels as much as possible. They make the phone more awkward to handle, especially in combination with the other trend of making phones bigger and bigger. I’ve handled an iPhone XS Max in the store, and… I just couldn’t hold it comfortably. It’s physically smaller than an 8 Plus, but with the 8 Plus at least I can rest my thumb on the Home button area, and that gives better grip and stability.

    Like you, I hope Apple will eventually find a way to remove the notch, otherwise I don’t know what I’m going to upgrade to after the iPhone 8.

    Cheers,
    Rick

  7. Thanks for the article. I’m currently mulling the purchase of an 8 Plus. I played with both the 8 Plus and the XR in the shop the other day, and found that 3D touch on the plus actually made its size more manageable than the ‘touch-dumb’ XR. Be nice if apple offered 128G for the plus too…

  8. I upgraded from a 6S to 8 (non-Plus) last month. My main reason for not going with the X models is that they’re too big to comfortably operate with one hand. Unless Apple decides to start making smaller phones again, I’m going to be using the 8 for awhile.

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