MacBook With a Touchscreen is Available: Bloomberg claims that Apple’s MacBook computers could include touchscreens as early as 2025, despite Apple repeatedly dismissing this notion over the past few years. But what does it mean for people who already use either Macs or Windows laptops, as well as those who are considering making the switch?
During the summer I once again pondered the question, “Why don’t MacBooks have touchscreens?” In my experience, one of the most common responses is “because Apple wants you to feel like you should buy a MacBook and an iPad to get the whole Apple experience.”
If the latest rumors are true, though, Apple will be essentially reversing course on one of the primary points of contention between the iPad and the Mac. We’ve been thinking about the iPad and MacBook’s ongoing tango since at least 2010, and we published an article about the convergence of features and software at that time.
We’ve come to refer to this idea as the “grand unified theory of Apple operating systems,” with the assumption being that as time goes on, iPads will incorporate more functions traditionally associated with computers, and vice versa for Macs, particularly MacBooks. In reality, that development has already begun.
.@apple is reportedly working on adding a touchscreen to its Macbook, a design feature many users have wanted for years.
Touchscreen technology is nothing new, so in many ways, this update is long overdue, with many competitors having already incorporated this feature. pic.twitter.com/Cmk47NMcgO
— highsnobiety (@highsnobiety) January 13, 2023
A clamshell laptop with the addition of an (expensive) keyboard case for an iPad is a very real possibility. Especially now that iPads have mouse and trackpad support and can multitask like computers.
Twelve years ago, we first formally requested this.
In 2010, my coworker Scott Stein began advocating for this convergence, writing that “it would make a lot of sense for iMacs and MacBooks to be able to launch a touch-optimized iOS mode that would exploit the already multitouch-ready iPad/iPhone software to its advantage.”
When the iPad with a touchscreen was released that year, I inquired as to whether or not it should be “considered a computer.” the same inquiry will be reexamined in 2020, on the iPad’s tenth anniversary. Adding the iPad’s touchscreen capability to Apple’s MacBook series isn’t a crazy concept as the company has been producing touchscreen computers for years.
As Steve Jobs famously put it, “the major argument against touchscreen Macs has long been “Fatigue sets in after a short while, and after a long while, your arm feels like it wants to fall off. Because of its poor ergonomic design, it is ineffective.”
Having reviewed and tested computers since long before Apple released its MacBook line, I can confirm that this is the case… provided that you rely only on the touchscreen. There’s a good reason why touchscreens first started appearing on Windows laptops around the time Windows 8 was released, and why they’ve subsequently become a common feature on nearly every midrange and a high-end laptop.
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It’s not that you should rely solely on the touchscreen, or even primarily. Instead, I’ve discovered that it can be a very useful computer tool. This could be touching a button, scrolling through a lengthy webpage or document, or even moving windows around on the computer screen. Touchscreens on laptops are bad when used as the primary input method. Touchscreens on laptops work excellently when used occasionally for specialized tasks.
My coworkers and I have argued in favor of touchscreen Macs on numerous occasions. Last year, I declared, “Even though it’s unlikely to ever happen, I think MacBooks would benefit greatly from having touchscreens. Even entry-level Windows laptops now include the capability, and it’s a welcome addition.” Scott speculated that “maybe Macs gain more touch functions over time,” shrink in size and become more like iPads that same year. (He has written extensively about this subject over the course of several years.)
Something like this has already taken place.
Touchpads and other touch-based input methods have been tried on Macs before, and they haven’t gone over well. In my opinion, that is the most compelling reason to avoid MacBooks with touchscreens.
The touch bar of the 2016 MacBook Pro was a secondary touchscreen display. It failed to gain traction, and its absence from subsequent models was welcomed by many (it lives on, for now, in the current 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is a bit of a throwback).
Before then, third-party accessories like the AirBar had claimed to make MacBooks touch-enabled but ultimately failed.
Apple’s first touchscreen laptop, the ModBook, was created by a firm called Axiotron. It was just a regular old MacBook Pro that had been disassembled and put back together with a touchscreen added. In 2008, I wrote a review in which I said that while I was “impressed with the tech behind Axiotron’s rebuilt, tableted MacBook,” the fact that it lacked a keyboard and the ability to rotate the screen made it “a pricey anomaly.”
While this concept didn’t last long, it does hint at the potential for future Mac designs to be more like convertible Windows computers thanks to the addition of a touchscreen, hastening the inevitable convergence of Macs and iPads.
The addition of a touchscreen doesn’t have to detract from the experience, provided that future MacBooks retain their superb keyboards and touchpads. In fact, I’d wager that Mac’s touch interface isn’t unlike the Windows laptop’s touch interface in that it’s a feature that’s always present when you need it but simply to ignore otherwise.
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