Why don’t Apple notebooks have touchscreens?

“The rise of touch-enabled computers raises two questions. First, what’s the point: Do you really need to be able to touch your computer’s screen rather than use a track pad or mouse? And second, why is Apple—the firm that has done more to stoke our collective touch-screen fervor than any other—apparently holding out against touch on its computers?” Farhad Manjoo asks for Slate.

“To answer the first question: Yes, a touch screen on a PC can be useful. Over the past few months I’ve used a few touch-enabled Windows 8 PCs, and during the last week I’ve been playing with a Chromebook Pixel that Google sent me to review. I’ve found their touch screens to be handy—the screen complements the keyboard and the track pad quite naturally, making for one more way to get your computer to do your bidding,” Manjoo writes. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say you need a touch screen on your PC. Touching the screen doesn’t allow you to do anything you couldn’t do on a nontouch PC. But like other high-end laptop features—a backlit keyboard, a slot for an SD card, a high-definition display—a touch screen is a nice thing to have.”

Manjoo writes, “The conventional criticism against adding touch to laptops is that it’s unnatural… This gets to why Apple hasn’t added touch to the Mac. While it’s mostly handy, sometimes touching your PC’s screen results in an annoying experience. And it’s just not Apple’s way to build a new feature that’s sometimes annoying (well, OK, other than in iTunes, Maps, Siri … ). Thus, to do it right, giving a MacBook a touch screen wouldn’t just require a small hardware upgrade to the screen—Apple would also have to reimagine its OS, redesigning it so that every element could be controlled as easily with your fingers as with a pointer. Microsoft solved this problem by building a touch-friendly interface that sits alongside the old Windows’ point-and-click interface, but I don’t think Apple would go for that—it feels too tacked-on and inelegant. Apple would have to do something bigger and more ambitious than that. But why should it? Considering that the Mac is an ever-smaller part of its revenues, and that Apple firmly believes that PCs will be eclipsed by tablets anyway, it has little incentive to make the Mac touch-friendly. Thus, for the foreseeable future, we’re likely to be stuck with touch-less Macs.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: “Apple hasn’t added touch to the Mac?”

Apple introduced two-finger scrolling and panning trackpads, an early implementation of Multi-Touch™, on January 31, 2005. Apple introduced their first notebook with much expanded Multi-Touch™ capabilities on January 15, 2008, half a decade ago.

Now, does it make more sense to be smearing your fingers around on your notebook’s screen or on a spacious trackpad (built-in or on your desk) that’s designed specifically and solely to be touched? Apple thinks things through much more than do other companies. The iPhone’s and iPad’s screens have to be touched; that’s all they has available. A MacBook’s screen doesn’t not have to be touched in order to offer Multi-Touch. There is a better way: Apple’s way. And, no Gorilla Arm, either.

The only computers using Multi-Touch properly, using device-appropriate Multi-Touch input areas are Macintosh personal computers from Apple that run OS X (and Linux and can even slum it with Windows, if need be) and iOS even more personal computers (EMPCs), namely: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and iPad mini.

Note that none of this bars a “MacPad” from production. Any iOS-based iPad would become a high quality display (possibly still “touchable,” but likely not due to the reasoning stated above) when docked into a “MacBook” (running OS X, and providing keyboard, trackpad, processor, etcetera). Such a convertible device would negate having to carry both an iPad (car) and a MacBook (truck) around. They’d be one thing, but able to be separated into two, each providing the best capabilities of their respective form factors.


    1. It’s called ‘The Lead Hand Effect’. That’s ‘lead’ as in heavy, your hand becoming sick of being lifted to fiddle on your screen. User testing has never been positive regarding laptop touch screens for work purposes. Get one if you want. But I love my Magic Trackpad and so does my right hand.

      1. Hey, Silverhawk1… You see Adobe spending any time with Flash?

        I didn’t think so. Mobile killed Flash thanks to Steve Jobs. It seems Adobe has been making a bunch of modern HTML5 tools. I think they know it’s over.

    1. Gorilla Arm is NOT a problem. The kind of touch interactions you make are natural. How many times have you had people come over to your desk and point at your screen, touching the screen to show something off on your screen.

      Sure, it won’t replace the touchpad or mouse but once you get used to it, certain interactions are simply more natural.

      1. Sure, they touch the screen and then because its now interactive, their touch has totally unintended consequences, such as erasing the last hour of my hard work? Not a good idea.

  1. Apple’s notebook line up doesn’t have Quadrophonic Stereo either and it doesn’t have a cassette drive or it doesn’t have . . .

    How many gimmicks does Apple have to copy to keep in ‘style’? How about an integrated CB radio?

    1. In sales lingo it is a “feature without a benefit”, which is exactly what the author pointed out.

      Fins on a cadillac were pretty but they didn’t add to the value or usefulness of the cadillac.

  2. This guy’s article is more bipolar than Robin Williams on crack. On the one hand he says “a touch screen is a nice thing to have,” but read further down and he says “touching your PC’s screen results in an annoying experience.”

  3. As far as I’m concerned, a touch pad beats a touch screen for most of the stuff I do. I still don’t care that much for finger-smudged displays, either. My shoulders have bursitis from too many years of handball-playing and they prefer to be less stressed when not having to be moved all the time. Even if Apple is considered falling behind, they can stay away from touch-screens for all I care. I’m not looking for one, at all. I think touch-screens are fine for kiosks but lousy for people spending hours on a computer. I’d rather use my wrists resting on a pad than my shoulders and that’s all there is to it.

  4. A 1″ movement of my finger on the trackpad is a 4″ movement of the cursor on the screen. But they keep trying to sell this as a productivity improvement.

    After being forced to use a touchpad on a Lenovo, I can see why people think this is great…but they need to use a mac touchpad…I only use a mouse when I am forced to use a PC.

    People will pay extra for the touch screen and after a week or so will be back to a mouse.

    1. You’ve hit the nail on the head.

      Macs have a great touchpad, while PCs have lousy touch pads. Therefore PC users think that you need touch screens, while Mac users realise that a decent touchpad is all you really need.

      I’ve never understood why PC touch pads are so bad, but I’ve never used one that comes anywhere near a Mac one for usability.

      1. You might say “Mac already has a touch screen, Apple just moved the input area to 3 x 4 rectangle below the keyboard (on laptops) so you don’t have to lift your hands away from the wrist rests.” This whole article is aimed to people who don’t use Macs. The desktops have Magic Trackpad and laptops have the built in Trackpad.

  5. I use a 11″ MBA, a 15″ Retina MBP, a 30″ MacPro, amongst others. I really, really don’t want to touch those computer screens. It simply does not make sense! I only want to touch screens on my iPad, my iPad mini, and my iPhone.

  6. “We’ve done tons of user testing on this, and it turns out it doesn’t work. Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical.
    It gives great demo but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off. it doesn’t work, it’s ergonomically terrible.
    Touch surfaces want to be horizontal, hence pads.
    For a notebook, that’s why we’re perfected our multitouch trackpads over the years, because that’s the best way we’ve found to get multitouch into a notebook.
    We’ve also, in essence, put a trackpad — a multitouch track pad on the mouse with our magic mouse. And we’ve recently come out with a pure play trackpad as well for our desktop users.
    So this is how were going to use multitouch on our Mac products because this (he points at someone touch laptop screen) doesn’t work.”

    Steve Jobs
    20 Oct 2010

  7. I like the idea of flipping the screen over and using a mb air as a tablet. Before you railroad this, iPad does not offer mouse control on the iPad. I find it very difficult to edit and create documents with out mouse control. To. Correct a sentence it is difficult and time consuming for me to hold down my finger and position the curser to correct spelling or do simple edits. I donot see myself using the touch while using my mb air as a laptop but but do see it as a tremendous asset being able to use my mb air as a tablet.

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