Chinese smartphone maker ZTE is expected to introduce the world's first commercially available phone with an under-screen selfie camera next month.
The device, dubbed the Axon 20 5G, isn't necessarily the first among demos, but it's the first that'll be sold in shops. As we saw last year, Middle Kingdom mobile giant OPPO has flirted with the conceptual form factor, unveiling a demo device towards the tail end of last year. It took less than nine months for the tech to evolve from quirky concept moonshot to something ready for production.
It's not clear who will actually manufacture the panel, but the smart money is on Visinox, which also makes displays for Xiaomi. This component manufacturer showcased its under-screen display tech earlier this year. It's possible the firm has already inked deals with various smartphone OEMs, resulting in an inevitable slew of under-screen camera devices.
The force driving this feature is obvious: people want larger displays on their phones without having to carry devices that are physically bigger. The biggest first step on this path was Apple's controversial introduction of the notch in the iPhone X in 2017. The notch subsequently shrank, with vendors competing to offer slimmer and slimmer bumps.
Later down the line, Huawei's youth-oriented mobile subsidiary Honor introduced the hole-punch camera, which shrunk the selfie camera into a small dot and placed it within the display panel.
In the long run, these design adaptations were little more than a fudge – a temporary bandage while the industry waited for something better to come along. A few years ago, Christian Schwamkrug, director at Porsche Design, told your correspondent why the firm was holding off on introducing a notch on its ultra-luxe smartphones. The reason, he said, was that rectangles simply make sense from a cognitive perspective. Bumps and "pimples" don't.
Of course, if ZTE is to make a success of this new form factor, it'll have to answer a few questions to assuage the phone-buying public. Will facial authentication work properly when there's a sheet of LCD between the camera and the user? As for selfies, will they look as good as on an equivalent conventional device?
ZTE hasn't announced any specs for the Axon 20 5G yet, although it notes the device will be launched on 1 September in the firm's home market of China. Whether it'll see an international release is anyone's guess. ®