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Why Can’t Anybody Compete With Apple’s Displays?

Apple’s Thunderbolt Display was discontinued in 2016, and we haven’t seen anything quite like it since.

Rumors of a new monitor from Apple have been swirling around for a while, but why can’t another company get ahead of this obvious need? I still see the old “Thunderbolt Display” in high-end offices and even some post-production houses (not for color-critical work, of course). It’s clearly a prolific monitor that was happily adopted by the creative industry.

Apple's Thunderbolt Display. Discontinued in 2016.

What Set the Cinema Display Apart

The Cinema Display, later renamed Thunderbolt Display, was a sleek addition to the Mac ecosystem. In my eyes, it offered two great advantages. First, they used premium materials like metal and glass. Secondly, if everybody uses the same display, then creatives have less variables to account for across their pipeline.

It wasn’t a perfect monitor. The Thunderbolt Display would only work with Thunderbolt-enabled computers, so no HDMI or Displayport options. A glossy screen might not be everyone's cup of tea either. It doesn't cost nearly as much as a Pro Display XDR though.

The Market Is Hungry

Google searches for "best computor monitor" hit a peak recently.

The above image tells us that users Googled “best computer monitor” as the pandemic broke out more than ever. However, if you want to know how thirsty creatives are for an affordable Apple monitor, just look at on-screen product photography.

Brands are mocking up their own versions of what looks like a future Apple display, rather than use an actual display. It’s significantly more effort to do this. This is all due to the lackluster alternatives.

Rather than use a monitor available today, these brands are mocking up monitors that could be Apple's. Images from Avid Technology, Blackmagic Design, Maxim Ananov/Haze Over, and Video Copilot.

Current displays are plastic, with names like VP2785. I feel like it’s no longer acceptable to treat your product like a 2000s Microsoft marketing team might. I’m also beginning to see why Apple thought they could charge $999 for a monitor stand, when most of the competition is trying to win the hearts and minds of accountants.

I’m surprised that companies like Atomos have come so close and haven’t yet capitalised on this market gap. Their Neon series builds upon Apple’s old aesthetics. Why not dumb down the display from a 10-bit to a 8+2bit FRC display like their Sumo, then kill the fancy I/O, and sell it for under $1,200? From experience, their Sumo monitor is too small to use as a second monitor, and I’m not entirely convinced the Neon is fit for its high-end purpose either. I'd absolutely buy a reasonably priced Atomos monitor that works on a desk as well as on set.

The 2021 iMac. Sporting a 24" 4.5K display, capable of 500nits and displaying in a P3 color gamut. Starting at $1,299.

The New iMac

I actually considered buying a new iMac, just to use it as a display and to occasionally render out projects in the background. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to support Target Display Mode from my MacBook. In fact, no iMac has supported this since 2014.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my BenQ PD2700Q. It’s color accurate, though not a true 10-bit monitor, but it’s inexpensive, and I can’t complain. Still though, I’d happily pay more if the screen was as flush as the iMac, the chassis didn’t look like every PC monitor for the past 20 years, and the buttons didn’t feel like they belong on a CRT television.

Conclusion

I don’t think that sleek, well-built displays are out of fashion. An everyday “Pro Display XDR” could soon become the next standard. It’s just frustrating that Apple still has a lead in the market, five years after leaving it. Perhaps we'll see more displays like this if Apple returns? I can only hope this sparks more competition.

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16 Comments

Martin Peterdamm's picture

and why is now one selling good color accurate monitors with 72 or 32 inch with 16:10 ratio. for work this is so much better

Luca Santirocco's picture

You can find any professional monitor for work.
With REAL color calibration.

Jose Gerardo Palma Duran's picture

I thought the same, then I got an Eizo and boy I was wrong.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I ditched my calibrated Apple monitors about 15 years ago and bought a then very expensive Eizo CG211 monitor.

I've never looked back and the practical differences were huge between the old Mac display and the stability of the Eizo, (which is still going strong and stable even now).

I'm sure Apple have got better at displays but there is nothing to compare with an Eizo. And their customer service is second to none. The only monitors I'd ever trust and they last very well. I'm expecting at least 10+ years from my CG319X

I'd wager that a good monitor is probably more important than the camera or even the lenses in a digital age. Because if we don't know what we're looking at, then what is the point of fancy lenses or oodles of pixels. And if a good monitor can last over a decade, it is an investment that is worth it.

I love the built in calibration software because it it so fast - although I find a Display i-1 Pro is more accurate than the built in unit of the Eizo, (but I am very picky)

But to answer the rather curious question of the author, there are lots of Apple display competitors - and the competition is often better. :)

Thorsten Merz's picture

It's funny how some folk are more than happy to spend thousands on the latest, greatest, all-singing, all-dancing camera and the finest lenses, only to literally throw all that away by cheaping out on displays and display calibration & profiling. Makes no sense.

Nox Vega's picture

Why, because your customers can see the difference on their oversaturated AMOLED phones on your Instagram page?

Humans perceive colors differently. I can't see some greens. A lot of people see colors differently.
Maybe your "perfect color" isn't really that perfect?

You don't need a calibrated screen unless you *print* for a company that demands accurate colors.
If your work is viewed strictly on a screen, then what's the point? Eyes are different, screens are different.
Maybe you need that perfect color for a company that sells paint. But is their screen perfect?
I can tell you one thing, in my case, no one will complain if I add +30 saturation to a car photo I took.

Errick Jackson's picture

The answer is actually pretty simple: Production.
A lot of brands use the same panels and tweak to their needs, so in reality, display manufacturers only make a few models of display panels, and companies purchase them to tweak them to their own specifications. There are extremely few requests from the market for 16:10 displays, especially at large sizes, and shifting to produce them would cost those manufacturers a ton of resources and time. There just isn't enough demand or projected guaranteed profit to warrant the cost of mass-producing new panel sizes.

Thorsten Merz's picture

You're asking the wrong question. Why would working professionals spend money on an overpriced functionally crippled fashion accessory when there are so many more suitable options available? That's the sort of question you should be asking.

Wouter du Toit's picture

A fanboy would tell you 'because it just works'.

Alex Herbert's picture

Exactly what I was thinking, I really don't care what materials my monitor is made of, I'm more concerned about functions and accuracy. The only real pro the article mentioned about the CInema display was that lots of people used them, so there was consistency. Guess what, that stands true for any monitor. as long as people are all using the same model. Also the writer mentions he has a $350 monitor, he's obviously not as bothered about having a good monitor as he is about having a pretty Apple monitor, or he would have spent more.

Adam Kencki's picture

what? what? what is this? are you buying a professional monitor because its made of metal and its thin and not because it has accurate colours? you should always try to deliver the best work you can, the fact that your clients might look at it on a shitty screen is unfortunate but not your problem.

AJ L's picture

I don’t think this article meets the expectations set by the title. It’s not about how nobody can compete with Apple displays. As far as I can tell, what you’re asking for is a thin, metal and glass monitor that you can have a lot of? In most other ways the old Apple display is very dated.

I doubt we’ll see another Apple display any time soon. Apple likes to make accessories premium, with long product cycles. The last Apple Cinema/Thunderbolt display was great when it was new but it didn’t take long for competitors to catch up and then start offering similar displays at lower prices. Without the metal and glass of course.

RT Simon's picture

Eizo is the industry standard, not Apple.

Will Thomas's picture

LG makes the panels for Eizo and Apple monitors including the Pro Display XDR.

Chris Rogers's picture

Doesn't BenQ make high quality color accurate monitors? This sounds like a bunch of nonsense being spewed about other quality monitors because they don't have the Aesthetic this person is looking for. If you value form over function then apple all day.