Gorilla Makes Us Lazy

The Gorilla I’m referring to is the specialty glass made by Corning and used by a number of gadget makers. Gorilla glass is used as cover glass for smartphones, notebooks, monitors and TVs. Apple uses quite a bit of cover glass in its products: iPhone, iPad, iMac, MacBook Pro, LED Cinema Display. Here’s Jonathan Ive on the most recent iMac release:

The entire front of the new iMac is just dominated by this incredible new 16:9 display. We actually figured out a way of taking the glass right to the very perimeter. It’s just display and then no display. That’s it. You are just completely consumed by that image. There’s not a detail there that doesn’t need to be there. There are no visual interruptions, distractions, there’s just no other noise. Everything is about the display and therefore everything is about your content.

I beg to differ. Yes, the display is certainly the focus of the iMac’s design and I think the iMac is one of the most beautifully-built all-in-one PCs on the market today. Apple did take the glass right to the very perimeter but it’s the wrong type of glass. Here, Ive is talking about Gorilla glass, not the more important LCD glass. Allow me to point out several things I detest about Gorilla glass.

FAKE

Gorilla glass is fake. It allows gadget makers to slack off or take a shortcut. The cover glass is simply an illusion tricking some users into thinking that the display goes from one edge to the other. That simply is not the case. If you look closely, heck you don’t even need to look that closely, you’ll see a fairly thick bezel around the display. I understand there is a need for bezels around the display in some cases such as the iPad: you need some space to hold it without engaging the multitouch sensors. But there simply is no use for bezels on a MacBook Pro, LED Cinema Display or an iMac. The detail that doesn’t need to be there is the cover glass; get rid of it. What needs to be done is for gadget designers to tackle the hard stuff and work with LCD manufacturers to slim down the bezel, for real. Just imagine tiling a few LED Cinema Displays: the fat bezel is a serious visual distraction. It’s just display, then a fat bezel, and then no display.

PROTECTION?

Some might point to a very important function of cover glass: protection. Sure the extra layer of glass on top of the LCD does indeed provide more protection than a bare LCD. But let me tell you this: about three or four years ago I was shown a demonstration by Nitto Denko that covered the LCD with a super-slim film that hardened it. How durable was it? It was durable enough that if the LCD rubbed against the keyboard (remember the Titanium PowerBook?) it would be the keyboard that would get scratched, not the LCD! The point is there are ways to improve the durability of LCDs without having to put an entire cover glass over it.

FAT

Cover glass is fat, in many ways. It weighs more than a film solution. It takes up more space too. And finally, it costs more. I would rather have a thinner, lighter and more affordable smartphone, notebook, monitor or TV instead of being hoodwinked into thinking that the display goes right to the perimeter; it doesn’t. By reducing the thickness and weight all of us can realize savings from less packaging and a reduction of transportation costs.

CRAP

I’m not talking about fingerprints. I’ve used the iPhone (has cover glass) and the MacBook Pro (has cover glass) and both have problems with crap. I’m talking about crap that wasn’t there when I first bought it but slowly creeps up on you as you use it. Because there is space between the LCD and the cover glass and because these were not put together in completely dust-free environments I have to deal with dust that will only continue to concentrate on back of the cover glass and never go away. This becomes a major visual distraction over time. After a while I hated that I couldn’t do anything about the dust collecting inside the iPhone and am getting to that point on my MacBook Pro.

Gorilla glass from Corning makes gadget makers and LCD manufacturers lazy. Instead of forging ahead toward thinner bezels the cover glass concept lets ugly, fat, visually distracting bezels be the norm from smartphones to TVs. Cover glass also adds weight, thickness and cost to the product. And finally, the dust that builds up behind the cover glass becomes unbearably irritating over time. I urge LCD manufacturers and gadget companies to ditch the cover glass concept in favor of real development toward thinner bezels and a true edge-to-edge just-display-then-no-display display.