Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Taking It Back to the Matte

Rob Griffiths:

Many many years ago, Apple made glorious laptops with matte screens. Sadly (for me, at least), these gave way to brighter, shinier, and much more reflective glossy displays. These same glossy screens are found on iOS devices as well, including my new iPad Air.

But on iOS devices, glossy screens are even more annoying than they are on laptops, because of fingerprints. It sometimes seems I spend almost as much time cleaning my iPad as I do using my iPad. But what if there were a product that could solve both the glossy issue and the fingerprint issue?

A friend of mine clued me in to just such a thing…the Moshi iVisor iPad screen protector.

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Hopefully, maybe within five years or so, a combination of mini-LED (or possibly micro-LED by then) and Apple's "nanotexture" will trickle down to more Apple products. (Although, pricing aside, the nanotexture also requires a special cleaning cloth…)

I got this two weeks ago for my iPad Pro. Don't know how I waited this long. Love it.

Would be nice to have one of these for an iMac. Or just, the option for a matte display to begin with.

Would be nice to have one of these for an iMac. Or just, the option for a matte display to begin with.

The move away from matte came with the glass/aluminum change in 2007.

It’s unclear how much of this is philosophical and how much is an engineering challenge.

Before that, Macs had a plastic or aluminum shell that “held” a plastic sheet in place, underneath which was the display panel (the actual display is quite visibly recessed several millimeters). With this change, they could significantly reduce that border and make the display recess almost unnoticeably thin. IOW, it just looks way more like the display is the device. When it’s off, you really just see this giant black sheet of glass, with a silver-looking chin underneath. I would imagine Steve loved that. They further increased that illusion of simplicity in 2009 when they removed the narrow aluminum border around the display. And, of course, on some devices, they’ve started laminating the display, with the pros and cons that entails (much poorer repairability, but a further step towards seamlessness).

Engineering-wise, my guess is a matte panel underneath a sheet of glass would have poor brightness and color characteristics.

On the unibody MacBook Pro, I actually got the matte BTO option (back in 2010 when that was a thing). Whereas a regular uMBP similarly became all-black on its upper portion, mine has an aluminum frame around that. The display is recessed by several millimeters; it’s quite noticeable. Everything about it looks and feels worse — except, of course, for the display itself, which is while a little dim, I did appreciate its matte nature at the time.

When I ordered the Retina MacBook Pro in 2014, I was sad this was no longer an option (I’m also sad that there still isn’t an option to increase the physical resolution, which Marco Arment correctly criticizes now and then). But, really, it hasn’t bothered me much at all since. I probably haven’t noticed it in months. It also doesn’t bug me on my phone; on the contrary, being able to easily clean it because it’s just a sheet of glass is wonderful. The one exception, I’d say, is the iPad: it hits that poor sweet spot of being carried around in all kinds of angles like a phone, but also being much larger like a laptop, and that means I do often see my fingerprints on it, or glare from outside.

I don’t think we’ll see this kind of option come back. I do think they’re exploring ways to make the display better, though, and reducing glare is absolutely part of that; we’re seeing some of it on the Pro Display XDR. If there’s a wish for a first device to see a new kind of display with reduced glare, it wouldn’t be the iPhone or iMac; it’d be the iPad.

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