Apple first began shipping notebooks with glossy displays in May 2006 with the release of the first-generation MacBooks, which were only available with glossy, and as a no-cost option on MacBook Pros. In mid-2007, glossy “behind glass” displays were also made standard on the aluminum iMac […]

Apple first began shipping notebooks with glossy displays in May 2006 with the release of the first-generation MacBooks, which were only available with glossy, and as a no-cost option on MacBook Pros. In mid-2007, glossy “behind glass” displays were also made standard on the aluminum iMac line with no matte option. With the release of Apple’s unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros last October, Apple ceased shipping any computers with matte screens. The Apple 24″ Cinema Display is also glossy-only, although Cupertino has relented to the extent of offering an anti-glare coating option on the 17″ MacBook Pro’s display for $50 extra.

But not everyone is happy about these developments. In fact, there are even reports that suggest use of glossy screens could increase the risk of health issues down the road.

Some Not Happy With Glossy

Contra-glossy display blogger macmatte demands that Apple restore a matte screen option for iMacs and all MacBook/Pro models, contending that this is an issue that won’t die down with passage of time.

CNET’s Dan Ackerman has the lack of a matte display option leading his list of five remaining MacBook Pro deficiencies following the recent WWDC upgrades.

Eye Strain?

Macmatte argues that glare from glossy screens causes eye strain for many people, and says matte screens solve this eye health issue. He claims that the physiology of the human eye causes some to be more prone to eyestrain when staring for hours at reflective surfaces, although others are not bothered.

He thinks Apple’s rationale for dropping matte displays are flawed, that notwithstanding Steve Jobs assertion that most people prefer glossy, a Google search for “matte glossy polls MacBook” suggests that around 40 percent prefer matte. I’m not sure how accurate the metrics derived from a meta-composite of Google search info would be, but there’s no disputing that a sizable proportion of laptop users do prefer matte displays.

Nearly Everyone Used To Use Glossy

Personally, it’s a non-issue for me. I can be quite happy with either matte, which my first dozen years of Mac laptops all had, or the glossy display on my 13″ unibody MacBook. After four months, I haven’t noticed any eyestrain. I’m also constrained to observe that up until the wholesale switch to LCD/TFT flat-screen monitors began about a decade ago, only laptop users had matte displays and virtually everyone else used glassy, glossy-surfaced CRT monitors that usually had curved screen surfaces to boot. I actually did experience eyestrain from using CRT desktop monitors that I found happily disappeared when I switched to using a laptop in 2006, but I’m not noticing any issues with the glossy MacBook display after four months use. Perhaps it’s the flatness rather than the “matte-ness” (or lack of) that’s key for me.

Macmatte suggests that if Apple finds it unprofitable to offer two types of screens, perhaps they could charge a premium for a matte option (which they already do with the 17″ MacBook Pro’s sort-of “matte” screen option). Indeed, there seems to be little logical reason not to offer a similar choice to 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro and iMac users except that I suspect the stumbling block is not so much cost as increased inventory management and stocking complexity. The workaround for that would be to offer matte as a build-to-order option.

Are Glossy Computer Screens Really A Health Hazard?

Interestingly, macmatte gets some scientific validation for his contentions from academics Down Under. The Queensland University of Technology at Brisbane, Australia, has posted a page on its Health and Safety web site with considerations for Apple Macintosh and other glass or high-gloss monitor screen users, warning that glossy displays could cause operators to adopt “awkward postures” when viewing the screen that may in turn lead to injury.

The university suggests users of high-gloss monitor screens should assess the area where the laptop or monitor will be used to ensure that sources of reflections and glare are eliminated or minimized to reduce potential for injury based on the following points:

  • The amount of time that the monitor will be used during a workday. If the screen is only used for short stretches, some of the control options may not be necessary, while if the monitor is being used frequently or continuously, potential for injury increases and should be managed.
  • Place the monitor so that the glossy screen is at a 90 degree angle to overhead lighting to minimize glare and reflection; and/or adjust the monitor screen tilt slightly so reflections from both internal and external sources are minimized. It’s also suggested that venetian blinds or shades be closed to reduce glare and reflections from windows.
  • Adjusting the screen contrast to a low brightness setting can help increase readability for the user.
  • Consider positioning the glossy monitor on another section of the desktop where it won’t be affected by reflections and/or glare.
  • Consider consultation with a building lighting engineer to determine if overhead lighting can be modified, such as by removing fluorescent tubes, while still providing adequate light levels.

The university also suggests considering the purchase of other types of computers or monitors that offer matte screens, and has posted further information on recommended use of screen based equipment.

What do you think? Are you bothered by glossy displays, love ‘em, or have no particular preference?

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  1. I was a “matte fan” but the need to upgrade from my MacBook Pro to a new model forced me into the glossy realm. Many Apple Stores have natural light and in the store I wasn’t happy with the glossy performance but now it’s actually not noticeable, nor does it cause any eye strain.

    If the brightness is all of the way up it’s not so bad. I’m considering going 17″ for my next purchase and am actually considering going matte because I can. Design-wise, I think matte looks very ugly with the black keys but function beats form on that one.

    It’s a tough choice but personally the switch was seamless and without issue for me.

    1. If it was without issues – why tf are you considering a matte again then?!?!?!?!?!?!!?

    2. IDK AV, just to try it out. If i don’t like it, I’ll return it and go back to glossy.

    3. OMG.. Finally people are admitting it. Once people ACTUALLY try the Glossy screens, the discover.. IT’S NOT THAT BAD. Doesn’t anyone remember the CRT days? Can we Say “Glossy”. Sure we used cardboard boxes to shield them from the light but the glossy LED’s are not as reflective as the CRT’s were. Honestly. Try one for a week before throwing stones at Apple. Also.. There aren’t too many vendors offering Matte anymore so you may not have too much of a choice in the near future.

    4. As with almost any debate there are two sides. In this case i think that anyone can really see both sides, but MacHeads unfortunately tend to see in Black and White and beleive defending Apple is more important than accepting reality. I have 6 computers, some matte, some glossy. I write this right now on a newly purchased HP HDX machine with all the bells and whistles and unfortunately a glossy screen. I love this laptop for its functionality, but the eyestrain it causes me in my house of many windows is almost unbearable. I carry this laptop with me wherever I go, and unfortunately it is rare that glare is not a problem. I wish I could swap for a matte screen 90% of the time. I had a MBP for awhile with the same issue. I love the glossy screen in a relatively dark room but rooms with multiple light sources are a nightmare. I may have sensitive eyes but am sure I am not alone on this. I’m not bashing Apple because I generally use PC anyway mostly because of software investment, and Apple’s inability to adopt current accepted technologies like Blu-ray and HDMI, but I think a removable glare filter integrated into the glossy screened laptops would be a huge winner for any manufacturer. Sometimes we want the glossy for its high contrast and great colors, but a good portion of the time, unfortunately, matte is the big winner. Free advice laptop manufacturers, make it and go market it!

    5. Hi, Every one do not have the Same Eyes to feel the Stress, If a very Healthy person Sits before a PC even for 24 hours – he obviously do not feel any Eye strain.

      But if a Care free persons like us, who dont care to consume food on Time and just extend our Time on PC, postponing other Health related stuff, then the Kind of Screens will come into Consideration.

      Anti-glare Screens like MATTE are far more better for people who are Computer geeks, who take less care of their health. So Matte screens will reduce the Eye stain and other Body movements.

      I am a person who takes less care to Timing and consume Healthy food, I many times skip the actually Food time sitting on the PC. So i actually wear Cooling Glasses to Sit every time before my Glossy Screen. All my Friends laugh at me when they see me on the CAM.

      But i dont care. And I advice you to If you wanna protect your eyes, you Prefer MATTE, or use Anti Glare Products or Just have Cooling Glasses on your Eyes every time, like ME :)

      Regarding the Movies, I dont buy even a single Video DVD to watch movies, I am watching each and every Movie online, through billion of websites. WE KNOW THEY ARE OF LESS QUALITY ONLINE. Who the hell will care – if those less Quality movies are good to watch on Glossy or Matte Screen.

      I just want to protect my Eyes, and so you do..!

  2. im a matte fan, this is what im thinking about. http://www.photodon.com/c/APL.html

  3. i’ve been using a gloss screen for over 3 years and it’s only been an issue on the first pc laptop i had. the quality of screens has vastly improved in that time, and in the 2 years i’ve had my MBP 15″ with glossy screen i can say without shadow of doubt that i’ve never had to re-adjust or move around to accommodate glare – it’s just not an issue.
    i’d say most people that complain about gloss screens on laptops do not use them on a regular basis, and have previously used older incarnations. i do agree though that the lighting in Apple stores does not the arguement any favours though.

  4. Oliver Stanton Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Matt. The new gloss screens are there to help PC users switch to mac. The gloss screen helps with the instant appeal, with its saturated colour and clean look. However, if you want to work in an office where the light moves through the day – so will you. The matt gives a closer approximation to the ‘printed’ colour depth in publishing, is less distracting etc for designers. And when was the last time you saw a glossy tv screen? No it’s all to ensure that those Toshiba/dell users can have the same cheap experience – look and feel on a mac. And while we’re at it can we have a matt finish on the iPhone – wouldn’t show up the grease so much and would make for a slicker experience.

  5. Charles W. Moore Tuesday, June 16, 2009

    Hi Oliver;

    “And when was the last time you saw a glossy tv screen?”

    Uh… right this minute. Our living room TV (purchased new in December, 2007) has a glossy glass CRT, albeit flatter than TV screens used to be.


  6. The reason 40% of people questioned on internet polls prefer matte is because most of the people who answer polls on tech blogs are obsessive tech fanboys, a disproportionate amount of which follow the whole “pros hate glossy” echo chamber. I mean, just looking at the Wikipedia page for “Matte Screen” shows that the Matte minority is crazy enough to turn an encyclopedia page into a rant. Its fascinating to see that even among those techies the majority still likes glossy better.

    The reason the author’s eyes feel better looking at an LCD, glass or matte, is because of the refresh rate. CRTs, even at high rates, flickered. LCDs pixels are all on until instructed otherwise.

    1. Yes, no one denies that the majority love glossy, but according to the Macmatte blog, around 40% want matte. That’s a minority, but not a small minority. The reason why matte-supporters are so vocal is because, for other features — such as Apple’s controversial removal of USB’s in the MBAir, initial removal of Firewire from the MacBook, removal of floppy disks from iMacs etc — you can eventually get used to it and find a work around. That’s not the same with glossy screens. If you happen to be in that percentage of the populations where gloss screens drive your eyes crazy (we’re saying everyone, just a portion of the population), then there is nothing you can do about it. Prolonged use simply worsens the condition. So it’s not a case of glossy-folk telling the matte-folk just to get used to it. Some people’s eyes respond to reflections/glare differently to others. It’s a matter of understanding that, and considering the implications — rather than telling 40% of people just to get used to it just because the 60% don’t have problems with it.

    2. I’m not a pro, I don’t care about who is “right” in terms of the argument, and I hate gloss. I found out when my brother gave me his laptop, and I was having a lot of problems with it – glare, dust, fingerprints. I didn’t even know there was a gloss/matte dialogue. When I finally figured out what the problem was, I took my “side.” I understand why Apple uses gloss. I just hate it, and will never buy another computer that has it.

  7. I prefer matte – even though colours (esp. pictures & videos) look better on the glossy. Reason I am pro matte is the fact that I just get less reflections on my screen especially from light sources in my back. And turning up the backlight is just not always comfortable for the eyes. On top comes that the glass fame on the MB(P)s is still reflecting – no matter how much you turn up the backlight on the LCD! Just not optimal and for sensitive eyes just not a first choice.

  8. matte is preferred by photographers, i use the aluminium apple display with my mac pro for my photos. the colours are more “true” and easier to calibrate. i was very disappointed when apple released their LED + then new line of macbook pros (except 17″ :D) it seems apple is going streamline more and more. apple used to be known for professional level products. now days every one uses one. like, some people use top of the line macbook pro to check emails and type papers, to me, its sad. but those are the general customers apple want bc of their numbers, which = money. ……idk….

    1. Not All Photographers prefer matte. I know a professional who didn’t like the idea of the matte screen but now has NO issues with it and loves the color vibrancy.

  9. Sweetwater Tom Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    On people preferring glossy, if there are no reflections on the screen I can see that people would pick glossy. In the real world you can’t always arrange things. I would expect that folks that used their laptop primarily at their desk would be happy with glossy, but those that used their laptop at many different locations will curse the reflections.

    When the monitor is connected to the keyboard, as on a laptop, you have a lot fewer choices about how to position your screen. I paid for (and waited for build/shipping) so my Macbook Pro 17 would have matte screen.

    (I was bothered by flicker on my CRT. I need a refresh rate in the mid 70s)

    There are plasma TVs for sale now that have hard glass. Their main downside is the reflections.

    The main thing that will convince Apple to offer matte screens is for more people to order it when it is available.


  10. Do all you folks live only in the world of computing? The overwhelming world market for screens with images on them decided this question years back – and glossy won.

    It’s called television.

    That’s an indicator smart manufacturers watch – as does Apple. Sit back in your mama’s basement [or employer's cubefarm] and ignore TV’s existence; but, that’s what really drives decision like this.

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