Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Reflections on the new MacBook Pro

I love almost everything about the new MacBook Pros. The new “unibody” case, carved out of a single piece of aluminum, is a stunning achievement, making the device feel both light and solid. The new “no button” trackpad is brilliant. Use it once and you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. The machine, from top to bottom, is the most elegant, powerful, perfect laptop I’ve ever touched.

And then they ruined the whole thing by hiding the display behind a mirror.

Apple's new MacBook Pro

Don’t get me wrong, I get why people like glossy displays. Colors do look better. My iPhone’s glossy glass display is perfect. If all I did with a laptop was surf the web and answer calls, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, that’s not all I do, and I’m not alone.

For years, Apple has been known as the computer that design professionals use. I’ve worked for magazines and websites for about 15 years, and I can count the number of Windows PCs I’ve seen on my fingers. And even then, they were used by the suits, not the designers. I fear that this new batch of Apple hardware is the beginning of the end for the professional design crowd.

There are two reasons that I think glossy displays are bad – one personal, one professional.

Reason 1: The reflection. It’s distracting. Even in the Apple video (from which all of the screenshots in this post were taken), you can see the keyboard clearly reflected in the display, even when playing a movie. Imagine trying to work with a light right behind and above you (as rooms tend to have). Infuriating.

MacBook Pro playing Iron Man

Yes, this is a personal taste issue. Some of my friends like it glossy, and I do my best not to mock them. But the second reason is the dealbreaker for me.

Reason 2: The colors. The thing that makes glossy screens great for consumers (high contrast, saturated colors), makes them totally unusable for professional designers. Colors that look good on a glossy display will look dull on regular displays, and will look like utter crap in print. Yes, there’s some color correcting you can do, and all displays are subject to variances, but let’s just be clear here. You cannot do professional print design on a glossy display.

The glossy display virus began a couple years back when iBooks were rechristened MacBooks. Then it spread to the iMacs. Still it was confined to the consumer end of the Apple line. The Pros were left alone. Not anymore.

Now all of Apple’s laptops, the entire iMac line, and even the newest cinema displays are only available in glossy, without even a build-to-order option. The only place you can get a matte display from Apple is on the outdated previous generation of laptops and the old style cinema displays, all of which are clearly on their way out.

When I went to the San Francisco Apple store on Friday to poke at the new stuff, I could only find a single 30-inch matte display, attached to a Mac Pro in the back corner. (Remember the Mac Pro? The desktop tower that Apple hasn’t paid attention to for ages? Yeah, they still sell them.)

If Apple is really phasing out all matte displays as they seem to be, then the era of Apple as the standard-bearer of the design profession may be at an end. Fortunately for Apple, there’s a simple solution: give us a matte display build-to-order option on the new laptops and displays.

Please? Pretty, pretty please? I really want to buy one.

Apple's new MacBook Pro

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.