Is Apple Caving to the Antiglare Brigade?

August 11th, 2009

On the surface, a glossy computer screen ought to be a good thing. Images will usually seem brighter, more luxurious and colors will almost jump out at you. In a sense, you’re feeling the impact of a great plasma TV.

However, all those terrific features come at a price, and not a financial one. You see, such displays are subject to reflections, particularly if the sunlight streams through the windows of your home or office, and there’s the rub. Aside from issues of power consumption, this may be one key reason why LCD TVs are more popular, even though they have an inferior viewing angle and don’t handle action scenes quite as well as plasma. And yes I know that the differences are becoming less severe as technology improves.

When it comes to computer displays, reflections might end up as the deal breaker. Whether the display is set up in a fixed location, or comes on a note-book, where you have flexibility when it comes to positioning, some of you are severely distracted by those reflections, and the annoyance is sometimes sufficient to be the ultimate deal breaker. In other words, you simply say no and buy something else.

Now I won’t get into the issue of whether or not color calibration with professional equipment is more difficult to achieve with glossy. I’ve had no particular difficulties using Apple’s own tools in the Displays preference panel and the results are, to my aging eyes, quite acceptable.

Unfortunately, if a Mac is on your shopping list, you may find yourself having to avoid many of the most popular models because they have integrated displays, and glossy is your only choice. Until very recently, that meant every iMac, and every MacBook and MacBook Pro save for the 17-inch model. Even there, the “antiglare” option is $50 additional. Not a large number by any means, but you have to wonder if it really cost Apple more to go matte.

Well, evidently a single model wasn’t enough. This week, Apple quietly added the antiglare checkbox to the ordering box for the standard MacBook Pro, the version with the 15-inch screen. There was no press release, no self-serving statement from an Apple executive as to how the company was responding to the needs of its customers. Besides, did they actually do any focus group testing or other surveys before they abandoned matte?

Frankly, I can see their viewpoint. It may well be that only a small number of customers have problems with reflections and couldn’t tolerate the glossy alternative, so the bean counters at Apple opted to lock you into a choice of one. Besides, it costs less from a manufacturing standpoint to reduce your choices.

Apple’s quiet decision seems to almost speak of embarrassment that they misjudged their customers — you and me. Then again, by saying nothing, perhaps Apple could ultimately remove the choice again, saying there wasn’t sufficient demand for it.

Perhaps Apple doesn’t need to say anything. They can count on a large community of Mac users that seem to delight in checking every little thing at Apple’s site in search of something new or at least previously undiscovered. So even though Apple said nothing about a new antiglare checkbox, its existence was quickly discovered and the news spread far and wide around the world.

So what comes next?

Well, if you can opt for antiglare for the two largest MacBook Pros, what about the 13-inch model? Why not the vanilla MacBook as well? And for that matter, shouldn’t those checkboxes appear on the option list for the iMac too? Would it seriously disrupt Apple’s production lines and profit margins?

What about the next generation of Mac displays, which are a long time coming? The only recent model, the 24-inch inch LED display designed to complement the designs of current Mac note-books, comes in glossy only, and I suppose it would be a great idea to spread your choices. If a new 30-inch display arrives, I’ll take it either way.

Now maybe I’m making a big deal out of a small issue. But those of you who cannot tolerate glossy screens do not regard it as trivial. I know several who absolutely cannot forgive a single reflection falling within their field of vision. True, I can’t walk in their shoes, but I do feel their pain. They shouldn’t have to squint and shift their focus in order to see what’s on the screen. You should be comfortable working on your Mac, not chronically irritated.

In the end, I’m sure Apple will do the right thing, not because it is an issue steeped in morality, but because they are in business to make money. If they sell more products because of an antiglare version, you can bet it’ll show up more often on your favorite models.

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12 Responses to “Is Apple Caving to the Antiglare Brigade?”

  1. Andrew says:

    This is a big deal. I was using a 15″ unibody MacBook pro and found it far glossier than the black MacBook I’d owned before. In fact, the reflections were so bad that I sold it and bought bought a 14″ ThinkPad to replace it.

    Its not that glossy in itself is bad, its the degree. I also have a MacBook Air that is glossy, but far less so than the 15″ Pro was, and that machine while difficult in strong lighting, is a delight everywhere else.

    I welcome the choice, and in a year or two when I ditch the ThinkPad I’ll definitely check the antiglare box on my next MacBook Pro.

  2. javaholic says:

    Just this afternoon I’ve ordered 2 x15” 2.8 MacBook Pros for work on hearing the antiglare news. I’d basically written off any new laptops because of the glossy screen choice Apple implemented. We had an iMac 24” used as spare production machine in the studio but sold that several months back as the glare became too distracting for people here. When you’re dealing in print (which is the primary focus of our design company) and at times sitting for many hours on end behind that display, the idea of sitting down to work behind it started going down like a lead balloon.

    It’s pleasing to see Apple have recognised the importance of choice here, particularly when it comes to the display. It is, after all, a key way we interact with our computers and as a designer; I much prefer the matte choice. It may not have the sex appeal of gloss, but I find it more practical. I hope this decision finds its way to other products in their line up. Apple can certainly afford it. And I’m sure the extra cost we’ll pay for the antiglare option will more than compensate them.

  3. John says:

    What’s the big deal? Apple is in the business of satisfying customers. What is a puzzle to me is given the number of designers at Apple why did they go for the glossy over matte in the first place?

    It seems that Apple has listened to customers before. Didn’t they add FW back to the MBP after there were a lot of complaints?

    I’m in the matte camp. I do a lot of photography and document creation and presentations. I prefer the matte screen for my own use. When I use the 17″ MBP for presenting to small groups I find it essential. I might be able to orient the screen for my own viewing but how can I do that for three or four people? If the glare is blocking a key feature I’m trying to get across will they know that? It just doesn’t work. I’m expecting to get a new laptop around the new year so I’m glad that Apple is again supporting the matte option.

  4. RIK says:

    I’ve been in the market to replace my iMac for almost two years, and I don’t need and don’t really want or need a Mac Pro (so I can get a matte display to put with it), and a Mac Mini is underpowered for my needs. I’ve tried two glossy iMacs in my studio to see if I could cope with it, and my conclusion was no. I hated it. And I’ve given my feedback to Apple several times.

    It’s getting to the point now where I can’t really wait much longer. I may have to break down and get a Mac Pro soon. My preference would be for a “Semi-Pro” iMac with a 30″ matte display. Barring that, a mid-size Mac Pro to which I could connect a 30″ Cinema Display. If that doesn’t happen in the next couple of months, I’ll have to concede that Apple won and forced me to get a computer beyond what I want or need. This will be the first time in my 15 years of owning Macs that they haven’t had a computer in their lineup that fit my needs. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  5. dfs says:

    I wonder if there’s one special-interest group to whom the glossy-vs.-matte issue is more important than the rest of us: graphics professionals. At least since OSX.1 Apple has catered to the the special needs of that market by including greyscale wallpapers, which do not throw off the eye’s perception of colors. Maybe glossy screens are also problematic for this specialized kind of user? In any event, Apple can get a bit heavy-handed in deciding what’s good for their consumers, going as far back as when they used to think that users had no need for computers with freestanding monitors with larger viewing areas than that of the original 128k breadbox. The latest example of this tendency is their decision that users with wireless keyboards can manage to live without a numeric keypad (I bet that really drove up sales of third-party wireless keyboards that do have this feature). It’s a good thing when they occasionally get reminded that customers’ opinions count for something. Would it really kill them to give their customers a choice when it comes to monitor surfaces? I have no idea how much of any market research, focus groups, etc. etc. Apple uses in its product designs. Maybe a lot, maybe very little. Their policy of maintaining tight secrecy about forthcoming products might very well get in the way of soliciting customer feedback during the development stage. Anyway, the more open and responsive they are to this feedback, the better it is for us all.

  6. Lachlan says:

    I have an Intel iMac with the glossy screen – currently my eyes have to work very hard to block out reflections. It’s distracting and counter-productive … After 8-12 hours each day, I’m exhausted. I think Apple misjudged their user-base and it’s been a disturbing trend of late.

    The iMac is used by many graphics professionals and really needs to be offered with specs that keep this in mind.

  7. p2 says:

    The glossy screen is significantly more energy efficient (display brightness/watt) Apple’s desire to be green was one driver in the decision. Eventually the rationale behind the CFL decision will filter down to computer displays and matte screens may vanish completely.

  8. MichaelT says:

    @RIK, have you considered the mini? You say you need something similar to an iMac, and not as powerful as the Mac Pro. Seems like it might fit, though I don’t know exactly what your requirements are.

    As for the glossy screen—I don’t have a problem with it on my iMac, but that is kept in a rather dark room. And I’ve only had real problems with it on my 15″ MBP one or two times. Seems I’ve been able to move it around to cope with reflection easily enough. However, I’ve heard of people who cannot tune out the reflections and focus on the images, so I can see where that could be an issue.

  9. gopher says:

    Well matte displays make more sense for at least some photographers:

    1. Glare distracts both color, and brightness on images.
    2. Additionally, glare is so inconsistent, it doesn’t reproduce exactly what you see on matte prints precisely.
    3. Furthermore, glare can cause headaches for some people.
    4. Colormatching is more accurate on matte displays.

  10. RAYMOND IRVINE says:


  11. Don’t know what that has to do with antiglare screens, but this is the possible solution:

    Change your URL for our site from to It is supposed to redirect automatically, but such things are never certain.


  12. MichaelT says:

    and don’t shout.

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