Something I've been wondering about for a while... Why are there no (capacitive) matte touchscreens in laptops or mobile devices?

For a while, matte screens have been rare, presumely because glossy screens look better in the showroom, tend to have darker blacks and brighter colors, and were more demanded by consumers. Still, you could get matte screens as monitors and in laptops, especially for "business" users who appreciate that they have much less irritating reflections.

Now with touchscreens, I've failed to find a single device that has a matte display. Why is that so?

I'd love to see an authoritative answer from an engineer, or a statement from a manufacturer's website that states why these are not (or cannot be) produced. The gritty technical (legal, marketing) reasons, not just speculation.

I've already read enough speculation, and I'll try to list a few things that I believe can be debunked:

  • "There is not sufficient demand for matte screens" - There was presumely more demand for glossy displays in the years past as well, but you could still buy matte displays as niche producs. I find it hard to believe that professional users wouldn't be interested in matte touchscreens in notebooks.

  • "Fingerprints stick more on matte screens, they get too dirty" - There were matte (resitive) touchscreens long before there were ones with glossy displays, think about GPSes in cars, or industrial control panels. Fingerprints were never a big problem, you could clean them almost as well as glossy displays. In fact, fingerprints are a bigger problem on glossy displays. Remeber a few years back when people were worried about fingerprints on the new iPhone or on back then popular piano lacquer devices, and manufacturers had to point out that they were using novel "oleophobic" coatings?

  • "A matte coating would interfere with the touch sensors, dim the display." Or: "You can always add a matte protector on top of the glossy screen." - The interference argument is moot since there are aftermarket protectors that work. But the protectors are inferior to a real matte display. I'm also not talking about a matte coating applied to glass (which looks more like a frosting). The matte displays I'm thinking about are more like what the TFT is beneath the glass. All the matte displays I used did not have glass on the outside, but some kind of transparent plastic sheet. It is slightly rough, but much smoother than the "matte screen protectors" you can buy. The matte effect is not an additional coating, but the absense of a glossy coating or a glass sheet.

  • You can't effectively clean matte screens. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 9 '14 at 14:17
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    @DanielRHicks Yes, you can. If you look at the kind of screens used in factories for example, they are usually matte, and when they get dusty or grimey they can be washed off just like any other plastic surface. They are not especially rough or dirt-attracting, and in fact you don't see oil films or fingerprints on them as easily, so you don't even have to keep them as clean as glossy displays. Nearly all rugged hardware that works in dirty environments has that kind of screen for that reason. (I might be wrong of course, but I'd really like to see a source/test to back that up.) – jdm Feb 9 '14 at 14:27
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    Close voter, would you care to explain your vote? I checked before asking that hardware questions are on topic on this site, and I believe this is the most appropriate SE site for the question. I'm not looking for a discussion, but an objective answer from an authoritative source (like "the molybdenum in the matte screen reverses the polarity of the touchscreen" or "Apple has a patent and lets nobody build them"). – jdm Feb 9 '14 at 14:40
  • But you don't touch them thousands of times a day. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 9 '14 at 15:04
  • If it were practical, some manufacturer would figure it out and sell it as a "feature". Look at bicycles -- from one speed to 3 speeds to 10 speeds to 15 speeds to 18 speeds to 21 speeds to 24 speeds to 30 speeds to ... 1 speed. You can always sell what's different, if it works at all. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 9 '14 at 15:07
  1. Capacitive touchscreens have glass as the front layer. The problem with glass is simple: when you make it matte, it becomes blurry. Of course you want your screen to be as sharp as possible and blurring is unacceptable.

  2. Replacing glass with something else possibly could solve the problem, but there's another important reason why we use glass: it's durable. Resistive touchscreens require flexible materials as a front layer and they get scratched very quickly without a protector. Toughened glass is usually used for capacitive touchscreens because it's more resistant to scratches and protects the screen - LCDs can be damaged by pressing them. (Older smartphones or PDAs usually used resistive touchscreen + LCD combo and after two years of using it spots that were pressed more often became noticeably darker. OLED screens aren't affected by this issue, but they are still less common than variants of LCDs).

  3. Glossy screens are smooth to the touch. Matte materials have more paper-like texture that feels unnatural when interacting with a touchscreen. On all modern touchscreen devices the swipe gesture is heavily used because it just feels good. Swiping on a sheet of paper doesn't feel good. You have to get used to it.

The last point may sound controversial. It's typical that user experience issues sound like imaginary problems at the beginning, so maybe looking how touchscreen interfaces have evolved will make it a bit clearer.

Let's compare HTC P3300 with HTC Touch P3450:

Photos of HTC P3300 and HTC Touch P3450 side-by-side, viewed by a slight angle.

Their hardware specs are almost identical. The only difference is that P3450 doesn't have GPS and FM radio. Except for that, everything is identical (same CPU, touchscreen, camera, basically everything). P3300 was marketed as a device made primarily for GPS navigation. P3450 was the first PDA/smartphone designed to be used with fingers instead of stylus.

There are two major differences in the physical construction of those devices. First one is the lack of hardware keys on P3450 - after all it was meant to be an awesome touchscreen device, why would you need so many keys? Another one is harder to spot, but not less important: the P3450's touchscreen is flat.

It doesn't sound very impressive, but it was a huge progress. P3300 was designed to be used with stylus and stylus was best for tapping or writing - generally speaking for actions where precision was required. Entire OS (Windows Mobile) was optimized for stylus. You can see that homescreen items are very small and packed so that you can see as much information at once as possible. To view more details, you had to tap the item.

Now look at the P3450's homescreen: it has HTC's dedicated plugin taking up half of the screen. The buttons are big and you can use them with fingers easily. Clearly, it's not a stylus device. But we're getting a little distracted here, back to the track. Here's a demo of TouchFLO Cube, an UI element that seemed revolutionary when P3450 was released. It felt so natural to swipe on the screen! The community backported Cube to P3300, but it never felt so good because the screen was sunken. Lifted, flat screen of P3450 gave you the impression of "infinite touchscreen" - you could start your gesture out of the screen, just like the video shows. It just felt good.

Believe it or not, but that little thing - sunken touchscreen - ruined entire user experience. It's similar with the paper-like texture of matte protectors. Swiping doesn't feel that good on a surface that isn't perfectly smooth. And modern UIs use swiping way more often than P3450's UI did - it was the very first Windows Mobile PDA to employ swiping ever. And if you swipe more often, then all swiping issues become more irritating.

You could have noticed that it's also the lifted screen that made scratching issue much more serious. It was a pretty good reason to make sunken displays - they were more resistant to scratches and fall damage. Protectors were a must-have for all Windows Mobile-based devices, because they all had resistive touchscreens that required flexible (ie. plastic) digitizers. There was one exception.

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    I think that the smooth glass , vrses the textured surface and swiping #3 is a user preferance. On the glass my fingers drag, because of damp skin. on the textured surface I get a much better swipe going. On resistive many people prefered matte texture relating it to paper, for both stylus & touch. For the capacitive due to stylus type the use of stylus does not change much at all. – Psycogeek Feb 10 '14 at 0:19
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    I don't agree with 3. Matte screens feel a lot better to touch and especially to swipe, it doesn't have the "sticky" effect (or the drag effect as @Psycogeek mentions) when swiping. – Marco Prins Jan 14 '15 at 10:24
  • The toshiba portege x20w has a matte touchscreen display. – William Apr 15 '17 at 0:45

I do not know why, but I do know I prefer that the plastic coating can be removed and replaced. I have many screens with matte coatings and once they are damaged badly i have not been able to fix it completly.
I will never again try and remove a factory glued plastic coating off a monitor :-) trying was a complete disaster, industrial glues they probably won't even sell to us mere humans.

I agree that the glossy face is not practical on any of these flat screens, and they certannly are not leaving the high end monitors without a reflection reduction.
I have a 15" screen that is glass, and while the picture and view through to the pannel is cleaner and unfrosted, and untextured , turn the lights on, or have the shades open (sun) Add in any contrasting surfaces and it is very bad to view. If the room is dark enough it is way better though.

I find that fingerprints do not "show" as easily by far with a matte screen plastic on top of them, be that the ones stuck down at manufacture or screen protectors that can be added by me. It may be correct that the textured surface is more likely to end up with more human oils skin and acids on it, but I far prefer it.
Cleaning either screen is just as easily done

The glossy screens cause me to percieve (more) that the device is shiny pretty new. I can look right at the glistening machine, knowing for a fact that I would rather have matte, and I am still thinking this is dang nice looking. I can already be looking for a way to stop the (dang) reflection, and still see that it is very nice looking.
This is probably the only reason I can think of that they do not pre-coat the surfaces, although I am dance around happy that they did not. Nothing good could come of having permenent a top coating when it would not have to be permenent, and could be replaced when damaged.

The gloss is not a big bother if you stay in your home, move from home to a car, and never actually see the light of day, or a well lite up workplace. If your mobile device is use to go Mobile :-) then there has not been a whole lot of conciderations for that in other aspects of the devices. Not enough light , no cases with shades, no solar tops, and with the very high-res now there isnt a lot of light that can be used to bouce light the pannels. I am thinking the whole idea here is most mobile devices are not designed for being outside :-)

I have a very high-res display phone , and my usual matte protector , the texture was way to low-res for the devices resolution, causing minor problems, as the light from the high-res pixels is bounced around.
Luckily I found a screen protector that the matte surface reduces the reflection (not neer as much) and still allows for the extreeme DPI of a full HD screen on such a small device. (got it from boxwave). I would have been ok with the minor disturbance but the high-res protector (i am calling it that) Is a good balance of the 2.
After having used many different screen protectors for many years, I can say that There is a huge differance in quality and textures and frost and applications. I still have never seen protectors that are the exact same thing as what is stuck to the face of these monitors.

None of the protectors I have applied have had a large impact on resitive or capacitive screen touch. I have a dog, I am a klutz at times, and generally stuff happens. I would far far prefer that the plastic stuck to the top of the glass is removable and replacable.

Off the actual topic: There are glass front reflection and light reducers that were very expencive and used back with CRTs The face of the glass is coated with (I dont know) something that caused different light colors to reflect in different directions. This type of reflection fixer was still flat, very high-res very expencive (vrses some graying) and it was glass. It worked best. I am still wondering why this optical coating has never been applied to these mobile devices , or what the ramifications (or patent) of that would be. The coating could be impossible to work with capacitive screens.

Other stuff: the Plastic top on GPSes and resistive touch was/is part of the actual touch assembly, the resistive screen items I have had apart use a plastic top , and could not use a glass top. The second glass layer of the touch assembly for resistive screens has the very thin connection grid on it, the pastic (unlike glass) would have to flex to make the actual physical contact with the glass. Under the touch assembly was the pannel itself.

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