When I first got my grubby little fingers on the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I was immediately drawn to that tiny OLED screen that replaced the row of function keys. In addition to just typing away at my keyboard, I can now, also tap away at various tools that make interacting with apps easier.
An unusual thing started happening to my brain as I used the Touch Bar more. I wanted to touch the screen, too. I'm not saying I felt like the MacBook Pro was missing a touch screen, I literally kept accidentally reaching up to touch the screen, as if I were working on my iPad Pro instead of my MacBook Pro, which led me to ponder: maybe Apple should make a touch screen laptop.
You either want it or you don't
Now, I know this is a sticky subject. There are two main camps here; those that think Apple should make a touch screen computer and those that think Apple definitely should not. I used to be in the latter camp. I didn't even thing Apple Pencil support was a good idea. I keep imagining my shoulder getting tired while I tap and swipe at my screen instead of using a trackpad that is already positioned where my hand naturally rests. But, the Touch Bar has given me a taste for what could be, and even shown me that comfortably working on a touch screen laptop is totally plausible.
Why is a touch screen computer a bad idea? Partly because it puts fingerprint smudges all over your screen. That's something I've gotten used to on my iPad. I keep a microfiber cloth nearby to wipe it clean every once in a while. It's not something I want to deal with on my $2,000 + computer screen, though. But, really, when you think about it, how is wiping your laptop screen any different then wiping your tablet screen? This would just require a shift in thought.
Another reason; comfort. I have never used a computer – desktop or laptop – with a touch screen, but I imagine myself getting tired of holding my arm out every time I want to scroll down a web page or swipe to go to a different window. It seems awkward and uncomfortable. But, isn't that exactly how I work on my iPad Pro? I have my tablet connected to an external keyboard case, essentially turning it into a very lightweight (though less productive) laptop. I type. I swipe. I scroll with my finger. And, there isn't even the option of using a trackpad. If I want to move a cursor, or otherwise access something on the screen, I have to reach up and touch the screen. At least a laptop with a touch screen would likely also include a trackpad so I could use both.
So why isn't Apple making a touch screen computer?
Well, if you're listening to Apple's Senior Vice President of worldwide marketing, it's because it just doesn't feel right. When talking with BackChannel's Steven Levy, Phil Schiller explained that a touch screen computer doesn't fit with Apple design process.
"Watch, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac, they really are all computers. Each one is offering customers something unique and each one is made with a simple form that perhaps is eternal...
"We think of the whole platform. If we were to do Multi-Touch on the screen of the notebook, that wouldn't be enough — then the desktop wouldn't work that way.Can you imagine a 27-inch iMac where you have to reach over the air to try to touch and do things? That becomes absurd."
Schiller also explained that optimizing for touch screen would negatively affect the way people use a mouse or track pad to navigate their computers. You can't properly optimize for both. In the end, one method or the other (or both) would suffer.
Is there a touch screen Mac in our future?
I think Apple is working on a touch screen computer, even if Schiller has said they tested it, and don't think it's the right thing to do. I think the company will keep trying to figure out a way to make the software work with the hardware. The problem is not that the technology doesn't exist. It's that the technology isn't perfect, which is what Apple wants before it will delve into a new way of doing things.
Take the Apple Watch, for example. Smart watches had been flooding the market a full year before Apple finally released what it considered to be the perfect wearable device experience. The smart watch market took a nose dive in 2016, but Apple continues to sell record numbers of its watch because it didn't enter the market until it had perfected the technology.
I have high hopes that there is a touch screen Mac in our future. I believe it could be the best touch screen experience anyone has ever had on a computer, and it would last much longer than what the current PC companies have on the market. I also believe Apple's version would make computer companies rethink how their software and hardware work together to make a touch screen computing experience. But, I'm an optimist.