Time for touchscreen Macs? Hell no!

Time for touchscreen Macs? Hell no!

With the advent of Windows 8, several PC manufacturers have introduced notebook computers that also operate as tablets - the screens separate or fold over so you can touch, swipe and gesture on your laptop the same way you would a full blown tablet. That's led to a predictable question: When will we see a touch-enabled Mac? My hope is that day will never come. There are better ways to interact with your Mac than to touch the screen. Leave your touching to the iPad.

In point of fact, touchscreen Macs have been around for a very long time. Touch panel developers like Troll Touch produce modified Macs that incorporate touch displays. These are especially useful in special environments like where the Mac is controlling machinery, acting as a Point Of Sale (POS) terminal like a cash register, or working in a kiosk setting. Modbook (née Axiotron) makes the Modbook Pro, a heavily modified MacBook Pro laptop that acts as a tablet that's controlled using a stylus - the company understands its market is limited; its offers options like Adobe Creative Suite 6, understanding its key demographic is artists who want to draw, illustrate and design.

I don't think the Mac, on its own, is ready for prime time as touch screen device. All the things that make touch displays great for special purpose environments make them equally horrible as general purpose devices. The Mac operating system, as it's currently conceived, is heavily optimized still for input via traditional means like keyboards and mice or trackpads. Even Troll Touch's own promotional videos show that things like entering text are awkward at best, on a surface that's positioned perpendicular to a desk surface.

What's more, assistive technologies are already built in to OS X help users who find conventional methods difficult. And speech recognition for dictation and command execution is here today, which makes many think that it's only a matter of time before Apple integrates Siri or a Siri-like product into Macs.

Leap Motion offers another important clue about how the future of user interaction might look on the Mac. This company is developing gesture-based technology that enables you to wave your hands in front of the computer to interact with it. Perhaps it's a little too Kinect-like, but it gives you a sense of alternatives to getting your greasy fingerprints all over your computer screen.

Apple has clearly been interested in touch displays for a very long time, but it went in a very different direction from Microsoft. Instead of bolting on a touch interface for its desktop operating system, as Microsoft did with the Metro UI and Windows 8, Apple created an entirely separate business for itself. iOS and OS X share some common underpinnings, and Apple has, on occasion, borrowed from one for the other, but iOS is fundamentally an operating system and a user interface that was designed specifically for a touch-driven environment.

The results speak for themselves: Macs continue to sell in large quantities, and while the whole PC market is collapsing, Apple's sales of Macs has been markedly better than the industry average. And the iPhone and iPad continue to do very well in their respective markets. Microsoft, meanwhile, has been excoriated for releasing an operating system that has changes that no one really wants.

I can't completely rule out a day when Apple would produce a touchscreen Mac. But we'll have to get much closer to a convergence of OS X and iOS than we're at now, or than we're likely to see in the near future. In the interim, count on touchscreen Macs appealing only to a very small niche.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 47 comments. Add yours.

NickA says:

The title of the article is a typical Apple mindset.

Time for a larger iPhone? Hell no! Oh wait, maybe a little larger.

Time of the OS to catch up with the rest of the world? Hell no! Wait again, better add some features other OS's have had for a while now. And oh yeah, lets "flatten" it so it looks like a modern UI.

Time for a smaller iPad? Hell no! Well, maybe. Smaller tablets seem popular so lets make one.

Seabassthegreat says:

Best reply ever! Win! Totally feel the same way.

CrzyP says:

Agreed. I have a touch screen windows 8 notebook and find the touch screen quite useful.

moooooooo says:

i have a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover for my iPad and everytime i use a "normal" laptop i find myself touching the screen to no avail!!

I'd by a retina touch Macbook Air in a heartbeat.

jacobjanzen says:

Amen I'm waiting for that. If not I'll have to settle for a Ultrabook.

hacer619 says:

The first and best comment.

SteveW928 says:

There is a difference between designing optimally, then deviating from that optimum to meet a certain market demand or compete on specs... and just doing something silly to make 'pseudo-future-wanna-bes' all giddy. Other than a few of the exceptions the article points out, a touch-laptop is just plain stupid.

A larger phone, at a certain point IS silly as well. If Apple makes a larger phone than the iPhone 5, I'll not be interested in one. It's the maximum size a phone should be (I actually prefer the size of the previous generation, to be honest). The reason people are buying bigger phones is either A) people who just buy on specs (ie: clueless), or B) people with poor eyesight who are willing to compromise optimal size to meet their special situation, or C) people who, because of their economic situation, are trying to make one device cover everything (phone, tablet, desktop replacement). Bottom line: bigger than the iPhone 5 is a compromise device.

re: OS features? LOL Everyone has always been copying ideas from one another. It's pretty hard to say who is ahead and copying from who.

re: flattening - I guess I'll have to see it. I've got a lot of respect for Ive, but this one reeks of throwing a bone to the 'we need a new look every year or two' crowd. There are plenty of things which need fixed in the various UI aspects, but there isn't much need to change the look of an OS all the time. (OK, sure, the skeuomorphic stuff was kind of dumb and can go.) And, what's modern about flat?

re: smaller iPad - Another design compromise. This time, I think it is a fairly good one, just due to what so many user their tablets for. Since tablets are often used for browsing, e-reading, and kind of a big phone, this one makes sense. Plus, for women, it will now fit in a purse. Take a look at the clothing many women wear and you'll soon learn that optimal functionality isn't very high on their feature list. For kids, it's the perfect size. Heck, I love the iPad mini and would buy one in an instant, but it just won't work for what I do. It's too small if you're using the iPad for much typing, cramps the UI for on-the-go quick entry, and is hard on older eyes at a normal tablet distance when typing. But yea, it was totally a matter of somewhere they didn't want to go, but they gave in to market demand, as far as I can see.

TwoReplies says:

This is where we get to see that all the Apple commenters who in the past bashed Win8 claiming that Windows "Just wasn't/isn't designed for touch", were in FACT just projecting their own feelings about their OWN choice in operating systems.

Honestly, I don't see Apple being brave enough to take the touch-leap that Microsoft did when it made the changes in Win8 that made the OS much more touch friendly. They don't like to make major changes to existing software. Rather they prefer to layer change upon change upon change.

It's just not in Apple's nature to modify an existing software product that much.
OSX has been pretty much the same for over a dozen years. The only "version" changes made were incremental enhancements (more comparable with add-ons and service-packs, rather than whole upgrades). Many of the larger changes were merges of third-party software (which Apple bought) with OSX. Hell, OSX itself wasn't even an original Apple invention but was rather majorly appropriated from Job's NeXT NeXTSTEP.

SockRolid says:

Cause - touchscreen desktops and laptops (e.g. Windows 8 PCs).
Effect - "Gorilla arm." Look it up in Wikipedia.

Here's an excerpt: "... the failure to understand the ergonomics of vertically mounted touchscreens for prolonged use."

Kevin Kent says:

This. My laptop finally died on me and I needed a new laptop. The decision was between a top of the line ultrabook with touch screen for Windows 8 (because Windows 8 without touch is awful, from what I was reading) and a MacBook Pro. Ultimately, I decided that the ergonomics of a touchscreen laptop made absolutely no sense. And I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing the MacBook's touchpad is--it's phenomenal. It's better than a mouse.

mstuartk says:

What type of laptop did you have that died? Was it a Mac or a windows. I ask because I am curious of how big a change you underwent when you purchased the MacBook. I am considering purchasing my first MacBook and have always been a windows pc user. I do like touch devices but am not sure how much I will miss it on a laptop. All of my laptops has been work related devices.

The truth is; I am one of the few people that will admit to enjoying windows 8, but I primarily utilize it on a 60 inch television where it acts like a very large (non touch) tablet that I control with a logi tech keyboard from my couch. It really kicks butt-no joke!

I must admit that the apps (metro) interface is primarily used by me for entertainment such as; with one click of my touchpad I can open and instantly see and use: Skype, Facebook, all of my mail; whatever, is instantly opened. Does the MacBook has a means of gratifying me with instant apps like windows 8?

I know that you can install windows 8 on a Mac but of course if I had windows 8 on a laptop it would behoove me to have a touch able device to run it. I am sort of torn between purchasing another windows device (with touch) or moving forward with the purchase of my first MacBook. Based upon what I have just rambled; does anyone have any advice for me?

NickFL2011 says:

Iphone is the best phone I've owned, looking forward to the new one.

jaymandrumthingya says:

I have to say I've been day-dreaming of a 30in Cinema Display-touch ever since I saw it was available through Troll Touch. I'd lay it near-flat on my desk and use it as a blank art canvas, a writing tablet, and as a hands-on mixing console for Logic or protools. If I could have a second upright display for movies or HUDs, I'd be set. I like the iMacs too, but there are few things less ergonomic that sitting at a desk with a mouse.

richard451 says:

The funny thing is the crap software that is Windows 8 already has a larger base than OS, but basically the author is re-hashing the same old argument like in the Mac vs DOS days . A touch screen 27" iMac would be cool, but no way in heck Apple is going devote any R&D towards a dying product.

rockerchick says:

Everyone that I know that has Windows 8 is dying to get rid of it and downgrade. Windows has ALWAYS had a large base than Mac but maybe Apple should take a note from Windows and see that people are actually buying new computers and paying $100 to get that $hit OS called Windows 8 off of their computers. I think that touch screens are great on touch-centric devices. I'm not keen on touch screen Macs just for the simple idea of muscle memory confusion. I like that these two devices work and function a little bit differently.

This is not to say that you cannot have a Large screen wall mounted iMac that is touch screen and works like a central hub for other devices and controls the media. That's fine to add that but I don't want to touch my laptop screen nor the iMac. I'm happy with the separate functionality of devices.

williamsbh76 says:

I think it will come one day but I am happy with my MacBook Pro like it is for now. For now meaning as in the OS would have to evolve to touch friendly. Plus the aesthetics of what makes a laptop a laptop as far as the clamshell design and a desk top a desk top would have to evolve as well. A hybrid version that is more friendly for touch and non-touch would be nice for certainly tasks. When something is being done that doesn't require typing, touch gets me around faster.

robertpetry says:

Actually, I am ready for a touch screen MacBook Air 11. I have one and I don't use it very often because I spend so much time with my iPad. Still, there are some things I need the Air for. Every time I pick up the Air I start instinctively touching things on the screen. A hybrid of OSX and iOS would be awesome on an Air. I want the windowing and multitasking of the Air along with the keyboard and editing. But the touch and the buttons of the iPad.

sbatwater says:

I agree that we won't see Apple just add-on touch screens to the current Mac lineup running the current OS X paradigm.

Touch capability may show up in some form, but by then the OS will be tailored for that sort of interaction (and the hardware is not likely to be anything like what we're using now).

lukesawesometechtips says:

I think that if Windows 8 Touchbooks get enough attention, apple may come in and "invent" them.

AustinSJ says:

Touch would be nice as an option. The OS doesn't need to redesigned for it. Sometimes it's just more convenient to swipe and pinch to get things done.

Jay Mobile says:

we already have a touch screen mac its called an iPad

ChrisFricke says:

Too many people assume that having touch available means that it somehow it obsoletes existing input options for desktop/laptop computers. It doesn't. Additionally, touch wasn't just "bolted on" to Windows 8. It was there in previous Windows versions as well. I have three touch screens that worked great with Windows 7 - in fact they worked better with Win7 then Win8 but I digress.

Having touch available is just another way to hit some quick "at a glance tasks" like tapping an email on my far left monitor while working on something else on a different monitor without having to do the mouse shuffle. I don't type on my monitors. That would be dumb. Once Kinect for Windows is integrated we'll have yet another way to interact (voice, air gestures, who knows what else). All of that in conjunction with the good ole mouse and keyboard.

That having been said... I'd argue that the best reason for the Macbooks to not need/want touch is because the touch pad and special gestures are so damn good that touch isn't really needed.

abazigal says:

That's like saying that every laptop should come enabled with stylus support and inbuilt 3G because it doesn't obsolete existing input options. However, if it adds only marginal benefit, then it may not be worth the extra cost of tacking on a touchscreen.

To me, if a company wants to create a touchscreen laptop, their duty doesn't stop there. I feel the onus is also on them to customise the form factor and OS of the laptop such as touch is actually useful, and not just a "just in case I ever need it" feature.

IMO, Apple will release a touchscreen Mac when they get around to designing a Mac OS that is built around using touch meaningfully, not before.

Denton Heinrichs says:

I wouldn't want touch on say an iMac but a laptop with touch would be nice after watching my grandmother trying to touch my laptops screen after playing with her iPad

Nathan Grey says:

I personally don't like touch on any device I'm not holding. I have used windows 8 and disliked it. Overall I prefer mouse to touch because it is so much faster.
I could see it being useful for some people though, just not me.

George Wedding says:

Apple already added touch to Macs -- first to trackpads and more recently to the Magic Mouse two years ago, with touch-gesture input added to a glass-topped mouse. The Magic Mouse is a fantastic input device that places touch for desktops right where it should be -- at the mouse -- so you can seamlessly switch back and forth between mouse point-and-click and touch finger gestures. The glass-top mouse incorporates the same scrolling, swiping and multi-point finger gestures used on iOS devices. If you use an iPhone or iPad, you'll love this mouse with OS X v10.7 or later Mac OS versions. It works so well that i bought a Magic Mouse for each of my three Macs. I even like it better than the trackpad on my MacBook Pro.

For the most part, touch does not belong on desktop displays -- where it is ergonomically uncomfortable to use. Microsoft's hybrid Surface device will fail because Redmond put touch in precisely the wrong place -- the display.

ggore says:

Bingo, you are absolutely correct.

ggore says:

I am not going to reach up to touch my iMac screen, it's just not ergonomically correct to do that. A keyboard and mouse are designed for manipulating a screen sitting on a desk and that's fine with me. And I will NOT look at a screen covered with greasy fingerprints, whether it be an iMac or laptop screen, it makes no difference. Those are different devices than an iPad or iPhone. Raising your entire arm to touch a screen are different than using a handheld device.

Gazoobee says:

I disagree. I think the flaw in the reasoning here is that the question being asked is ... "Are we ready to go full-on touchscreen UI on the iMac?" The answer is no of course.

I think the question is actually more ... "Would it help if you could touch the screen sometimes instead of using the mouse?" The answer to this question is yes.

In other words I agree with all the authors arguments about how it wouldn't be that useful to try to use a touch screen computer at work everyday, but if it were simply an "extra" it would actually come in handy at times.

mdub311 says:

In our world of touch screens, I want to touch everything and have it respond! My 3 year old complains that she can't work the computer because it doesn't react to instinct to control it with her finger. Mouse and keyboard are not intuitive to a child, but touch is. Mouse and keyboard a learned skill and quite powerful and comfortable in the pc/laptop space. I'm not saying that for adults, the primary means to control the OS should be touch, but having it as an option is important. The mistake Microsoft made is they sold the farm to bend to the touch input and made it difficult to use a mouse and keyboard in Win8. Instead of just allowing touch, they made it the focus and the driver behind everything. The market doesn't want/need that. We just need it as an option. Sometimes it's easier to touch rather than point and click, but most of the time it won't be.

rchapman80 says:

While I don't see the usefulness of a touchscreen laptop, my all-in-one touchscreen desktop has been great since I upgraded to Windows 8. It seems to move a little bit more fluid and I enjoy the Metro apps (I know I maybe the only one) that are more geared to touch. For example, larger scroll bars, buttons etc. Now It will never replace my mouse and keyboard. But in the morning rather quickly i can check the weather read some email and check the news with out sitting down. I would love to see an imac with touch. While I'm not an apple user and probably will never be, I enjoy when they make their way into a certain area (cell phones, tablets, etc.). They improve on what is available meaning everyone else has to improve. Competition is a wonderful thing. We wouldn't have the great phones we do now if it weren't for Apple embarrassing everyone for years. We would probably still be stuck with half assed tablets (UPMC? Anyone remember those?) if it weren't for the iPad.

ame says:

I am a longtime Mac user, for design mostly, and I do not have any interest in this for my computer at all. It's not detailed enough for starters, compared to the mouse and keyboard.

Leo141 says:

Yes, hell no. Windows 8 sucks. Stupid piece of garbage from Microsoft. If you want touch, you have ipad.

grangerfx says:

Would one of you "hell no" people please explain how I can debug my iOS app touch user interface on a Mac without a touch screen? Currently I have to run my app on a tethered iOS device which works but in a slow and awkward way. I can't even use the touch pad to test my iOS apps because it only tracks relative motion not absolute positions. It would also be cool if my app could have the same user interface on both the Mac and iOS. Have you tried zooming or rotating an image without a touch screen?

grangerfx says:

The iPhone and iPad created the expectation that if we see a user interface widget on the screen, we should be able to touch it and manipulated it directly. Going from an iPad's intuitive touch screen back to a Mac and a mouse is much like going back to a Dos PC and keyboard after using the Mac's mouse based GUI. Do you want Apple known as the company that sells old fashioned computers that require a mouse for every single user interaction. I expect some company to say "if you see a mouse, they did it wrong".

jacobjanzen says:

Fully agree with both your comments!

ame says:

They created no such expectation for me. NEVER have I felt like I was going backwards going from my iPhone or my husbands iPad to my macs. Not one time. It's a totally different machine doing different things. I like my mouse and keyboard vs a touchscreen for my computer, it works more fluidly for my detailed tasks.

SteveW928 says:

If you're feeling the need to touch your screen, then you probably don't need your desktop in the first place. The reason I don't do everything on my iPad, is that when I'm on my desktop, I do different kinds of work that are better suited to mouse and keyboard. Get rid of the mouse and keyboard, and I don't need a desktop any more (and I'd be highly inefficient at those kinds of tasks).

ame says:

This is exactly what I meant, but like...said much more eloquently.

SteveW928 says:

I agree with you on this, but that's a pretty narrow market segment (who can buy a specialized setup, if needed). The article clearly notes that there are specialized exceptions.

Ipheuria says:

I love when people say I have a computer with Windows 8 and love the touchscreen. So according to that everyone else in the whole world must love it too. The company I work for has 5 new Windows 8 machines all with touch and they get used 0% of the time. In each case it was the same the users were really excited they used it for a little while and then after that it was mouse and keyboard. This ofcourse means nothing that is just a small representation of the whole wide world. I can just say for myself that having touchscreen on a Mac is not what I want. Instead I'd like to see something similar to a trackpad but the surface is touch enabled glass. It would lay flat on the desk and accept touch to control on the screen elements. But hey that's just me I don't pretend to know what everyone in the world wants.

GlennRuss says:

When I am mixing on the MacBook for music, a touch screen would be nice. The trackpad is accurate, but it would be nice to move sliders, and knobs with your finger. Other than that, I really do not have a need. Different people will have different needs for a touch screen. I am sure it is just a matter of time.

patrick harrell says:

what the fuck is wrong with u now is the time for touchscreen if apple put a touchscreen they might not suck ass