There is more misinformation about the merits and limitations of glossy versus matte displays than any other topic in notebook computing. Let’s start with the basics that everyone agrees with: glossy screens have more vivid color and contrast while matte screens are better at rejecting reflections from ambient light.
A matte LCD display has an anti-glare coating and waffled surface that diffuses and scatters ambient light. This minimizes the reflections that occur, but as a result, the screen can be easier to read across a wider range of environments. The scatter of the light has its own consequences. Diffused light from ambient light as well as the backlight will lighten the black tone and make the screen surface look hazy and washed out.
A glossy screen does not use any diffusion at all. Instead, a standard polarizer allows light to freely pass through the filter. Since there is no scatter of the backlight, colors are more intense and accurate, and blacks are also deeper. However, the lack of ambient light diffusion means that surrounding light can result in noticeable reflections.
In controlled lighting environments, there is very little difference in color accuracy between the two types of monitors when using a colorimeter. In uncontrolled lighting, the glossy screen has better color accuracy except for the parts of the screen with bright reflections. The matte screen has less of a difference in the image, but has poorer color accuracy due to the diffusion of the light producing haze over a larger area.
Fans of matte displays can point out that top-of-the-line desktop monitors for digital photography such as the HP DreamColor LP2480zx or Eizo ColorEdge CG301W are matte designs. Again, given that color quality is dependent on the LCD panel and backlighting technology more than the polarizer, monitors such as the LP2480zx are arguably among the best of the best. On the other hand, fans of glossy displays can point out that flagship digital mammography displays such as the Eizo RadiForce GS520 are designed with glossy screens because the superior sharpness (MTF) over matte screens allows radiologists to better detect more subtle changes in the breast and identify breast cancer at earlier stages.
So, when it’s comes to making a life or death decision, glossy wins.
Clearly, it would have been nice if Apple continued to give users the option for glossy or matte screens depending on their anticipated work environments. However, in the interest of saving money and reducing inventory expenses, Apple chose to go glossy. In the previous generation, glossy screens were outselling matte screens by a factor of 10 to 1.