In bringing the notorious notch over from the iPhone to the MacBook Pro, Apple is moving backwards rather than forwards in a key area of design.
Last month, we were treated to the sight of the brand new iPhone 13. Apple proudly announced its impressive new specifications, including upgrades to the screen and cameras, but one niggling imperfection remained; there was still a notch that dangling down from the top of the screen (albeit this time it was at least reduced by 20%).
Ever since the iPhone X, Apple’s smartphone screens have been interrupted by a black bar at the top that prevents you from enjoying the full-screen experience. Back in 2017 it was eminently forgivable, as this compromise allowed the devices to deliver more display area than before while retaining the selfie camera. But in the following years, as Android phones adopted in-screen punch hole selfie cameras or even mechanical pop-up designs, it has looked increasingly dated in comparison.
So imagine my disappointment when, at the manufacturer’s October Event, it was announced that the MacBook Pro would also adopt this design downgrade, shrinking the bezels but simultaneously introducing an unsightly notch at the top of the display for housing the webcam. That’s not just a case of falling behind; here, Apple has taken a step backwards.
Admittedly, it’s hard to make a webcam look sexy no matter how much you tinker with it. To take one example, the Huawei Matebook X Pro was an example of innovation (a pop-up camera hidden underneath one of the keyboard’s keys) that swiftly turned to exasperation (…it recorded a rather unpleasant view up the user’s nostrils).
But at a time when we should be celebrating Apple’s incredible hardware achievements of the M1 Pro and M1 Max silicon chips, which look to be worldbeaters in their field, I can’t help but feel hung up on this particular imperfection.
Beyond having a remarkable knack to getting rich people to part with their money, Apple was also a fantastic innovator in design, combining ergonomics and aesthetics with consummate ease. Products such as the iMac G3 and the original iPod quite literally set the tone that the rest of the industry was duty-bound to follow, because this winning mix of both style and substance was irresistible.
In more recent years, with an ever-increasing product portfolio of diverse devices, the Cupertino-based company has made a few more missteps, ranging from the Apple Pencil that had to be plugged in lengthwise to the iPad to recharge, to the malfunctioning MacBook butterfly keyboard, to that AirPods Max carry case that looked like ladies’ lingerie.
With the new MacBook Pro, Apple looks to have devised a product with near unmatched performance compared to other consumer laptops, so there are unlikely to be many complaints about general utility; but once again it has come up lacking when attempting to marry these advantages to a design that’s equally to die for, due to the introduction of a niggling notch.
Invoking a four-year old phone and severely compromising the big-screen experience are not the right directions for Apple to take; the brand should take a lesson from its own past, and Think Different.