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Biggest MacBook design change in years just leaked

Black MacBook
(Image credit: Colorware)

While the iPhone 12 has several color options, the MacBook has remained boring on the design front for several years. At the moment, the darkest MacBook you can buy is ‘space grey’, which isn’t all that dark. This seems like a strange oversight, given our love of black tech products. 

But it looks like Apple is finally planning on catching up if a new patent is to be taken at face value. Interestingly, the patent begins by revealing the reasoning behind the absence of black MacBooks — and it comes down to their metal casing.

“Enclosures for portable electronic devices can include an anodized layer that can be dyed in different colors in order to enhance their cosmetic appeal to consumers,” the patent reads. “However, certain colors are far more difficult to achieve than others,” it continues explaining that a “true black” color often ends up being dark grey thanks to the anodized metal’s high gloss finish that reflects too much light.

Apple’s answer to this problem is with an “etched anodized surface” with “light-trapping features”. Not only is this capable of absorbing “almost all visible light”, but the patent has a second trick for the bits that aren’t. “Whatever visible light not absorbed by the light-trapping features is diffusely reflected by the light-trapping features,” it explains.

Apple describes the material as having a “matte, low gloss finish” which would certainly make for an eye-catching MacBook without the need for an ugly skin. And while a patent application is no guarantee of real-world action, this feels one of the safest bets around, given the world’s lust for black electronics.

The technique Apple describes in its patent is reminiscent of Vantablack paint, created by UK-based Surrey NanoSystems to create a finish that offers the darkest black the human eye can see. Given that artist Anish Kapoor owns the exclusive rights to the color, though, Apple wouldn't be able to just use Vantablack on its future laptops.

If you've got a long memory, you'll think back to a time when black was an option for Apple laptops. Of course, that was more than a decade ago, when Apple used polycarbonate materials in its laptop casings prior to the switch to metals like aluminum.

It’s difficult to anticipate black MacBook models without thinking about the short lived Jet Black iPhone. Only a color option for the iPhone 7, the pricier Jet Black model was extremely prone to scratches to the degree that Apple added a footnote on its site warning of “micro-abrasions with use”. It’s notable that Jet Black hasn’t found its way to any iPhones since.

The black MacBook color sounds sufficiently different for lightning to not strike twice – and obviously the way people use laptops is completely different to smartphones. All the same, it does highlight one thing: when making cosmetic changes to long running product lines it’s important to ensure there aren’t any unintended consequences along the way.  

Brittany Vincent contributed to this article.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.