/ Technology

Why are gadgets so ******* shiny!?

Magpie on iPhone 4

Do tech manufactures think we’re magpies? Phones, tablets, laptops, cameras – their screens are buffed up to shine like the sun. But when will they learn that we don’t want our own grisly reflections staring back at us?

Think of the last gadget you bought – a sexy new smartphone, a lovely little laptop, a delightful digital camera?

I’ll bet you that its screen is as black and shiny as an ant’s abdomen that’s recently been put through a car wash and then rubbed in shoe polish.

Manipulating these gadgets in bright sunlight is thus almost impossible. And though Britain’s weather doesn’t make this as problematic as if you were on the French Riviera, even the dimmest light can lead to our eyes gawking back.

Shimmering thingamajigs

Shiny screens are so frustrating that it’s one of the inspirations for our digital camera viewfinders campaign. Of the 1,667 people we asked, 70% said they struggled to use an LCD camera screen in bright daylight.

My beloved, but burnished, Panasonix Lumix TZ7 camera looks like it wants to be the centrepiece of a sparse and mirrored post-modern flat. This made it almost impossible to see the photos I was trying to take of the strangely clean streets of Singapore.

Its LCD screen is so shiny that if I were to be stranded on a deserted island I’d be able to use its reflectiveness to send Morse code SOS messages to ensure my rescue.

Then there’s my Sony Vaio laptop. Its paltry two-hour battery life already makes handling it outside a grim experience. But add its shining beacon of a 15-inch screen and it’s not too long until I have to trudge back inside.

Shiny, shiny iPhone

And who could forget Apple? Steve Jobs is the gate keeper to the world of shiny, as commenter Dragilex mused over in our iPad 2 Conversation:

‘Humans like shiny stuff, simple as. iPad 2 – definitely shinier than the iPad and possibly the shiniest thing available today. What does it cost? Who cares, did I not mention how super shiny and slick it is?’

Now, although his comment was more about metaphorical shininess, it wasn’t long until someone picked up on the literal glossiness of Apple’s wares:

‘For me the iPad is too shiny! Slightest bit of light overhead […] and you can’t read the flipping screen! That’s why I bought a Kindle to read ebooks on, rather than an iPad,’ complained Ruth.

Ruth is quite right to mention ebook readers – they’re one of the only gadgets to utilise matte screens. Not only is this wise, it’s essential, as people like to read while they’re lying on the beach. Yet, why is it presumed that all our other gadgets will be used on a cloudy day?

Do you prefer matte or glossy screens?

But perhaps we only have ourselves to blame? Maybe matte gadgets won’t sell like hotcakes? As Charlie Brooker alleged in his recent How TV Ruined Your Life series:

‘Having been conditioned to surrender our attention to the lone glowing screen, suddenly we’re surrounded by thousands of the shimmering f***s. It’s like invasion of the gleaming rectangles. Pop a screen in our eye line and, no matter what we’re doing, we’re hopelessly drawn to the light. Never mind apes, we must be descended from moths.’

Magpies, moths, whatever obsessed creature we’ve mutated into, it’s about time that manufacturers forced us to go cold turkey and made our gadgets less shiny.

What type of screen do you prefer?

Matte (89%, 1,491 Votes)

Glossy (11%, 178 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,667

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Fred says:
17 March 2011

Until a few years ago, all Mac laptops had matte screens. Then we had the glossy revolution, driven in theory by the idea that they were better for watching video due to crisper colours- never mind those of us that actually use a laptop to write things we want to read. There were quite a lot of people who complained, especially as even Apple’s monitors went glossy. Now there is the beginnings of the pendulum swinging back with some models having the choice (at extra cost) of matte displays but the default version is still glossy across the product range. Personally I find glossy screens very tiring to use and I haven’t bought an Apple monitor since this nonsense began. for the smaller devices, phones, ipads, there is always a stick on matte film but it’s not perfect.

bee says:
26 June 2011

I am typing this on a Mac (not a laptop so reflection not generally a problem) but I am irritated by the screens on my Nokia phone and my Panasonic camera becoming unviewable in bright light.
I was interested by Adam’s question as to whether people prefer a printed photograph to be matte or glossy. Before I owned a digital camera, I sometimes chose matte, and sometimes glossy, though most of the most recent photos seem to be glossy. After just a brief look, I think that the glossy finish tends to give a crisper and livelier look to the pictures. So perhaps the desire for higher resolutions with sharper detail plus more intense colour has led to the almost universal adoption of shiny screens for all displays of visual media. The Kindle is only displaying black text on a light background (I assume) and can thus afford to use a matte screen.
The question that hasn’t been raised so far here is whether a matte screen would actually give as sharp and lively a viewing experience as a glossy one. Has the research been done on whether this is scientifically or optically the case, or are there further psychological effects of glossiness as well as its capacity to grab our attention?

Damn Young says:
17 July 2011

You people just don’t get it.
They are shiny so that we can use them as emergency shaving mirrors.
Come on you guys, how many of you can truly say you have never shaved using a CD as a makeshift mirror?
Motorola even branded my mobile as the ‘mirror’, due to it having a mirror on its outside.


Half the reason why my phone is so attractive is because there’s a reflection of me on it 😉 On a more serious point – you can get ‘mirror’ apps for phones which use your front-facing camera…

H k says:
5 August 2016

I bought a Fujitu laptop Lifebook A series with a Matt screen and I totally love it. No more difficulty trying to use it when the sun is shining through the window behind me.