Word out from Apple Insider is that the next iMac may come with an antireflective screen. I really, really, really wish manufacturers would stop making devices with these bright, shiny, reflective displays. Sure, they look good when powered off (and when they are clean), and the shiny display gives the image an illusion of brightness. But from a practicality stand-point, quite frankly these shiny displays suck. Even with those offering “oleophobic” coatings, they still show fingerprints and smudges from regular use. If they do manage to get a scratch, it stand out quite dramatically.
Reflective Screens Impose Limitations
But my biggest beef is the glare and reflective nature of the surface, which limits where you can use these things. I like to be able to read outdoors, and as such, I broke down and bought myself a Kindle a while back. Why? Well, my iPad is effectively useless outdoors. Sure, its nice to be able to see the sky and clouds (and not much else) reflected in the iPad screen, but that impairs the “mobile computing” part of the iPad. Even when I’m travelling, I end up using the Kindle when I’m in a restaurant (since I’m solo, I read while I eat), again because with the iPad, I invariably get a nice, bright, clear image of the lighting over the table.
I ordered the antireflective screen when I bought my MacBook Pro, but sadly, that isn’t an option on the MacBook Air. I also used an iMac for a while, but I had to position it in my office such that there wasn’t a window, light or other bright surface behind me, simply because I would have had to deal with the glare. That ultimately limited where in my office I could put the machine. I can live with limitations imposed by the shape and nature of the physical space. I don’t like to have to add more restrictions because of light or glare behind me.
“Not Shiny” Doesn’t Mean “Not Smooth”
One argument I don’t buy about the “shiny screen” is that it is required for touch devices. The surface of my anti-reflective screen on my MacBook Pro is as smooth, and the same minimal friction, as the shiny screen on my iPad. That is about the shape and composition of the surface, not about whether it is reflective or not. A surface can be incredibly smooth to the touch without having to also be shiny.
Appearance vs. Function
Sometimes, the appearance of something can impair it’s function. In other cases, the appearance and function can work together, and both can be pleasing. Yes, there are times where aesthetics are as important as the function. In some cases the appearance is the function. How a thing looks is the point. But that generally doesn’t apply to “tools”, things that are used for a purpose. I will admit that using a machine that is both functional and attractive is nice. Being able to have a machine that lets me get my job done, but one that also looks cool, is certainly a good thing. But the appearance isn’t my first criteria for some of the things I buy.
Aesthetically, the shiny screen looks really nice. It makes the device look sleek and modern. Under appropriate lighting, it can make an image “pop” because it makes the perceived colours that much brighter. Colours on a matte screen do tend to look flatter, simply because they don’t “shine”. Personally, I like images on a matte screen. To me, they seem richer and deeper, similar to looking at a painting. They also remind me of the image you get on a movie screen. Those aren’t shiny and bright. They are matte and non-reflective. Put enough light behind the colour, and it can be quite vibrant.
If the reflective screen goes away forever, I will not be sad. Sure, the machines may not look sleek, stylish and modern. But they will be more useful, and nicer to use.