Is It Time to Reckon With the iPhone Square?

Illustration: Gizmodo / Mark Gurman

Now that iPhone day is just four months away, we’re starting to get some credible rumors about what the devices will look like. One of the steadiest rumors is a rough one: the next iPhone will have a square camera bump that’s roughly the size of a silver dollar. To which I say: No thanks.

So far the square camera bump rumor is still a rumor, but unfortunately, it seems like it might actually be true. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, a well-sourced Apple reporter who is usually right about these things, the successor to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max will gain a third camera with an ultra wide angle lens, all housed in an awful square that appears to stretch halfway across the device. This will reportedly increase the new iPhone’s zoom capabilities and enable a new correction feature that lets you add back in people who might be cut out of a photo. The iPhone XR camera will reportedly get a second camera for better zoom.

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All of those new features sound great in print. A wider angle lens would come in handy on the family’s vacation to the Grand Canyon! But then you see what that square bump would like all three iPhone models…

It looks like even Apple is attempting to make its smartphone camera look like a spider’s eye. Based on that photo of the molds, the camera bump will be roughly twice as large as what’s on the iPhone XS, and that bump is already pretty sizable. Case-free folks like myself would be quick to point out that such a hefty bump tends to get stuck while sliding the device in a pocket, and when you put the iPhone on a table, it won’t lie flat. It just rocks back and forth like a cafe table in desperate need of a shim.

People who put a case on their phone, which is most people, likely won’t notice the difference as much. The camera bump will probably sit flush with the outside of Apple-made cases, as the iPhone XS bump currently does. Regardless, it sure seems like Apple has realized that the vast majority of people now fall into the case camp, so they’ve given up on getting rid of the camera bump. On the contrary, Apple seems to be embracing the bump and making it the centerpiece of the new iPhone’s design.

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One could argue that this is a tactful strategy. Apple loves a status symbol, something that makes its newer iPhone models immediately recognizable to bystanders. I’m inclined to believe that this was part of the reason why Apple leaned so hard into the notch design when it released the iPhone X a couple of years ago. With the notch, it was easy to see who had coughed up $1,000 on the hot new iPhone just by glancing at their screen. With the imminent introduction of the square camera bulge, folks who upgrade will get a new badge of brand-loyalty.

On the other hand, an evolution in the camera bump serves as evidence that Apple is struggling to innovate in the smartphone space. We know that iPhone sales are flagging as people hold onto their devices for longer than they used to. This is partly due to the fact that, for most people, smartphones are about as good as they’re going to get. Apple’s last big innovation was Face ID, which is great, and Gurman reports that a new A13 chip is on the way. He also says the new iPhones will get two-way charging, which can already be found on competitors’ phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S10. However, these are really small potato upgrades, so Apple is betting on its fan’s desire for a better camera.

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I’m starting to think that I don’t hate the new square camera bump because it’s so ugly. (It is.) I’m starting to believe that I’m annoyed by Apple’s inability to invent something new. As far as smartphone cameras go, the company is actually failing at keeping up with the pack. Google’s new $400 Pixel 3a has a camera that can take better low-light phones than a $1,000 iPhone XS. The Galaxy S10 has three cameras, including one ultra-wide-angle one. The Nokia 9 PureView has five 12MP cameras on the back and no bump at all. If an ugly camera bump is the most exciting thing about the new iPhone this year, Apple will only get halfway to catching up with its competitors.

It’s obviously too soon to draw conclusions about what the new iPhones are going to look like. It’s reasonable to believe that they’ll be pretty boring. And if you don’t like the big camera bump or the lack of any other flashy new features, great news: you don’t have to buy one. Your old phone is probably all the phone you need right now.

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About the author

Adam Clark Estes

Senior editor at Gizmodo.

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