Why I'd love an iOS MacBook — an iBook!

Fake iBook concept
Fake iBook concept (Image credit: iMore / Rene Ritchie)

An iOS Laptop — or iBook, if you're feeling retro — would have a multitouch display and an integrated — or detachable — keyboard. Better than bolting touch to Mac or having to pay extra for iPad keyboards, it could be the one device to rule them all... especially for schools.

No doubt Apple already has it in the labs. Up top is my video pitch for putting it on store shelves!

You can read the transcript below but, if you like the video, please do subscribe and share.)

Apple is about to hold an education event on March 27th in Chicago, Illinois, widely expected is the next generation low-cost iPad maybe with Apple Pencil support, and maybe even a next-generation MacBook Air with modern components and reduced price tag.

I want to talk about something we're not expecting, at least not right now. For years, people have been asking about a touchscreen MacBook. Google has touchscreen Chromebooks, because they didn't enter the market in the years of command line or the years of graphical user interfaces. They entered the market when touch screens were already everywhere, and they made all the sense in the world to just continue that trend into their Chromebooks.

Microsoft has touch screen laptops because after years of Windows Mobile and Windows Phone and just not being able to succeed in the mobile market, Microsoft was forced to graft touch screen into Windows, to spend the years in the desert that were Windows 8, to come out on the other side finally with Windows 10.

Apple, on the other hand, has one of the most popular and successful operating systems with iOS. Going back and spending the time, the money, the engineering resources, the effort to graft finger friendly into MacOS makes the kind of sense that doesn't.

In Apple's specific case, it would be far more practical, far more efficient not to try to push the Mac down but to pull iOS up. That's why I want to talk about an iOS laptop.

When you look at the 12 inch right now, it's pretty much a MacBook in iPad clothing. It's super light, super sleek, and it even has just one port, although instead of Lightning it's USB-C. In almost every way that matters, Apple has made that Mac an iPad except for the touchscreen.

When you look at the iPad Pro that's as close as an iPad has come to being a Mac. Apple's A-series processor in my opinion already runs circles around Intel's Core M even though they're trying to call that an I series now. Nobody is fooled.

It's got a range of keyboard attachments that make it as good if not better to type on. When you start adding those keyboard attachments, the price starts going up. That's especially important for schools or other institutions who are looking at buying a Chromebook that comes with almost everything they need as opposed to an iPad that comes with the screen and everything else has to be added on top of that.

On one hand, we have the MacBook that has everything but touch, and on the other hand, we have the iPad that has everything but integration. What if we put those together? Imagine a MacBook that didn't run MacOS but that ran iOS that turned instantly on, that went right to the home screen, that had all of the apps you'd already downloaded onto your iPhone or iPad.

That had the typing experience of a MacBook maybe with scissor switches and not butterfly switches. The multi-touch display of an iPad. A device that is in every way that matters the best of both of those worlds.

Of course, there are some challenges. Apple has said, and a lot of people have agreed, that touch screens on computers just aren't as ergonomic as they are on tablets. The thing is a lot of the people who say that just aren't touch natives. We all grew up in the era where the keyboard came first. We learned touch with devices like the iPhone and the iPad, but it's still not our first instinct with the computer.

Children who have grown up in the era of multi-touch, in the era of iPad though, they really are touch first. If a screen doesn't respond to touch, they just think it's broken. The truth is ergonomics are a factor of time. If touch is never there, you can never use it. If it is there, you don't have to always use it. You can use it only when it makes sense, only when it feels instinctive.

Apple does this already by supporting a wide range of gestures on the Mac trackpad. Those are the same gestures that people who grew up with an iPad just expect to work on the screen. Those trackpads are another challenge, iOS currently doesn't support them.

There's no concept of a mouse or a pointer on an iPad. When iPad Pro and the smart keyboard shipped, for everyone that we heard complaints that they couldn't touch the screen of their Mac, we suddenly had someone complaining they couldn't use a trackpad on the iPad.

On the Apple TV, there is no touchscreen and there's no keyboard by default, what Apple did is come up with a gesture area on the Siri remote and combine that with something called the focus interface. With the focus engine as you swipe on the Siri remote, different elements of the Apple TV interface are selected. While I'm sure it's non-trivial, I think the same idea could be applied to an iOS laptop.

Whether it's an actual trackpad or Apple just makes all the keys on the keyboard capacitive, as you swipe across, different elements of the screen would be selected. The line between tablet and laptop is also an issue. For very young kids, laptops just aren't as usable as tablets. This could be solved in a number of ways.

For example, kids and anybody else who doesn't really need a keyboard could just stick with a traditional iPad. Apple could also field a convertible, a device that looks like a MacBook in every way but you could pop the screen off and use it like an iPad. The advantage of the integrated keyboard is simply that it allows more space for things like extra battery and, yes, even extra ports.

Imagine an iOS laptop that didn't just have Lightning in the detachable screen but had USB-A and USB-C right in the keyboard. Apple is one of the most successful and richest companies in the world. Any idea that I could come up with, that I could talk about on YouTube or a podcast or a blog, Apple has no doubt already thought of, has already prototyped, has already experimented and explored with.

No doubt there have been various forms of iOS laptops sitting on the shelves in labs and in closets in Apple offices for a long time already. I'm just advocating for why I think it makes increasing sense to take that product out of the labs and start putting it in stores.

I'm not going to call it the MacBook for millennials or the MacBook for centennials or anything like that. I think it's an iOS Book or an iBook that could be used by anybody. It would be an incredibly compelling device, especially for education where we already have iPads but we have to deck them out to make them more like Macs, or we already have Macs but they're just not as accessible as iPads.

The idea of a device that could be both but didn't have touch retrofitted to it, and isn't locked down to a browser is incredibly compelling. I think even more compelling for schools. It's almost the one device to rule them all.

I think Apple could make a huge impact with it. That's why I would love to see an iOS laptop, but what about you? Are iPads enough? Are MacBooks enough? Or, do you want to see something that really could be the best of both?

○ Video: YouTube
○ Podcast: Apple | Overcast | Pocket Casts | RSS
○ Column: iMore | RSS
○ Social: Twitter | Instagram

Rene Ritchie

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.