We haven’t even reached the end of 2016, and the hype about Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Apple’s iPhone 8 has already reached a fever pitch. The Samsung rumor mill and especially the Apple rumor mill speculate at length and enthusiastically about every leak and report concerning upcoming flagship phones. Even if the launch of those phones is months, or even quarters, away. It’s exciting to hear about the inventions and innovations that may or may not show up on the next flagship phone from your favorite manufacturer. And both the Galaxy S8 and the iPhone 8 promise to be exciting devices.
They’ll both be powerful phones with interesting components and eye-catching designs. Much is riding on each phone’s launch for its respective manufacturer. So much of the attention is deserved. But the rumor mill continues to hype a specific design feature, rumored for both phones, that doesn’t merit the excitement. That potential feature is the bezel-less design, also referred to as an edge-to-edge screen.
The feature would have the screen accounting for all or an extreme majority of the space on the front of the phone and is rumored for both Samsung and Apple’s 2017 flagship phones. (The idea is that any portion of the front of the phone that isn’t screen is a waste of space.) It sounds like an impressive and exciting feature. At least until you realize that what Apple and Samsung are racing to do has already been done — and may not be such a great idea in the first place. Read on to check out the reasons why the hype surrounding the possibility of a bezel-less design for the Galaxy S8 and iPhone 8 is getting far more attention than it deserves.
1. Bezel-less phones have already been done
Articles and blog posts citing an edge-to-edge display as an innovative addition to Samsung or Apple’s 2017 phones neglect to mention that these won’t be the first bezel-less phones ever made. Some of the same outlets covered the introduction of the Xiaomi Mi Mix, which The Verge’s Vlad Savov calls “the concept phone of your wildest dreams.” And Xiaomi isn’t the only manufacturer to have experimented with edge-to-edge displays. (Though it may be the only one that’s commonly mentioned on American tech blogs.)
The Sharp Corner R is another recent (concept) smartphone to feature minuscule bezels. And a quick Google search reveals roundups of other bezel-less phone options — including devices that can be purchased affordably in places other than the United States. For instance, Review Hub lists the Ulefone Future, the ZTE Nubia My Prague Elite, and the Elephone S3 as a few of the options for bezel-less phones that are already available to purchase. Those may not be devices that you’d consider buying. But they do demonstrate that bezel-less phones have already been done.
2. Edge-to-edge displays aren’t such an impressive engineering feat
Everyone was impressed by the Xiaomi Mi Mix when it burst onto the scene. And plenty of people speculated about what it might say about the iPhone 8 and Galaxy S8. The technology that enables the device to be bezel-less, as detailed by Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo, is interesting, but not necessarily as novel as you might imagine. Savov, writing for The Verge, notes, “But as I look at what makes the Mix truly exceptional, the only differences from current devices are the engineering required to remove the top bezel’s sensors and earpiece — pretty much everything else is already available technology, albeit rarely combined into a single device.” In fact, much of the requisite technology is already available to (and patented by) Apple.
9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy notes that Apple already has much of the technology to create a phone like the Xiaomi Mi Mix, including the ability to embed a light sensor into the display, excellent palm rejection, and a technology to enable fingerprint recognition almost anywhere on a screen. As Xiaomi’s marketing materials proved, a big, edge-to-edge screen looks impressive in photographs. But a bezel-less design isn’t quite the groundbreaking invention that headlines may have you believe. Savov notes that “there isn’t much room left for smartphone design to take massive leaps forward.” It just looks like bezel-less phones are the direction in which smartphone makers are inching forward in parallel.
3. Apple and Samsung can’t really be “racing” each other when their release schedules are already set
Publications including AppleInsider characterize Apple and Samsung’s mutual interest in releasing a bezel-less 2017 flagship as a race. The problem? The release schedules for the iPhone and the Galaxy S series are already set. Roger Fingas reports for AppleInsider that Samsung “is said to be targeting a March window for the S8, but might delay that until April.” Regardless of the specifics, it’s pretty safe to assume that Samsung will launch the Galaxy S8 sometime in the spring of 2017.
Contrast that with the expected fall launch date for Apple’s iPhone 8, and it’s no wonder that numerous headlines have claimed that Samsung might “beat Apple to the punch” by launching a device with an edge-to-edge display first. It may be true that Samsung will launch such a device before Apple does. It’s nothing new for headlines to pit Apple and Samsung against one another. But this particular “race” is a pretty unexciting narrative when we already know when Apple and Samsung plan to launch their 2017 flagships.
4. Chances are good that bezel-less phones will be fragile and damage-prone
Everyone thought that the Xiaomi Mi Mix’s edge-to-edge display was a great idea — until they saw a photo of the phone after it had been dropped. A publication called XiaomiToday calls the device “Xiaomi’s most fragile phone,” reporting that the hand of someone using the phone “slipped, and the outcome was a total disaster.” The publication lamented the broken screen and “crumpled” ceramic frame. The Verge notes that the Mi Mix is made of ceramic and doesn’t have a display that’s made of Corning Gorilla Glass or coated with sapphire. But the image should still be a wake-up call.
If you’ve dropped a phone with bezels and watched in horror as the screen shattered, you’ve probably already realized that a bigger screen means more chances of shattering the display if you drop the device. And if Apple or Samsung choose a fragile material, like ceramic, for the body of their devices, that will definitely make those phones more fragile. Over the years, as bezels have grown thinner on devices like the iPhone, many people have noted that, at least anecdotally, the displays of those phones get easier to shatter. New materials and engineering advances will likely make all smartphones more durable, but edge-to-edge displays are likely to pose significant challenges.
5. Bezel-less phones may be a logical next step, but they aren’t necessary
As far back as 2012, rumors were circulating about bezel-less displays, and bloggers were questioning whether that was a good idea. Phone Arena notes that “smartphone displays need a bezel,” since bezels add “structural integrity to the smartphone” and make touch screens easier to use (a concern that, in the intervening years, has been addressed with touch rejection software). The publication also argued that bezels make “the display more pleasant to look at.”
A couple of years later, in 2014, Edgar Cervantes reports for Android Authority that “thin bezels are a horrible idea for smartphones” for some of the same reasons. He cites accidental touch input and inferior durability as some of the practical concerns (and also voiced some complaints about the aesthetics of devices with thin bezels). Gizmodo’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan notes, “In the early days, cellphones were almost entirely bezel.” She continues, “It follows, by some logic, that the next evolutionary step would be to get rid of the bezel altogether.”
Smartphone manufacturers have found ways around many of the early concerns about phones with thin bezels or edge-to-edge displays. But they haven’t really demonstrated why bezel-less phones should be the next evolutionary step, or what new functionality a bezel-less phone could enable. The evolution of the smartphone should give rise to new and useful features and a diversity of inventions and innovations. So far, it doesn’t look like the current push toward bezel-less phones has much to do with either.