Over the last decade, smartphones have taken over every aspect of our lives. We have become used to having our gadgets around all the time and depend on them for work, leisure and communication. Technological progress has only accelerated with big companies like Apple and Samsung releasing new phones every year. After finger print and iris sensors, bigger screens, and dual cameras, the next leap forward is the removal of bezels.
A bezel is the border between a phone’s screen and its frame. It is non-usable screen space and on most phones incorporates a physical home button, front-facing cameras, a microphone or LED indicators. Apple’s iPhone is the best example when talking about bezels as it has kept its traditional design ever since launching in 2007. Even though the screen dimensions and the sizes of iPhones changed, bezels were essential as they had to house the home button and the camera. Samsung’s “infinity display” can be seen as a key breakthrough for the move towards a bezel-less front facing display.
In April 2017, Samsung launched the Galaxy S8 with its “unbox your phone” campaign. The biggest appeal of smaller bezels is the immersive experience, especially when recording or viewing video. It also increases the screen to body ratio, essentially giving the user more useable screen in a similar form factor. Other phone manufacturers were quick to adopt this trend with phones like the Google Pixel 2, iPhone X or the Essential Phone. Each of these companies has their individual take on reducing bezels but it is not hard to see why this trend became so popular: The phones look sleek and the fresh design change is very welcome.
On the other hand, removing bezels has come with its own set of issues, like the removal of the physical home button. With most phones integrating touch sensors in this button, they had to include other ways of securely locking the device. The S8 and Pixel 2 simply placed the finger print sensor on the back while the iPhone X replaced it completely with its own Face ID using iris scanners. Another solution is to place the finger print sensor on the side in the lock button, like on the Sony Xperia Z5 .
With that being solved, the operating systems also had to reimagine navigating back to the home screen as well as multitasking. This issue has been more complicated for iOS devices, as Android has its Back, Home and Multitasking buttons on the bottom of the screen anyway. Samsung did well in hiding the navigation bar within apps and easily bringing it back up with a swipe. The iPhone X also uses a swipe up from the bottom to activate multitasking or go home. This switches things up and takes no more than a couple of hours to get used to.
The next problem that phone manufacturers had to face was the impact on the status bar on the top of the phone. The iPhone X undeniably does a bad job by breaking it up with its notch. In this way, less symbols can be displayed and less information, such as battery percentage, can be shown. On the Galaxy S8 however, the tiny bezel still runs across horizontally, preserving the full status bar. Since all companies have their own way of approaching the removal of bezels, a lot of strange aspect ratios are created. This means that apps need to update to fit the individual screens and content is cut off in places, since content creators still prioritise traditional aspect ratios. This is a temporary problem and developers will adjust to it over time.
Bezels have a very practical purpose since they provide a place for our palms or fingers to hold on to. With the removal of bezels, software developers need to consider involuntary touches simply by holding the phone. Additionally, taller displays can impact reachability and navigation around the operating system. For example, on Android devices quick settings and notifications are accessed by a swipe down from the top of the screen. One handed use is becoming increasingly difficult on newer phones, which is why some still prefer traditional bezels and smaller form factors.
Undoubtably, we will see the trend of eliminating bezels continue over the next few years. There is yet to be a phone with a complete sheet of glass on the front. We also need to consider how phone identities may get lost in the future. So far, different brands have had a certain look for their flagships but those seem to be merging together in a strive for bezel-less displays. In conclusion, screens with tiny bezels are more productive, highly immersive and a pleasure to look at. However, this article only outlined some of the problems coming with it and it will be up to phone manufacturers to find solutions to them.
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