Will Apple ever make a touch MacBook?

by Volker Weber


This question comes up time and again. Will Apple ever make a touch MacBook? I believe they will not. Let me explain:

We started this journey with 80 character wide text screens. To navigate this screen we used a cursor, a reverse blinking box. We moved the box around with four cursor keys and you could insert text or overwrite text.

With the Graphical User Interface (GUI) we added a mouse pointer. That was an extra layer on top, which also let you move the cursor, now a caret, to a certain place in your text. You were able to select text, sometimes even multiple blocks of texts. But when you started typing, it did not matter where the mouse pointer was. Text was inserted where the caret was. In order to not confuse the user, we switched off the mouse pointer while he was typing.

Fast forward. When Microsoft introduced touch into Windows (a long time ago), your finger would move the mouse pointer. Touch became another input device, competing with mice and trackpads. This was mildly confusing because the mouse pointer always trailed your finger.

Then came the iPhone and that did not have a mouse pointer. This layer was completely replaced. I still get this question: why doesn't this iPad keyboard have a trackpad? Simple. There is no concept of a mouse pointer in iOS. iOS was built from the ground up for touch. Apple has two UIs: one is optimized for touch, the other for pointers.

Microsoft went a different route. They have one OS and basically one UI for Windows 10. Windows 8 was leaning more towards touch, Windows 10 is leaning more towards pointers. You can switch between a tablet mode and a desktop mode. In tablet mode, touch targets become larger, but you always have these three layers: text, pointer, touch.

When Apple introduced the Touch Bar, it quickly became apparent that this was not a step towards touch macOS. This is another input device. You have a keyboard, a (huge) trackpad, and a new subsystem, the Touch Bar. Subsequently it became apparent that technically it works almost like an Apple Watch. It's a little computer in itself and it's quite possible that in the future, you can keep it alive while the Mac is asleep.

I strongly believe that Apple will not make a three layer device that combines touch, pointer and text. It's either touch or pointer. And I think that both work better than the hybrid Microsoft created.


I completely agree: Apple makes a clear distinction between iOS and MacOS. They will probable never merge.
One comment though: an iPad does have a trackpad. Use two fingers on the keyboard, and your trackpad appears. I use it all the time. It's great.

Theo Heselmans, 2016-10-29

Ich glaube aber, dass bereits die Touch Bar eine Art neuen Layer bedeutet.

In der gezeigten Demo von Photoshop sah die Bedienung alles andere als elegant aus. Und was nützt es mir, wenn bekannte Tastaturshortcuts durch Touch-Elemente auf der Touch Bar ergänzt werden? Ich kann mir einfach nicht vorstellen, dass ein Photoshop Profi mit der Touch Bar sonderlich glücklich werden kann.

Karl Heindel, 2016-10-29

Theo, I know what you mean. But that only moves the caret like you would with touch.

Karl, nein, kein Layer. Das ist einfach ein weiteres Eingabegerät. Ich kann nur die DJ-Demo beurteilen, und die ist Banane. Ein DJ braucht physische Knöpfe und davon möglichst viele.

Volker Weber, 2016-10-29

Karl: Der Schlüsselsatz der Photoshop-Demo war für mich „It almost feels like you’re playing a musical instrument“. Die Presenterin hat mit einer Hand die Farbe bzw. die Größe des Pinsels verändert, während die andere Hand im Dokument gezeichnet hat. Dieses dynamische Arbeiten ging bisher (zumindest mit Bordmitteln) so nicht und ich denke, das ist tatsächlich eine sinnvolle Ergänzung. Interessanterweise hat Microsoft mit dem Surface Dial diese Woche ebenfalls ein neuartiges Eingabegerät vorgestellt, das ein derartiges Arbeiten ermöglicht. Nur läßt sich dieses auch in einem Desktop-Setup verwenden. Ich frage mich, wie viele Photoshop-Profis hauptsächlich auf Books (ohne einen externen Monitor) arbeiten.

Dietmar Liehr, 2016-10-29

"Apple decided against touchscreens for the Mac 'many, many' years ago."(https://www.cnet.com/special-reports/does-the-mac-still-matter). They repeat this like a mantra but I have to remember how Steve famously changed his opinion on things he has once identified as laws of nature. I understand and one half of me supports the argument about touch and pointer (and pencil!) and that they require different UIs. On the other hand I see the Surface Studio demo and think by myself "This is how my next computer should work". I know it is just a shiny demo and of course I don't want a sleeping dragon on my desk. Yes, it is a challenge to get the mouse/pointer/pencil dilemma right. The kind of challenge that I usually expected Cupertino to tackle.

Dietmar Liehr, 2016-10-29

Who wants to have finger prints on the screen?

With multi-touch (Magic) Trackpad, Magic Mouse and now the Touchbar (why not Magic?) Apple has outstanding solutions to interact with the software.
So absolutely no need for a touchscreen on the Mac.

Manfred Wiktorin, 2016-10-29

Manfred- I'd repeat the point I made on Volker's response to the launch just yesterday: there are plenty of people out there, of all ages, who now find touchscreen the 'natural' way to interact with a computer, having had their instincts honed over recent years by working with smartphones or Windows laptops.

I understand Volker's points, but some people undoubtedly feel distanced by what they perceive as 'old fashioned' means of driving a computer - working at a University, I meet students who shake their heads in amazement at such archaisms as trackpads and mice. It can be an interesting thing to watch, if you sit them in front of a computer that does not use the screen as an input device - you end up with those fingerprints on the screen anyway!

But I'd be interested to experience the Touchbar myself.

Nick Daisley, 2016-10-29

I have an iPad Pro with a Logitech keyboard. Noticed at work that I miss the efficient combination of keyboard and touchscreen when I touched the screen of a regular laptop. I think it makes work more productive.

Kai Kramhöft, 2016-10-29

From having worked on, for and with the Mac for just about 25 years now - with only few intermissions forced upon me by previous employers who ran their company on the Windows platform - I never thought the day would come that a Microsoft product would have me go "wow" like Apple's product never failed in doing (and for the record: I HATED Steve Jobs, truly hated his guts for the mean, rancid person he must have been on more than one occasion..., and I soon began to hate and still hate Apple's policies that never honored their userbase's loyalty in terms of investments made...). But the dial and Surface Studio did that exact thing for me. Then exactly one day later - b.t.w. LATER? What's up with that?!!! - Apple introduced their new line of Mac Book Pro's sporting the touchbar. And while the machines came with their usual pizzazz and elegant slim casing - is "slimmer" the new sexy like color and a "handle" used to be for the first line of iMacs? - the touchbar left me almost completely unimpressed. First of all, my eyes had already seen the dial. (Timing, Apple? Anyone. The old boss would have rather kept everyone awake for 48 hours and longer than allow to get beat with the introduction of a new product by ... Microsoft?!) But o.k., sarcasm and grouching set aside: I find this new input device to be inconsistent with previously existing design guidelines and concepts in that it adds a function that - to me - might have found its place in or on an already enlarged trackpad. I don't think, the old "wig" would have approved of this and for reasons of - at least latent - redundancy when we already have an input device that reads touch and does something meaningful with it. Plus, as some pointed out, the physical position of the touchbar is .. .questionable at best. No, I'm not impressed. (and that happens ever more often from one product presentation to the next...). Time to remember Apple's fortés and quickly get back to employing them IMHO!

Werner Nieke, 2016-10-29

This pans out into an interesting discussion. Lots of things to say.

Dietmar, Steve lied. A lot.

Manfred, I am old and grizzly enough that the Microsoft Mouse was laughed at. Who would need that when we had perfectly good keyboard shortcuts.

Nick, exactly. Using a mouse pointer is an acquired pattern. We would rather manipulate everything with our hands. That is why 10 finger touch was such an amazing invention. You see that every time you want to zoom a map in an in-dash navigation system and you have to use some sort of controller.

Kai, I think this is where mainstream computing is heading. Use a touch device and augment with peripherals. We aren't there just yet.

Volker Weber, 2016-10-29

Volker, what an ugly word for a "reality distortion field" …

Werner, the placement under the screen is obvious because this is where your eyes are. The touchbar needs eye contact therefore it will not make too much sense on an external keyboard in a desktop setting. With the Surface Dial it depends on what you are controlling.

Manfred: I have fingerprints on my Macbook because sometimes I subconsciously try to manipulate it with touch. I'm sure that the Touchbar is an outstanding solution and they spent a lot of time developing it. I'm just not sure they bet on the right horse this time.

Dietmar Liehr, 2016-10-29

None of the keynote showcases for Touch Bar was really something that sold me on the idea. I like the general idea of context sensitive buttons, but then again, pressing a button outside of my usual fingerspace instead of either using the mouse pointer to click the bold button or cmd-b seems a bit forced.

The silliest case was "browsing photos in full screen and sliding through them" - that's what sliding over the fricking touch pad is for!

As for the use of it in photoshop: PS users complain about the loss of F-keys, since a lot of menus and copy&paste used to be on those... Brush sizes are easily set either via keyboard or, via your Wacom tablet.

What really impressed me was the idea to have the external (LG) monitor set as the device hub for all peripherals, while there's only one cable connecting to the MBPro. That's awesome, if you need a new full set of hardware.

Dirk Moeller, 2016-10-29

Just the other day I wrote as a comment on a Vowe post that I was really disappointed that Apple did not deliver touch.

Then I read this.

Then today I spent 20 minutes with a Surface Book. I spent my time touching the screen - scrolling - navigating - touching on screen buttons, you know using the machine (OneNote). I also had a go with the pen (I drew a simple architecture diagram to see how that worked out).

I found that touching the on-screen buttons was generally accurate, but not always - because my hand obscured where I needed to touch. I found the display angle, when in laptop mode, is all wrong for touch. Add that the display was not solid below my fingers - the screen wobbled a little - this caused me to sometimes double touch. Using the machine in clipboard mode with a pen was a little better - but it's heavy and I kept thinking I might drop the screen if I put too much pressure on the pen. I found my handwriting was even more terrible than it is with paper and pen - it would be next to useless for me to attempt to write notes on this device.

Don't get me wrong, the Surface Book is a great looking machine. I was impressed. But I was less impressed after I had a little bit of time with it.

The end result is that I appreciate Apple's perspective on touch. I might not agree with their reasons, but I'm coming around.

Ian Bradbury, 2016-10-29

Considering ergonomics, touch screens on laptop computers (devices with screens that are connected with the keyboard via a hinge) are no good idea.

The same holds true for desktop concepts. Does anybody remember those touch screen computer concepts from HP et al. that were obviously targeting iMac customers (unsuccessfully)? It is no surprise that the quickly disappeared.

Apple's decision to have two basically different UI concepts on macOS and iOS taking into consideration the primary use cases of these different device classes makes sense:
macOS computer - content creation, including typing text regularly, manipulating objects
iOS device - content consumption, only time and again requiring to type text or manipulating objects with precision

Still I can not understand what the heck is the benefit of the Touch Pad - maybe except a funky appearance (oh, so colorful).
Working with it looks somewhat unnatural as you have to keep your arm lifted above the physical keys.
The lack of the physical keys that were to be found in this row (ESC!) will probably drive many users nuts.
I would not be surprised if this concept will be dropped in the next MBP generation.

Sven Bühler, 2016-10-30

Microsoft's "sideshow" back in the days of Vista wasn't much of a success. I'm thus not too convinced about the touch bar.

Hanno Zulla, 2016-10-31

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