While the iPhone 12 and Galaxy Note 20 will be two of the most exciting phones released in the second half of this year, both are expected to keep a notch of some kind on the front of the display to make room for the selfie camera.
But Xiaomi's latest patent application points to it releasing a device with a feature neither Apple nor Samsung can match.
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The patent was found by LetsGoDigital, who then brought the illustrations to life with the renders you see here. It shows how a smartphone like Xiaomi's new Mi 10 would look and work with its front camera built underneath the display, eliminating the need for any kind of notch.
Under normal circumstances, the phone looks like it doesn't have any front camera at all. However, when you open the Camera app or another app that requires the front camera, part of the screen is turned off, allowing the camera beneath to take pictures through the transparent pixels.
We've already seen Xiaomi (and fellow Chinese smartphone maker Oppo) show this technology in practice already. That was in June last year, except back then Xiaomi's notchless concept, posted on Twitter, had the whole top portion of the screen switch off, while this patent only shows a tiny waterdrop-style notch containing the camera.
Do you want a sneak peek at the future? Here you go...introducing you to Under-Display Camera technology!#Xiaomi #InnovationForEveryone pic.twitter.com/d2HL6FHkh1June 3, 2019
There is one big problem with placing the camera under the screen: light intake. Since the display between the outside world and the camera absorbs some of the light that would normally enter the camera sensor, images taken on one of these phones could end up looking very dark. There are ways around this, such as adjusting the size of the sensor, increasing its sensitivity, or some kind of software post-processing fix. But it will be interesting to see if Xiaomi would be able to deliver great quality photos with this design.
The iPhone 12 and Galaxy Note 20, with their notch and punch-hole selfie cameras respectively, will launch towards the end of this year. Assuming no coronavirus-linked disruptions spoil their plans, Samsung will release the Note 20 around August, while Apple will launch the iPhone 12 in September, although the iPhone 12 Pro Max may come later. Xiaomi already launched its Mi 10 flagship back in March, also using a punch-hole display.
Xiaomi has a history of releasing improved 'T' versions of its phones between its major yearly upgrades, so perhaps a Mi 10T or Mi 10T Pro handset released later this year could be the first commercial phones with under-display cameras. Otherwise, we may have to wait until next year for Oppo's next handset, or for Samsung's Galaxy S30, tipped to be the Korean company's first notchless phone.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.