In the wake of last Monday’s “Scary Fast” Apple event during which the company announced the M3 family of processors and MacBooks Pros for them to power, this Monday sees embargoed reviews of said laptops hit the street. Scrolling X/Twitter today, I came across this post by my friend Ben Bajarin, who shares a brief video of Apple’s much-ballyhooed fingerprint-resistant coating on the space black MacBook Pro. As I noted in my own post, seeing Bajarin’s post jarred my memory about an important point about this admittedly extremely cool-looking laptop.
However awesome, the darker finish has a dark side: accessibility.
In a nutshell, the problem comes down to contrast. Apple was right to proclaim the new MacBook Pro’s new space black finish as “very cool and very pro” in the keynote, but coolness stands not alone. From a visual accessibility perspective, these darker computers—which includes the midnight MacBook Air—are bad insofar as they provide little-to-no contrast between the keyboard well and the palm rests. A person with typical eyesight may be able to navigate this, but a person with low vision (such as myself) certainly could not without some degree of difficulty.
The darkness of the finish meshed with the darkness of the black keycaps isn’t a winning combination. A cynical take on the choices made by Apple’s vaunted industrial design team would be they chose form over function. A more charitable take, the one I personally ascribe to, is Apple made an exceedingly good-looking computer that nonetheless isn’t beyond reproach. Both statements can be true: the space black MacBook Pro (and midnight MacBook Air) exude niceness, but are bad for many people because of the lack of contrast. To name a similar example, I’ve long marveled at the architectural beauties that are most Apple retail outposts, yet simultaneously have groused and griped about the glass doors. Glass doors are very pretty, but they’re pretty poor at delineating contrast for visitors like me who cope with significant vision loss.
Regarding the MacBooks, the contrast issue is something I’ve pointed out to several Apple people at events in recent times; the midnight 15-inch Air announced at WWDC back in June looks incredible, yet is bad for usability. It’s a point people in the hands-on area told me earnestly they hadn’t previously considered, and is an astute observation. It’s a point I made when reviewing the M2 MacBook Pro; the laptop’s contrast conundrum is exacerbated by the all-black design of the keyboard well.
The moral of this story is simple: When buying a MacBook, choosing a color involves more than lust and sheer emotional appeal. I have a 13-inch Air in silver, which is appreciated not merely for its natural resistance to fingerprints and classic look but for its contrast. There is clear distinction between the keyboard and the rest of the body. As I also wrote in my review in February, an apt comparison of the dark MacBook Pro is using it is akin to computing in a pitch-black room whereas using my MacBook Air is like being in the same room with the lights on.
A corollary to the low contrast between the keyboard and the body is the low contrast of using the MagSafe cable to charge the MacBooks. Whether the space black MacBook Pro or midnight MacBook Air, the relative invisibility of the MagSafe port will prove adventurous in terms of hand-eye coordination. The cables are nicely color-matched, which is accessibility aid unto itself for finding the charger, but can be troublesome in practical use. This argument is also pertinent to the back of the Mac mini as well as the Apple TV box. If USB-C should be magnetized, so too should HDMI. Innovation can be accessible too.
Something else I hope this piece teaches you, dear reader, is there’s more to laptop life than coolness or fingerprints. Accessibility is a crucial consideration that the majority of reviewers predictably miss. I wasn’t at the media briefing in New York, but I take my friend John Gruber at his word when he warned in his review of the machine “do not—I repeat, do not—let your eyes fall upon a space black M3 MacBook Pro.”
I’m not above seduction, so I’ll heed Gruber—contrast be damned.
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