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?

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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.

  • Sounds like a pretty pointless idea.. This offers no advantage over attaching a keyboard to an ipad pro..."paying extra for keyboard" is a moot point as the price of your "ibook" will certainly include the price of the added keyboard...not only that, third party keyboards are much more affordable than one made and sold by Apple. Btw, paying for a device that looks like a laptop but only runs iphone apps is ridiculous to begin with. Now if something like Macbook Air would become multi-touch, that would be a welcome attempt at catching up to the world of portable touch netbooks
  • I disagree with almost every point you tried to make here.
  • I couldn't care less.
  • Talk about a waste of screen real estate. The IOS springboard needs a revamp, so much wasted space. Not to mention don't really see the point of this. Like others have said, this doesn't offer any real advantage over an ipad pro with keyboard.
  • That revamp is rumored to arrive in 2019
  • Rumored from where?
  • "But just as important this year will be what Apple doesn't introduce: redesigned home screens for the iPhone, iPad and CarPlay, and a revamped Photos app that can suggest which images to view." https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-12/how-apple-plans-to-ro...
  • As if Bloomberg isn't one of the worst fake news sites when it comes to Apple.
  • It's been rumored from many sources that Apple are working on a UI refresh, but Apple have also said that this year they're focusing on stability rather than pushing new features, so it's likely the UI refresh won't come till 2019
  • It is much needed.
  • No, this is the wrong way to go. What we really need is touch enabled MacOS 10.14 running on iPad/iPhone "A12" chipsets, with the ability to run Mac and iOS apps, and 15 hour battery life. Intel MacOS apps would run in emulation, just like PPC Mac apps ran in emulation on Intel Macs ten years ago. iOS apps would run natively. Eventually MacOS apps would be "universal binaries" that would run natively on Intel Mac Pros and the "A" chip ultra portable Macs. Surely Apple has MacOS running on iPad "A" chips by now. They surprised everyone with the move from PPC to Intel ten years ago. Now is the time for another hardware surprise.
  • What you're describing is exactly what MS is doing with Windows 10 on ARM. On Windows 10 on ARM, Win32 applications will run in an emulation layer while apps downloaded from the App Store will run natively (on both ARM & Intel processors).
  • Well, MS is doing it because they are desperately trying to get SOMETHING going in the mobile space. It is 2018 and they are still thrashing about, trying to come up with a viable "mobile strategy". All they have is desktop Windows, and I agree with Richard it is a terrible tablet OS. Throw in the fact that they are still running on Intel CPUs, and you know why there are no real Windows tablets. Intel CPUs in tablets are horrible because of their power use and heat. Fans on a tablet? 4 hour battery life? What a joke. As anyone who has ever written any code will tell you, it is easier to scale UP than to scale DOWN. It is easier to take something small and simple, and make it larger and more robust than it is to go the other direction. Which is Microsoft's problem. They have no small, simple MOBILE OS like Apple has. Apple has these 2 very similar, yet different OSes. Some sort of convergence seems inevitable to me, whether it is scaling up iOS enough to be more "Mac-like" OR running touch-enabled MacOS on "A" chips and running Mac apps and iPad apps side by side OR just with the "universal binaries" Richard mentions below. But essentially an iPad "2 in 1" like Rene is pining for here, just seems pointless to me UNLESS it can run Mac apps (via some method as listed above). An iPad with Yet Another Keyboard - running only iPad apps - is a solution looking for a problem.
  • Agreed, but remember how badly Microsoft failed at this effort? Hope apple doesnt make the same mistakes.
  • The only part of your comment I agree with is (some) apps becoming universal binaries that run on both macOS and iOS. I think a lot of people *think* they want macOS on the A(X) chips, but in reality they would complain when performance is sub-par. They *think* they want this because they *think* it would be cheaper, but that's not necessarily true. I really don't see any kind of hybrid anytime soon. Even Microsoft is starting to backtrack the concept of an OS that scales for the device it's on. They started with the idea, but their "tablet mode" in Windows 10 is terrible and they ditched their mobile phone business. At the end of the day, they'll keep making iOS more powerful while trying to remain true to it's "mobile" nature.
  • I think the only thing you proved here with your opinion is that hybridOS on the iPad needs to become a reality sooner rather than later. I mean ****, look at all that wasted screen real estate. Also, while not popular I do think it’s time some sort of widgets came to the springboard, not just Notifications. I am really surprised that there is still no quick access to a small amount of apps in the lock screen. I understand not wanting to have clutter but something needs to be done, something close to the Mac but still keep its identity. iOS 11 was the right start for the iPad and the direction it should’ve taken back on iOS 5, now Apple needs to take it at least 1 step higher on iOS 12, even if it’s only focusing on “improvements” that iOS 8.3 and iOS 9 was supposed to fix (anyone remember that?)
  • "iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing." - Tim Cook I wouldn't hold your breath on the iBook, or at least not the version of it proposed in the video. If Apple does introduce an iBook, personally I think it will utilize a custom Apple ARM SoC and running macOS; in other words, an ARM-based Mac.
  • I simply must agree - as long as the screen is removable. I've been through five keyboards for iPad Pro since I got it in 2015, and the most suitable and reliable is a clamshell Moko that seems to use Bluetooth 2.0. 'Tis rather annoying to have the SmartKeybaord never function reliably, especially since iOS11 came out. The fact that keyboard makers seem to remove all the best aspects of iPad with a keyboard case which is either totally enclosing, or not really portable, seems to indicate that no one - including Apple, isnt' really getting iPad. Ax SoC's and iOS are the future of computing, as far as I can tell - Jobs knew it before 2010 (or was it 2011?) when he said that PC's are like trucks; iPads are like cars. Over the next three years, Ax will surpass not just Celeron/m/i3's, but easily zoom past i5's. The top of the line MBP's are already resembling the MacBook, so I agree - it makes sense that the new iBook would be based on iPad/iOS/Ax. Great proposition, Rene!
  • So really you just want a more reliable keyboard? Because if the screen detaches then you've got an iPad.
  • I agree that the iPad Pro could be a lot more than Apple is allowing it to be right now.
    I would love an “iBook” that could function much like a laptop, but also function like a tablet when the removable keyboard is detached. Combine these features with what the Apple Pensil does, for those who need or desire it, and it would truely be a compelling new iDevice. I think I’d be in on it.
    The one factor that would have a major eave this on success for Apple is the asking price. If it’s like many of their products, it still will likely stuggle in the education sector, as well as budget computing device buyers. Thusly, no gain for Apple as a company.
  • These hypotheticals are annoying. No wonder I hardly visit anymore.
  • The people that say they're not going to visit this website anymore seem to be the people that are the most active here
  • It's a thin crowd now. Your bound to notice this more.
  • This concept takes away the advantage of the iPad and iOS (mobility) and the advantage of macOS (running desktop apps). What you end up with is a concept that would work for few people (those who want an iPad but don't want a tablet).
  • Simply adding a keyboard to an iOS device (which N third party companies have already done, to varying degrees of success) doesn’t make it a viable general purpose computer unless Apple significantly opens iOS up. Far from getting the “best of both worlds”, you’ll end up with a device that functions poorly in both. We don’t need more one-size-fits-all mentality.
  • This just screams pointless. Why not get an iPad with a keyboard? There are several iPad models at varying price points. To someone with an iPhone, iPad and a MacBook...would this product offer any appeal? And to someone with none of the above, why would they purchase this product over one of the entry level iPad models and get a keyboard for it? It just seems like a waste of engineering and time.
  • I find it funny that Apple says a touch interface on a laptop is a terrible user experience, because you have to reach up to touch the screen, while at the same time marketing the iPad Pro as an ideal laptop replacement. I like my iPad Pro, but I don’t like that it doesn’t have a trackpad, can’t run multiple screens and limits what apps I can use. I like my MacBook because it can do all the things my iPad can’t, but wish I could use my finger or Apple Pencil to annotate, take notes or draw. IMO Apple is making a mistake by giving users an either or choice. Touch on macOS would be a terrible user experience? Let users decide that. At work I use an HP laptop that has a touch screen. The only time I actually use the touch interface is when I want to mark up a document or draw something on the screen. I never use it to navigate or for any other purpose. But when I use it, I love having the option. If I were making decisions at Apple I would add multitouch to all Mac’s and add a trackpad to the iPad Pro. Give users options and then listen to their feedback and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Sounds like you want an iPad Pro running a version of macOS
  • The iPad Pro would be fine for me if it had Pro apps. There is no match for tools like Final Cut, Logic, and VS Code. Apple have done a good job with the split view and having the Dock on the iPad, so I think they will continue on a route of improving multi-tasking in apps.
  • "Touch on macOS would be a terrible user experience? Let users decide that." This isn't Apple's motto. Apple wants to prevent users from doing stupid things, not encourage them. If they provide touch-functionality without apps that are designed for touch controls, then it goes against what they work for. Apple has always had specifications on prerequisites that must be in place before they implement something, such as their MacBooks must have a certain battery life duration, to be considered a portable computer.
  • Fingers are much less precise and leave fingerprints - no thanks.
  • What I would like is mouse/trackpad support for the iPad.
    And also some tweaking of the apps to make it more suitable.
  • So basically you want the iPad to become a Mac? The iPad will always be a touch device, which means it will never have mouse/trackpad support.
  • In Windows 10, MS included a feature called Continuum. Essentially, what it allows is for the device to adapt the UI based on context. When the device is in tablet mode, a user will be presented with a touch-optimized UI. When the device is docked / connected to a keyboard, a user will be presented with a KB / mouse / trackpad optimized UI. Maybe Apple can implement something like this for the iPad. It would still be based on iOS of course.
  • Thats all I can ask for, basic mouse/trackpad support, easy cut and paste it will significantly improve my tasks.
  • Idk... I really struggled with this Vector. Watched the video and read the article twice, but still fall on the side of most of the comments here of "what's the point"? Part of my reaction wants to come at this opinion piece with the thought that, "Rene is making the case that a 'skinny' version of a MacBook has a place in tech"; but then I consider the way you're suggesting that thought comes to life and I just think it equals an iPad with a keyboard. I think that it's okay to have separation in tasks and purpose for our technology. Things with physical keyboards are great for primary use of inputting data and not the best choice for "on the go" use. Desktops and Laptops are great in the "heavy lifting" space. Mobile technology is really great for extracting information and light input, but they're not the best for larger jobs. If iPad with a keyboard is supposed to strike at least some balance between the two, then what's the point of an "iBook"? As the recent Apple commercial tries to make that point with the whole "What's a Computer?" bit, (of which I want to tell the young actress in that very commercial, "Once you reach adulthood and gain employment, you'll become very clear what a computer is.") I just don't a wide enough use case for what you're describing above.
  • I agree Renee,
    I would really like to see 3 iBooks 1. 9.7 or 7.9 inch iBook made from polycarbonate like the old MacBook but in more bright colors. Totally aimed a schools. 2. 12.9 inch iBook similar in design to the MacBook. This would be designed to replace the MacBook .
    3 iBookPro a convertible version (similar to the Porsche Design laptop) where the top can detach and be an existing iPad Pro. There are half a billion iOS only users that don't use macOS . It's time for a laptop for them.
  • "There are half a billion iOS only users that don't use macOS . It's time for a laptop for them." Going by the recent iPad Pro commercials that Apple has released, I get the sense that, that's essentially Apple's goal for the iPad Pro. Only time will tell but definitely bigger changes will have to come to iOS for that to happen.
  • Useless article with a pointless idea, just as usual.