Back in 2020, we saw an Apple patent for a matte black MacBook, with the company explaining at the time why it hasn’t (really) made one yet.
Three years later, the company is still working on it, with an approach using carbon nanotubes to address the problem of light reflections …
The original matte black MacBook
The closest Apple has yet gotten to a matte black MacBook was the 2006 MacBook. The default model was white, while Apple offered the option of a black variant. This offered a larger hard drive in addition to the color change, with a price premium most felt amounted more to a tax on the color than an accurate reflection of the spec difference.
While Apple described it as matte black, the finish was perhaps more accurately described as silk, or semi-matte.
The challenges of matte black finishes
Apple explained the problem in the patent document.
Certain colors are far more difficult to achieve than others. In particular, attempts by consumer electronic device manufacturers to achieve a true black color have fallen short. Indeed, the best attempts have attained only a dark grey color […]
Part of the challenge to achieving a true black color is that the surface of these enclosures generally has a high gloss finish, which contributes to specular reflection of a large amount of visible light.
Solving the problem
The 2020 patent described a combination of etched surface and light-trapping features to minimize reflections.
It’s unclear how the 2023 document varies, seemingly describing the same processes, including a reference to what appears to be carbon nanotubes.
According to some embodiments, an enclosure for a portable electronic device is described. The enclosure includes a substrate that includes metal and an anodized layer that overlays the substrate.
The anodized layer includes nano-scale tubes having color particles infused therein, and an external surface having peaks of varying heights that are separated by pits of varying depths, where the anodized laver is characterized as having a gloss appearance, as measured at 85 degrees, of less than 10 gloss units.
According to some embodiments, the openings of the nano-scale tubes are sealed. In some other examples of the enclosure, the tops of the peaks are separated from bottoms of adjacent pits by a clearance distance of 2 micrometers or less. ‘The pits can, in some examples, have diameters of 2 micrometers or less. In some examples, the enclosure is a thermal dissipation component.
The anodized layer can, in some examples, have an L* value of less than 10 using a CIE L”a*b” color space. In some examples, the color particles in the enclosure include dye pigments or an electrodeposited metal.
Whatever the explanation for the apparent republication of the patent, it’s good to know that the company is still working on this. For me personally, none of Apple’s many and varied Space Gray colors have come anywhere close to the appeal of a matte black.
Would you want a matte black MacBook? Would you pay a premium for it, as we had to do back in 2006? Please take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo: MacBook case sold on Etsy
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