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Is Apple Caving to the Antiglare Brigade?

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.