The Apple Antiglare Report

April 3rd, 2012

When Apple went to glossy screens on the iMac and note-book models, a groundswell of protest erupted from some customers. Yes, glossy screens were brighter and more vibrant. At the same time, they were highly susceptible to room reflections. To some, it was a non-issue. To others, it became one huge distraction, and made it impossible to get work done, unless you were ready to do some home or office redecorating.

Now when it comes to note-books, the 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pros offer an alternative. Apple’s sales literature defines the display options this way: “Choose a standard glossy display that lets you view graphics, photos, and videos with richer color and deeper blacks, or an optional antiglare display.” That option is not available for the 13-inch model, nor for the MacBook Air or the iMac. Worse, with the 27-inch iMac, you aren’t going to have the same amount of flexibility in moving the computer to a more suitable location if you cannot take to glossy.

So to Apple, going for “antiglare,” which is their parlance for matte or something close to matte, you are giving up “richer color and deeper blacks” in exchange for relative freedom from room reflections. I suppose you’d have to examine both versions side by side — if you can find them on display anywhere — to see which you prefer. But if screen reflections are intolerable to you, you have no choice.

That, by the way, is one major argument against plasma TVs, which are more prone to reflections than LCD. That, to some, negates plasma’s well-known advantages of wider viewing angles, richer blacks, and superior handling of movie action scenes. Yes, I realize plasmas also tend to consume more power.

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could have the advantages of a glossy screen and antiglare in the same display? Well, if you can believe some published reports from a few of the Mac rumor sites, that might become a reality for the iMac. Supposedly a major upgrade is expected in the second half of this year featuring a slimmer form factor, more in tune with the latest high definition TVs, and anti-reflective glass. If true, it would be a boon for some people for whom the iMac remains a non-starter.

Of course, one might think that, if such a display were available for an iMac, it would also be available for the next generation MacBooks. It’s also not at all clear if the anti-reflective glass is meant to replace all existing configurations, or will be offered simply as an option. Obviously, it would be great if the technology allowed for the best advantages of glossy in a non-glossy display. Certainly, LCD TVs are already offering reduced sensitivity for reflections, so it would make sense that personal computer displays would offer similar capabilities.

But the other change in the next-generation Macs might even be more significant. There are reports that OS X Lion (and OS X Mountain Lion) already support higher-resolution displays, which has given rise to the possibility that Apple might go the Retina Display route.

As a practical matter, you tend to look at a computer screen from a farther distance, which means that text and pictures may already be sufficiently sharp for most of you. Yes, I can see a possible advantage in close-in detail work, but nothing stops you from simply zooming the image if you need to examine things up close. On the other hand, if an image is designed to reveal four times as many pixels, stuff that might break apart in Photoshop when zoomed would be significantly sharper. How this would work out in practice, however, is more difficult to determine. Clearly developers would have to deliver enhanced apps, and Adobe and Microsoft would take years to get with the program.

The larger issue in delivering a Retina Display on a Mac is only hinted in the bill of materials for the new iPad. Apple is reportedly spending a lot more per unit to outfit the hot-selling tablet with a 9.7-inch higher-resolutin display. Scaling that up to the range of 13 inches to 27 inches will mean an incredible cost increase, perhaps one beyond Apple’s ability to absorb into the existing price structure. Apple might be forced to consider a custom Retina Display option for the first product generations, until further development and yield rates reach a point where component costs aren’t altogether different.

Remember, too, that the Retina Display is more power hungry. To keep battery life the same on a MacBook or MacBook Pro, Apple would have to improve power efficiency of the other components and, perhaps, provide a heftier battery to make up the difference. They’d also have to find ways not to make the units heavier. You can see where Apple’s engineers struggled to keep the iPad 3 nearly the same weight as the iPad 2. The challenges would be greater in a larger form factor.

For now, though, I suppose Apple’s greatest achievement in a new iMac or note-book would be to get rid of the glare. The existing products don’t bother me at all, but I realize some of you have other ideas about the situation.

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One Response to “The Apple Antiglare Report”

  1. dfs says:

    Televisions are getting more like computers all the the time. Computers are getting more and more like televisions. It makes sense to look forward to day when the two become capable of merging into a single product. So, looking down the road, a Retina-quality, or at least HDTV-quality (I’m not sure which has the denser pixels) iMac is a pretty safe bet.

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