The unfolding of the Notch and Dynamic Island’s birth

Apple, like many other companies, makes major tweaks to its smartphone line once every few years. So users get one significant hardware overhaul occasionally, followed by tweaks and incremental changes in the following releases. That’s the cycle of tech life with Apple. You can’t expect the Cupertino firm — despite its rather unlimited resources — to release a redesigned iPhone every year. Not only would it run out of fruitful ideas, but it would also negatively impact customers. Humans tend to be attracted to what’s familiar. We build muscle memory and slowly adapt to the ever-changing factors around us. If you completely wreck someone’s usual environment, they’ll just feel lost and find it harder to cope. And for that reason, the iPhone has retained its generic design — for the most part — since its launch 15 years ago. However, the top bezel has shifted shapes seven times. This is the evolution of the Apple notch — iPhone 1 to iPhone 14 Pro Max.


Man holding iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone SE 2022 in one hand.

The iPhone, Pre-Notch (10 years BN)

As I’ve mentioned, the iPhone has looked almost the same since its initial release. Yes, the Original iPhone and iPhone 14 Pro look nothing alike. However, they will share the same overall concept. To visualize what I’m trying to convey, observe the history of Samsung smartphones. At some point they had physical navigation buttons, then they dropped those. Some models have textured backs, while other ones go for glass. Meanwhile, the camera systems have moved all around on the rear side.

In Apple’s case, the iPhone still has the same layout. Apart from the physical/digital Home button switch and port changes, the elements have retained their positions. So if you line up every single iPhone model, you’ll see the gradual evolution and slight changes in every other generational release. It’s not random introductions and retirements. Instead, it’s a smooth flow that reflects gradual maturity and growth. It quite literally is like observing a human grow up.

Phase 1: 2G, 3G, 3GS

Prior to the introduction of the notch, the Original iPhone (AKA iPhone 1 hrs iPhone 2G) had a thick top display bezel. It housed the earpiece and lacked a front camera (on the user-facing side). Apple retained the same design on the following models, the iPhones 3G and 3GS. All of the three models lacked a FaceTime front camera and had a centered earpiece. The bottom bezel had a similar size and housed the Home button — which lacked Touch ID at the time. Good ol’ days. The execution looked clean, especially considering how revolutionary the product is, particularly back then.

Phase 2: 4, 4S

iPhone 4

With the iPhone 4, Apple introduced the FaceTime front camera. Obviously, it’s no TrueDepth system. Although, at the time, it blew people’s minds. As you might already know, nothing in life is free. This welcome addition came at a cost — bezel size. The iPhones 4 and 4S have slightly thicker top bezels when compared to their predecessors. The original models lacked a front cam, so it was relatively easy for Apple to keep the size under control. Although, spoiler alert — this phase is where the iPhone bezel reached its thickest form. The days that followed only brought slimmer builds and sunshine.

Phase 3: 5, 5S, SE

iPhone 5

With the release of the iPhone 5, Apple relocated the FaceTime front camera. On the iPhone 4 models, it lives right at the left of the earpiece. The iPhone 5 moved it to the top. So the camera was centered right above the earpiece. This restored absolute symmetry when it comes to the front side. The iPhone 5/5S, to many users, remains the epitome of smartphone design — to this very day. It certainly had large bezels, but they’re not as bulky as those of the iPhone 4.

Phase 4: 6, 6S, 7, 8, SE 2, SE 3

iPhone 6

This is the final iPhone bezel phase before we reach the notch times. The iPhone 6 almost objectively brought the biggest design changes since the initial iPhone launch. It came with a significantly larger build and thinned-down bezels. The iPhone 6 started shaping the format of what would become the modern smartphone layout. The mobile phone was starting to mature, and the waters were settling. The acceptable bezel remained the norm through the following iPhone generations — 6S, 7, and 8. In 2017, along with the iPhone 8, though, Apple released a One More Thing. This marked day zero AN (After Notch).


The iPhone introduces a Notch — Rejoice!

With Apple retiring the physical Home button, it had to retain some symmetry on the front side. However, it also didn’t know what to do with the earpiece and FaceTime front camera. It also wanted to take the FaceTime cam beyond just being a FaceTime cam. A TrueDepth system requires more space — as it packs a dot projector and other sensors to map your face. So — drum roll, please — Apple introduced the notch. It occupies less display space when compared to the classic, thick top bezel. Although, it still is a distraction and not as clean as an all-screen execution, many of which had started to become popular in the Android camp.

Phase 1: X, XS, XS Max, XR, 11 Series, 12 Series

iPhone X

Soon after the iPhone X debut, the Apple notch turned into a universal meme. We’ve probably all seen the petty Samsung ads mocking it. Although, I’ve actively used both Phase 4 Pre-Notch and Phase 1 Notch iPhones. I can safely say that the iPhone notch is way less distracting than the thick, uniform top bezels. It’s so slim, vertically speaking, you barely notice it’s there — coughtGoogle Pixel 3, cought. It served as the perfect remedy to the thick top bezel at the time. As a result, Apple adopted it on models in the years that followed.

Phase 2: 13 Series, 14, 14 Plus

iPhone 13 Pro iOS 16 lock screen

With the introduction of the iPhone 13 line, Apple did… NOT retire the notch. Instead, it shrunk it slightly. Innovation! Although, really, apart from the few millimeters of extra screen space, this change didn’t contribute anything. As in, the status bar still fits the same number of icons, and the minor tweak is practically useless. Although it does make the cutout slightly less distracting, and there’s no harm in that.


The iPhone, Post-Notch (5 years AN)

Phase 1: 14 Pro, 14 Pro Max

WILL NOT USE YET EMBARGOED UNTIL SEPT 15 8PM ET

With this seventh (overall) phase, we bid farewell to the iPhone notch. During its Far Out event, Apple launched the iPhone 14 series. The regular models, as well as the previous section highlights, got the Phase 2 Notch treatment. Meanwhile, the Pro and the Pro Max variants introduce the Dynamic Island. The Dynamic Island isn’t a mere software/hardware integration — it’s a state of mind. This floating bubble of smooth transitions/animations is shaping the future as we speak. Android modders are already trying to replicate its behavior on different devices, and we can bet top dollar that Android OEMs will come with their own takes, too. We expect the entire iPhone 15 lineup to include the Dynamic Island — as Apple completely rids the highest-end iPhones of the notch. The Ugly Tech Duckling might make an appearance on the upcoming iPhone XR-inspired iPhone SE 4, though.

The Dynamic Island showing music

Now that this notable display overhaul has seen the light of day, we don’t expect the Cupertino firm to retire it anytime soon. It’s a safe bet to assume that the next iteration of the bezel/notch/Dynamic Island won’t surface during the upcoming two years (at least). So go ahead and buy an iPhone 14 Pro because this is the future-proof upgrade you get once every several years. Don’t forget to also grab a case for it — as you wouldn’t want a tornado to shake up your precious, little Island.

    Apple iPhone 14

    The iPhone 14 retains most of its predecessor’s specifications. It is A15-powered and runs iOS 16.

    Apple iPhone 14 Pro

    The iPhone 14 Pro replaces the notch with the Dynamic Island and supports the Always-On Display feature.

How do you feel about the Dynamic Island when comparing it to the previous iPhone notch? Let us know in the comments section below.