The company line is that it's not ergonomic — that having to reach up and across to touch the screen of a Mac to get things done isn't only inefficient but potentially injurious to humans. It's not about having to, though. It's about being able to. Adding multitouch to the Mac doesn't remove the existing keyboard or mouse controls any more than making the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro removed the taps and swipes.
So, for real, why isn't Apple making any multitouch Macs?
Hit play to watch the video version and subscribe for more.
What Apple keeps saying about touchscreen Macs
There have been 3rd party attempts to make Macs if not multitouch than at least basically touch over the years, including the ModBook, which tore the notebook down and rebuilt it with a digitizer, and various touch-detection overlays for Macs used as kiosks in the hospitality industries. But there's been nothing from Apple. Nothing and more nothing.
Lke I mentioned in the ARM MacBook video, link in the description, Apple is a multibillion dollar company — billion as is money in the bank, not trillion as in market cap, commentor friends! — and can afford to explore, prototype, test, and tweak any and everything bloggers, social media types, and YouTubers can imagine, and often years before we imagine them.
In the case of the multitouch Mac, the company has said just as much over the years.
Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, during Apple's April 2012 financial results call, as transcribed by Macworld:
Steven Levy, speaking with Apple's Senior Vice President of Marketing, Phil Schiller, for Wired:
Steven Levy, speaking again with Phil Schiller, this time for Wired in 2016 following the release of the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar instead of a touch screen:
Shara Tibken and Connie Guglielmo, speaking with Apple's Chief Creative Office, Jony Ive for CNet at the same time:
And with Phil Schiller:
Jon Packowski, writing for Buzzfeed following Apple's new Mac Pro tease in April of 2017:
Lauren Goode, speaking with Apple's senior Vice President of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, for Wired in June of 2018, following the announcement of macOS Mojave and UIKit apps for Mac:
So, on one hand, when Apple executives say they don't like multitouch Macs, because gorilla arms, it's because they're some of the very few people in the world who've actually used multitouch Macs in the lab. It's not an idea or an abstract to them. It's one of the thousand things they said no to before saying yes to the iPad Pro.
On the other hand, you have touch screen laptops, or laptop-like products from Microsoft, Google, and others that get a lot of attention from tech media and creative pros alike.
But Apple executives are talking about the Mac as it is, with an interface that goes back to the Xerox Park days, to the NeXT days, to the foundations idealized around a mouse an pointer, with tiny touch targets never meant for direct finger manipulation.
The challenge of the touch screen Mac
To bring multitouch to the Mac, Apple would have to redesign macOS and its interface to make fingers a first class citizen when it comes to experience and interaction.
The first problem there is the assertion that making things like the Mac menubar more touch-friendly would force them to be less mouse and pointer friendly. The second is, even if you don't believe a compromise could be reached, the second problem is the time and resources it would take to reach it.
It took Microsoft years to make Windows touch friendly, never mind touch first or even touch equal. Literally years in the desert, through Windows 8, to get to Windows 10. But they had to do it. They absolutely had to. Windows Mobile, Microsoft's original touch-ish-based operating system for mobile, didn't survive content with iOS and absolutely not with Android. Despite frequent reboots and compatibility breaks, through Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone 7 and 8, it just hit a brick wall on phones and was never given a chance on tablets. It inspired a lot of the later, more digitally authentic design of iOS and Android, but it itself never succeeded in the market. So, Microsoft absolutely had to make traditional Windows go touch.
Google, by contrast, is a far younger company and never had a traditional computer business or operating system to worry about. It could buy Android, start work on a BlackBerry-style device, see the iPhone, pivot hard into multitouch, and go all-in from pretty much the start. It could also take Apple's WebKit, make Chrome, fork WebKit, make Blink, and basically make the browser the operating system for a large swath of the increasingly web-based world. And multitouch web browsers have been a thing since Safari on the original iPhone.
Apple has a successful traditional computer business with the Mac and a successful multitouch-first mobile business with iOS. It could abandon the former and go all-in on the latter — some analysts , in the name of focus, repeatedly call on Apple to do just that — but there's no existential threat forcing Apple to do that just to survive the great interface transition of the last decade. It's already survived just fine.
Creative pros, at least some of them, are looking at products like the SurfaceBook and Surface Studio with lust in their hearts. They may be niche, something that Microsoft's modular model makes easier because so many other vendors can fill the mainstream, where only Apple makes the Mac. That can still accrue mindshare, but maybe not enough to compel Apple to act.
Likewise, the first generation of kids raised on iPad are growing up. They're not touch-immigrants like us traditional computer user folks. They're touch-native. They expect screens to be like iPhones and iPads. They expect them to respond to touch. And when they don't, there's no consideration given to ergonomics or history — they simply think the screen is broken.
Apple no doubt believe anyone trying touch will rapidly discover it doesn't work on the Mac, compartmentalize the same way they do basketball from soccer rules when it comes to hands and feet on a ball, and just get on with using both the way nature and Apple intended.
But what if they don't? Nobody wants touch on a Mac. Once upon a time, Steve Jobs said nobody wanted video on an iPod. Then we got video iPods. Nobody reads books. Then we got iBooks. If you see a stylus you blew it. Now we have Apple Pencil. Like I said in the MacBook Arm video, for Apple, nothing unannounced exists. And nothing Apple hasn't done is worth doing. Until it is.
The potential solutions to the touch screen Mac
So, lets say regardless of what the Mac market was or is, the Mac market becomes a multitouch market. How could Apple address that?
The iOS Mac
The easiest answer, of course, is to just run iOS on Mac-like hardware. At least at the lower-end. An iOS MacBook is something that, according to rumors, has been in the labs for years. An iOS Mac mini isn't hard to imagine either, especially with Apple getting back into the display business. If Apple does what it previously did, and makes an iMac and stand-alone version of the same display, it could field a really interesting range of multitouch non-Macs that would appeal to iPad Pro users and even those with Surface envy but who also want and value more traditional clamshell, box, and all-in-one form factors. That includes people who find traditional computers off-putting, but also creatives who find multitouch increasingly essential.
And having iOS on the mobile and entry-level end and macOS on high end, each with its own functionality, wouldn't be any more confusing than having iOS on an iPad Pro and macOS on an iMac.
Some people might want real macOS on real multitouch, especially if they want to go from the terminal to the finger and back, but the vast majority of people now and certainly going forward probably really don't. And as iOS gets more and more capable, pushed by the iPad Pro, that'll become more and more true.
And that's another easy answer — as iPad Pro becomes more mature, rather than being the touch screen Mac, it can become the thing that legitimately eliminates the need for a touch screen Mac.
iOS on Mac
A dual-booting device, one that could run iOS in tablet mode and macOS in notebook mode would no doubt be compelling to some. Though the complexity of that idea probably punches every toaster/fridge alarm in Apple's park.
Likewise a MacBook that still doesn't have touch on the screen but has even more touch than the current bar: The entire keyboard gone virtual. What's essentially a macOS display standing up and what's essentially an iPad display — one that can become a full-on Taptic keyboard or any control surface you need any time you need it. One that uses proprioceptive lies to fool your fingers and brains into thinking its real the way the force touch trackpad does today. That's sci-fi that's always getting closer to being sci-fact, but is also probably something traditional Mac users would hate even more than butterfly and dome switches.
The Multitouch Mac
The harder answer is to start adding multitouch to macOS. Harder not just because it would require solving interface problems like the Mac menubar for multitouch, but because of the resources it would take to solve it. Yes, even Apple, with billions of dollars in the bank and a market caps that flirts at a trillion dollars simply can't do everything it wants, not all at once.
The constraint here is engineers. Apple needs engineers and designers to come up with, implement, test, and deploy all the new code and all the new paradigms that would make multitouch Macs a great product. There aren't that many top-flight engineers to begin with. Of the ones that are, not all of them want to work in Cupertino, California, or for Apple instead of a company or startup with greater stock option growth or IPO potential. And competition for the ones who do want to work for bigger companies in the valley, between Apple, Google, and Facebook, is fierce. Even when Apple is the first choice for those engineers, working on macOS may not be. Not when some see it as the past and the upcoming reality OS and autonomous technologies projects as the future.
Even though Apple has some of the best engineers in the world, it doesn't have all of them, and putting the ones it does have on retrofitting multitouch to macOS means those same engineers can't work on other projects, including the next versions of iOS, and the special projects that come after that. Which is a huge opportunity cost.
Just like having those engineers work on performance last year for iOS 12 meant new features, like the rumored new springboard, got pushed to next year.
It's easy for me or anyone in tech media to say "just add touchscreen to the Mac" like all Apple has to do is buy a touch layer and slip it under the glass. But, we don't have to design and engineer the staggering amount of work that would actually have to go into making it all work.
Apple could absolutely do it, but even if Apple could do it much, much faster than Microsoft with Windows 8 and 10, would it be worth losing a year on iOS, two years? While Google is plowing ahead with Android and its next-generation underpinnings, Fuchsia?
The MacBook Beyond
That brings us to an even harder answer, if briefly, because I intend to go deeper into it in a future video: Apple's own next-generation operating system. There have been rumors of rOS, the reality operating system that may one day power Apple Glasses and other products to follow. There have also been rumors of a TitanOS that'll power Apple's autonomous future. Though some of the grandeur aspirations behind that no doubt changed when Apple refocused the project a couple of years ago.
There's a future where iOS and/or macOS simply keep evolving, having old modules like HFS+ swapped out for new ones like APFS, having daemons re-written, frameworks improved, and otherwise, year after year, step by step, becoming what's next.
There's also a future where, rather than merge macOS and iOS or replace macOS with iOS, but replace both with something new. A next NeXT, so to speak. That would be an incalculable amount of work, way more than retrofitting multitouch onto the Mac or adding full keyboard and trackpad support to iOS, but it would also leave Apple with something far more interesting: A new stack, from kernel to interface, that is completely modern and input agnostic. Something that provides local authentication, cloud connection, and simply understands whatever input methods are available to it, from keyboard, to mouse, to multitouch, to the AI and AR future we're racing towards. But, again, more on that soonish…
Apple could make the Mac a little bit multitouch. Again, I realize it's way easier to say something like that than to be the person in charge of implementing it, but here's the thought:
Give Macs a touch screen that enables gesture navigation. Basically, the same level of functionality the gestures on a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad currently allow, and let them poke, swipe, and pinch the screen, if and when they really want to.
Flick up a page in Safari. Zoom into a map. Tap to pause or play a movie. That sort of thing.
Now, that could be a complete mess. If the Mac supports some gestures, people could easily expect it to support complete, full-on multitouch, and when they find out it doesn't it could seem just as broken as no touch at all.
But it's also possible people are smart and will adapt to the constraints and find it to be exactly what they need.
The Mac Pencil
Another option is adding Apple Pencil support to macOS. The Pencil is as precise an input tool as the mouse or trackpad, and could bring all the great pressure sensitive features from iPad Pro roaring onto the Mac. And, because it's so precise, macOS wouldn't require the kind of finger-friendly overhaul it would to support direct touch.
It wouldn't let you do all the gestures, the swipes, the pinches, the pokes, but it would let you do everything you can do now. Just with Pencil.
And, if Apple did both, gesture support for fingers and Pencil support for pressure and precision, that could lead to some pretty amazing computing experiences from MacBook to iMac.
I mean, at least until the fully multitouch, ARM-based iOS clamshells and all-in-ones appear, right?
Will the Mac ever go multitouch?
That's the amazing thing about the future. It's filled with limitless potential and possibilities. And if you want to be part of it, but don't know where to start, check out Brilliant. It's a great place to start learning the logic and theory behind coding, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and more. Each course is interactive and breaks up complicated concepts into bite-sized chunks to make sure you actually absorb the information, a strategy which I really wish was used by traditional schools.
So hit up brilliant.org/vector and get started today. Thanks brilliant and thanks to all of you for supporting the show.
It could be like netbooks, where Apple ignores the trend, then releases new products like the MacBook Air and iPad that become the trendsetters. But it's hard to see touch going the way of cheap, cramped, computing experiences, and the trends have already been set here. iPads helped set them.
Any year now, Apple could surprise all of us at WWDC and tell us macOS has been living a double life as a fully multitouch operating system for a year or more already and if finally ready to go public. Or that iOS has gotten full mouse and trackpad support and is all dressed up in fancy new clamshell and all-in-one clothes. Or that its new reality OS is a titanic new reality and everything we've worried about in terms of Macs and multitouch was a colossal waste of time in the new, next generation world.
Get the best of iMore in in your inbox, every day!
Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.
"…Or that iOS has gotten full mouse and trackpad support" Whilst I think that macOS/Macs may get touch support in the future, I really really doubt iOS will get mouse/trackpad support. Bringing a mouse to iOS would not benefit the user in any way, you'd just have an excessive amount of mouse travel with all the large icons and buttons designed for touch-input. Not to mention the fact that iOS is increasingly gesture-controlled.
Apple needs to do both. Then both would destroy chrome book and windows based pc sales.
Windows pc sales have already been destroyed. Windows now accounts for about 15% of personal computer sales. This is phones, tablets and PCs. Yes, phones are “personal computers”. More personal than anything else. 10 years ago Windows was around 95%. Because there was nothing else available. You either bought a Windows PC or you bought a Mac PC. Phones and tablets did not exist.
LOL cute you are grouping tablets and smartphones with PCs aren't you LOL XD
They are personal computers though, did you actually read what he said? It's really not surprising either, Windows seems to get broken by every other update, it's still full of archaic elements, inconsistent UIs, age-old bugs etc. Plus why does Windows 10 still have Internet Explorer? It's the most awkward thing for web developers, it's almost impossible to develop for it since it's so behind the current web standards, and it crashes half the time when you have the IE developer tools open
If only they were pc's.....
What, Windows machines? Yes, I wish Windows machines could be classes as "PCs" but they're really anything but that. Unless you're running Windows 7 I guess.
You know exactly what I'm talking about Rene. iPads and iPhones are not pc's and you know this.
They're computers, simple.
LOL cute, you still think Windows is relevant to consumers.
That’s why 90 percent of pc devices sold are running windows. 2 percent are macOS and the rest are other OS.
It's rapidly decreasing, plus the majority of that is businesses who run bespoke software, or just ancient versions of Windows because they can't be bothered to change.
90% of laptops and desktops sold are running Windows and 8% are running macOS, not 2%. But the share of laptops / desktops sold as a percentage of total devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets) has been getting smaller every year for the past 5 years.
I bet if apple released a 2 in 1 version of their macbook pro with touch and pencil support, as well as a full touch imac like the studio, that number would go from 8% to 20% in 2 years. I know many professionals who moved from apple to surface devices for this exact reason. They saw the value in touch for doing their work. They are using the surface with the dial and pen and it is making their work flow in creating MUCH faster. They also say they can do more creating with this setup than the old mouse input of the macs they used. This is just in one small geographical area. Imagine how many have did this world wide......More than you think.
I think macOS getting touch-support would be sufficient. iOS is in its own league somewhat, and it works well that way. All iOS devices are portable, so touch-based input is always ergonomic. There's never ever been a situation on my iPhone when I've been using an iPad where I've thought to myself "actually having a mouse would help me here", even if there is an application which requires fine precision, you can either zoom-in, enable a grid-snapping tool, or use the Pencil.
It is much easier to add KB / mouse / trackpad support to iOS than it is to add multi-touch / Pencil support to the Mac. iOS is Apple's opportunity at re-thinking macOS for the modern age. In my opinion, the best way for Apple to bring touch / Pencil to the Mac is to keeping adding capabilities to iOS to the point where it can cannibalize macOS completely.
It's easy to add mouse support to iOS, simply add a cursor and there you go, you can use iOS via a mouse through the Xcode simulator. The question is what benefit does that add? You can do exactly what you could before, except the mouse travel will be excessive due to larger UI elements that are adapted for touch.
“It took Microsoft years to make Windows touch friendly, never mind touch first or even touch equal. Literally years in the desert, through Windows 8, to get to Windows 10.” No, Microsoft is still working on this. Windows 10 is a horrible tablet experience. 8.1 was much better. Windows 10 can best be described as “touch tolerant “. Friendly? Not even close.
Agreed, I have a Surface and I've used touch on it perhaps twice. It's not a good experience.
This seems to be the general feedback from all the Surface users I've heard from. The touch input is more of an extra feature, rather than a core part of the computer.
I for one really agree with Apple on this! I have a Surface from my company and I used touch on it about twice. It's not a good experience, it's not ergonomically friendly based on the distances you typically interact with a computer. I have 1 employee out of 200 that actually uses touch on his Surface, every other employee we have still uses a mouse!
I have absolutely no need to raise my hands from my perfectly usable keyboard, mouse, trackpad, Wacom tablet, etc etc to touch the screen on my iMac and cover it with fingerprints, smears, grease, grime, food, or anything else. I just don't get the appeal. Do these people who endlessly demand a touchscreen Mac own stock in Windex or something? A greasy, grimy, dirty monitor is something I pride myself on NOT having. An iPad or laptop or iPhone is fine, it's in your lap, you aren't raising your arms from the keyboard tray up to a screen that is high above your desk, and I'm sorry, using your fat fingers on a screen just is not as precise as using a mouse.
Touch will come to the Mac when Marzipan arrives. There's probably a 25% chance in 2019 but an 80% chance in 2020.
Those are some interesting statistics, but I do think touch will come to the Mac at some point in the near future.
Apple should just revamp the iPad and give us a "PadOS" of some type. iOS for the iPhones, PadOS for the iPad and MacOS for the Macbooks. Then we wouldn't need a touchscreen Macbook.
I agree. Apple needs to fork iOS into phoneOS & padOS. This allows the iPad to be the iPad and forces the iPad software engineering team to focus on bringing yearly updates to iPad software features.
I don't think we need more fragmentation amongst the OSes. iOS works for both the iPad and iPhone, which is shown by having things like the Dock which only displays on the iPad
The problem right now is Apple releases an iPad-focused iOS version every 2 years. By forking iOS into phoneOS & padOS, it forces the software engineering team in charge of padOS to focus on yearly improvements.
I don't know if that is the official release schedule, after all, iOS 12 was more to do with fixing/optimisation rather than new features. Hopefully the iPad will get more focused updates from iOS 13 onwards, yearly.
It is not an official release schedule. I'm just going by past history. iOS 9 & iOS 11 were iPad-focused releases and from recent rumors iOS 13 is also destined to be an iPad-focused release.
The gap for iOS 12 doesn't really count, but you might be right. If iOS 13 is iPad-focused and iOS 14 isn't, then I'll be pretty sure that your theory is correct
As I was reading this article, I kept thinking that I don't want multitouch support on Mac, I want mouse support on iPad. From the comments, I see I'm not the only one. Now that iPad Pro has USB-C, and could more easily support multiple displays, it only makes sense to let its high-performance processing power work as an honest-to-goodness work machine, while retaining its character as an ultra-portable entertainment screen.
Imagine this. You're working on your Mac with your keyboard with your favourite Mac app. Your fingers are flying, way faster than you could ever work with touch on an iPad! But then, you need to do some shading on an image within the app. Sitting flat on the desk beside you is an iPad. It is displaying the same image you see on your Mac. You grab your Apple Pencil and begin shading on the iPad, and as you do it the shading is shown on the Mac. This type of iOS to macOS integration provides the best of both worlds: no need to make screen elements ridiculously large to allow touch, and of course no need to have gorilla arms.
I don’t have gorilla arms and I use touch on my 2 in 1 and desktop every day. Just like the dumb comment about fingerprints when the same people use iPhones and iPads. Just plain stupid.
Thank you for signing up to iMore. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.