Why don't iPhones have always-on display as a feature?

Why Apple's iPhones don't have always-on display as a feature?
For a few years now, one of the must-have flagship phone features has been an OLED display. Coincidentally, Apple’s iPhone 11 is probably the last premium phone with an LCD display, but if the rumors are true, this year there’ll be none of that.

One thing that makes OLED displays attractive is that they can completely turn off individual pixels. This allows not only to have perfect blacks but enables a cool feature that most LCD phones don’t have: always-on display.

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Different manufacturers offer different versions of that functionality, but basically the idea is to get important information without having to interact with your phone. An always-on display will usually have the time, notification icons and battery level. Some let you have an image of your choice or a preset visual as well, if you want to be extra fancy.

That sounds very useful, especially if a phone lacks a notification LED, which is the case with iPhones. So why doesn’t Apple introduced the feature to its phones?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s not because Apple can’t do it. It’s a deliberate choice by the company to not have that feature. So then, why would it choose not to?

To preserve battery life

While always-on-display graphics are usually as minimalistic as possible to keep power consumption down, there is still a noticeable hit on battery life if you’re using one. After all, the phone has to power not only the pixels but the CPU and GPU as well, since they’re in charge of what must be shown on the screen. Even if they’re working at a tiny fraction of their capacity, that’s still an additional power drain over having your phone completely off.

Of course, users can always choose not to use AOD. And if they do opt for it, Apple can add a warning that turning it on would shorten the battery life. If battery life is the main concern, then Apple must be so focused on it, that it doesn’t want to tempt people into doing something that can worsen it.

But the latest iPhones have an excellent battery life, sacrificing an hour or so wouldn’t be as dramatic as before. It must be something else then...

To keep displays from degrading

iPhones are known for their longevity in both hardware and software and Apple is rightfully proud of that. Having the display, arguably the most important part of the phone, working most of the time (usually the setting can be turned off automatically at night) goes against the philosophy of preserving performance for four or five years.

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Pixel burn-in is a common worry with OLED displays. While the “always-on” might make you think that’s an issue with the feature, it’s really not. Every manufacturer has made sure to shift the graphics slightly over time to use different pixels.

But still, every type of use comes with a certain amount of wear and tear and Apple might think that the benefits are not worth the drawbacks.

Because it’s not happy with the AOD user experience

Another thing Apple constantly talks about is how it’s doing everything for the benefit of the user. How true that is is debatable, but we’re sure Apple does indeed care about it to a large extent. So what’s something it might dislike about the user experience when it comes to always-on displays?

For one, Apple might see it as somewhat redundant. It already has raise-to-wake, which gives users all the information an always-on display would with just the extra effort of slightly moving your phone.

AODs are also usually dim, which means the “glancing from a distance” argument is not always valid either.

Then there’s the slight movement of the graphics we mentioned earlier. If you have the phone somewhere in your peripheral vision, whenever the graphics shift, it catches your attention, as our brain is trained to perceive it as “Oh, something changed, it must require my attention!” That is slightly annoying and definitely not a good user experience.

Google’s Pixel 4s use their radar tech to detect when you’re looking at your phone to activate the screen, which is the best of both worlds. Is the extra hardware worth it, however, is another matter.

Because users don’t really care about it

Perhaps the reason iPhones don’t have always-on display is as simple as Apple considering it too insignificant of a feature to implement. Surely, it has done some research into the matter, including gathering users’ opinions, one way or another. It’s possible that the conclusion was that too few actually want it.

But maybe there’s a more superficial reason...

Apple is a trendsetter, not a trend follower

Apple avoids comparing itself to other brands and even more than that avoids appearing as if it’s following trends set by others. Now, we can’t say exactly how strongly Tim Cook and Co feel about that, but it could be enough to skip on a minor feature only to avoid admitting they were late to the party.

Of course, that’s the least likely reason and even if there is some truth to it, we’ll never find out for sure, as Apple can always point out to any of the other ones as to why iPhones don’t have an always-on display.

That concludes the list of reasons we see as plausible. Do you think iPhones should get always-on displays? Or is it an unnecessary feature? Tell us in the comments below!

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