Apple’s Craig Federighi explains why there is no touchscreen Mac

CNET spoke with Craig Federighi after last week’s keynote, and one of the questions they ask him is whether there will be a touchscreen Mac,” Graham Spencer writes for MacStories.

At Apple we build prototypes around all sorts of ideas. So we certainly explored the topic deeply many years ago and had working models, but we decided it really was a compromise. For a device you hold in your hand like a phone or tablet it is very natural to rest your hand on the tablet and work that way. We think touch is at its best and we wanted to build, and have built, a really deep experience around a multi-touch first user interface. Grafting touch onto something that was fundamentally designed around a precise pointer really compromises the experience. — Craig Federighi, Apple SVP Software Engineering

“Those were carefully chosen words by Federighi,” Spencer writes. “He does not say that there won’t be a touchscreen Mac, instead he notes that the simple addition or ‘grafting’ on of a touchscreen to the Mac would be a compromise.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Again, Apple’s strategy is right and Microsoft’s is, as usual, wrong.

The competition is different…they are confused. “They chased after netbooks. Now they are trying to make PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs. Who knows what they will do next? I can’t answer that question, but… we have a very clear direction and very ambitious goals. We still believe deeply in this category and we are not slowing down on innovation. We have been really hard at work on the Mac and we have exciting new products.Apple CEO Tim Cook, October 22, 2013

As we wrote of the new Touch Bar during our live coverage of Apple’s MacBook Pro event, “This is the smart way to have Multi-Touch on your personal computer, as opposed to the stupidity of smearing fingers all over your Retina display.”

Apple does touch right and, as usual, Microsoft does it wrong – as we’ve been patiently explaining for many years now:

To us longtime Apple watchers, Cupertino seems to be saying, “Multi-Touch on the screen only when trackpads are not part of the device.”MacDailyNews, November 19, 2008

Does it make more sense to be smearing your fingers around on your notebook’s screen or on a spacious trackpad that’s designed specifically and solely to be touched? Apple thinks things through more than other companies… The iPhone’s screen has to be touched; that’s all it has available. A MacBook’s screen does not have to be touched in order to offer Multi-Touch™. There is a better way: Apple’s way.MacDailyNews, March 26, 2009

Microsoft vs. Apple: A tale of two keynotes – October 31, 2016
The key mission of Apple’s new MacBook Pros – October 28, 2016
TIME Magazine: Apple’s new MacBook Pro Touch Bar is an inventive new way to get work done more quickly – October 28, 2016
Apple does touch right and, as usual, Microsoft does it wrong – October 28, 2016
IBT: Apple’s MacBook Pro Touch Bar is the coolest thing ever; will change the way we use laptops – October 28, 2016
Wired hands on with Apple’s New MacBook Pro: It’s a whole new kind of laptop – October 27, 2016
CNET on the new MacBook Pro: Apple’s amazing strip show reinvents the notebook – October 27, 2016
Hands on with Apple’s new MacBook Pro: Looks and feels so good it’s unreal – October 27, 2016
Apple debuts three new TV ads for all-new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar – October 27, 2016
Apple unveils groundbreaking new MacBook Pro with revolutionary Touch Bar and huge Force Touch trackpad – October 27, 2016


  1. I agree – when I tap my laptop screen it moves a bit which would make it hard to work with – the iPad and iPhone work since you are holding with your other hand. I think Apples approach is correct – leave touch to the portables (things you hold in your hands not on your lap)

    1. Ok. But what if Apple replaces the whole keyboard area with a multi-touch interface, do a mild 3D effect for the keypads and add in options for the Pencil for other creative input, but leave the screen intact and mirrored to the multitouch keypad. Instead of a single touch band, you have an entire multitouch keyboard.

    2. If the touch display is detachable or reconfigurable to an orientation more conducive to touch/stylus input, then I think that it has some merit. As with almost everything else, it depends on the implementation and integration of the functionality with the hardware, OS, and apps. I trust Apple to do a better job at that than Microsoft.

      Apple has been known to change direction from time to time in response to technological advancements and the evolution of the market. As an example, the larger iPhones introduced with the iPhone 6/6 plus. Or, to go back a few more years, the smaller iPad mini.

      Unless a superior user interface (thought control?!) comes along, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple began migrating multi-touch into some of its Macs.

    3. Apple has blown it big time with touch. I use touch on a Surface, on a Lenovo, and on my iPad, and it is serioiusly missing on the Mac. They seriously blew it. The touch bar is basically Apple saying, “Here, touch this until we figure out how to fix what we screwed up.”

      1. the touch screen on my work lenovo yoga is annoying, first because i have fingerprints all over it, and 2nd you have to decide when to raise your arms up to smear the screen up or use the “not as good as a MacBook” trackpad. The touch points in windows10 also suck, typical microsoft to slap something together to try and be different at the expense of user experience

    4. If that’s so bad an experience why does every ipad pro in the apple store get displayed with an attached keyboard, sitting up like a laptop?

      I think Apple is wrong on this. You might not want to sit there all day touching the screen, but there are things you can achieve by touching it that can’t be substituted with touch bar or keyboard.

  2. Touchscreen input WILL one day make sense on a computer – but it won’t be on the screen itself, but on the OLED touch panel on the desk (or in front of the keyboard, on the laptops), and it will be sensitive to Apple pencil input as well.

    Wacom and others provide it now, Apple will integrate it directly into their products one day. But it comes with a price premium, and Apple’s products are too expensive for that already.

  3. Let the market decide. Clearly, Microsoft, with its Surface Pro (laptop) and now Surface Studio, believe that the PC is a perfect place for a multitouch device. Apple, who are now decidedly living in a ‘post-PC era’, thinks differently. Apple contends that the device doesn’t live in a vacuum- that to get it right, you need the OS and interface to be built around touch. From what I’ve experienced with iOS and the Surface Pro, I wholeheartedly agree with Apple. Windows 10 is definitely not ‘touch ready’. The Surface Pro isn’t selling nearly as many units as Apples laptop line or its iPad line. And I suspect that the Studio, being an extremely niche offering, won’t sell well either. But I’m just one person. The market will tell us in the next year or so.

    1. The Studio is aimed at a niche, alright… the niche market that kept Apple alive until Jobs returned… the same market that fulfilled the desktop publishing revolution.

      The Studio is the (probably one) exception to the ergonomic issue that keeps touch from really working on desktop PCs. Every graphic artist I know (pro or not) has wanted something like this as far back as I can remember.

      I would vastly prefer an Apple Mac (with an Apple Pencil) running MacOS, but if Apple can’t/won’t give me (and hundreds of thousands [if not millions, counting prosumers] of others the world over) what I want/need, then I have no choice but to go wherever I have to.

      Even with a Retina display, an iPad Pro/Pencil/Mac setup is at best a kludge (with wonky workaround file management issues) that requires a third-party software subscription and separate software for each.

      The Surface Studio screen may not be Retina-class, but if it’s good enough… well, that may be good enough.

      Good enough is what made desktop publishing such a success early on. 300dpi laser printer output was nowhere near that of typesetting… but it was good enough. It was way, way better than dot matrix or typewriter quality… which were the only choices after typesetting.

      It was “good enough” that made the desktop publishing revolution succeed because it presented art studios, ad agencies, in-house graphics, and thousands upon thousands of SOHO artists new opportunities… and “good enough” conquered the publishing industry.

  4. For a modest subset of users, a Mac incorporating a high-precision touchscreen for hand and stylus (Apple pencil) input would be highly useful – basically an iPad Pro with a keyboard running macOS. Winter manufacturers and Microsoft know this and are actively targeting that perceived weakness in Apple’s computer lineup in recent advertisements. After having lost a lot of high-end laptop sales to Apple, I can only assume that the Wintel community hopes to entice other users into believing that they, too, need this functionality. Time will tell if Apple is off-base on this issue.

  5. Fact is you need a touch screen with a Windows based PC, so that you can truly “feel” the severity of the bug being dished up from the bowels of Windows; it really lets a user have a much better affinity with the Operating System, allowing Microsoft to claim a really sticky experience!

  6. In reality, all the people I have seen with touch screen laptops are more worry smudging about the touch screen than doing some actual work. I have never seen a person using the touch screen in a laptop to perform an actual task like editing a document, a picture, a movie. All I see is people playing candy crush, or just browsing the internet or just opening and closing application so the people around them can see that the laptop has a touch screen.

      1. So this is basically demonstrating how to work in a photo editing workflow using a touch screen laptop. It’s as expected. Most of the manipulation was done with keyboard at first. Then the pen work, while the screen was in the upright position. So a couple of things: Apple says that using a pen or finger in the upright position sucks. I agree, and to a large extent, so does Microsoft as their Studio tilts at ‘just the right 20 degree angle’ to make it more comfortable to work. Second, as stated before, Windows 10 isn’t touch ready- try hitting those little icons with your finger at the bottom of the screen. That paradigm is pervasive in Windows 10- hints of touch capability bolted onto the mouse-and-keyboard requiring OS. Very few Windows apps are touch-ready. Not a good experience..

        1. There is no doubt that Windows 10 has issues, but think Apple could make a compelling hybrid and that would be a great thing for many users.

          BTW, most of the people I see that own Surface devices use them like a Tablet and only rarely with a keyboard.

        2. You can work horizontally: You can switch the screen and rotate it 180 degrees and lean it at any angle. You can also detach the screen and put it horizontally on the table… So, you DON’T have to work with the screen upright

  7. Craig is absolutely right, just bolting on a touch or pen interface is an appealing compromise as those original PC versions showed only too well.To think you actually paid more for their appalling compromise too. However things are changing and more importantly many people are beginning to think that if they don’t have touch (even if they never use it or it won’t benefit them much) that they are missing out or being short changed, the marketing hype and cost comparison is an important factor.

    Its always a combination of perception and truth and there is a danger that 2 or 3 years down the line that people will simply expect the option of touch or at least something that can compete with it, whatever that may be, its not obvious to me at present. Its going to eventually become a hard sell when you are trying to sell two alternative devices when they only have small advantages in each area of specialisation as against a combined device. Especially when on price the combination is considerably higher than the combo machine.

    Apple does need to find an answer to that problem and not in the too distant future too. At the very least the iPad and iOS has to grow more competent a lot faster than it has if it is going to be the true competitor.

  8. If you keep your hands clean your screen will be as well.

    Again, if it works on the iPad it will work on the Mac. If you are not supposed to touch the screen on an iPad Pro what good is it anyhow. Apple’s logic sounds as specious as the arguments against any number of things before they followed the lead of others.

    Apple is not innovating these days- it is iterating and usually following others. Sometimes it seems as if they have become like Microsoft under Ballmer- profitable but coasting and rudderless.

    1. About 10 years ago, to the accompaniment of a lot of buzz, a third party touchscreen Mac (with a stylus) was announced, the ModBook. It was based on the MacBook of the time. Yes, it worked as advertised. A number of graphic artists bought it. I had one, though I’m not a graphic artist, but I did have uses for its capabilities of rough sketches (of lab equipment and setups) and hand entry of chemical and math equations.

      In a few years, it died for lack of sales. It was later reincarnated in a version based on the MacBook Pro but died again for lack of sales.

      Graphic designers, apparently, are not a very big market after all. For other kinds of work, touchscreen operation simply isn’t ergonomic or efficient, such as cursor placement when editing text or entering numbers into spreadsheet cells. That’s the real problem, not just oily screens. 🙂

      Apple watched the ModBook with interest and helped its developer. But it was a market failure, and Microsoft would have been wise to take that into account.

      I like my iPhone 6s+ and iPad Pro. They are great for portability, onscreen sketches and for reading ebooks, email, and Web browsing. But for real work, I move to my MacBook Pro.

      1. I think the issue with the ModBook was far more than simply that graphic designers weren’t a very big market.

        Being one I suspect the issue was more about the screen size, not to mention (but I will) that those who might have used one already had Wacom type tablets being used with desktop Macs.

        Back then in general, graphic designer/digital artists weren’t road warrior types that would have tended toward laptops/ModBooks. Even today with more of using laptops, we still tend to gravitate toward higher-end studio desktop setups.

        I intend to thoroughly check out a Surface Studio asap, and if I walk away with the same assessment I had the first time I had with the first Mac I sat down to, then Apple is going to have an issue… unless they just decide to ceed that marketplace.

        Despite what some may think, that marketplace is not as insignificant as some suppose. Graphic designers are just one small subset of a much larger marketplace of creative types. And that’s just in the “pro” in-house space. There’s still the much larger marketplace of independent creatives, and I’m not including the even larger space of “prosumers”.

  9. Microsoft’s Surface Studio is a very compelling piece of kit for graphic designers and publishers. If Apple had come out with it first, it would be all over the news, internet, etc.

    Because it was Microsoft, no one really noticed. But the concept looks rather well executed, for them.

  10. The problem is that multi-touch on iPad has made people understand the superiority of touch-screen interface over the keyboard-mouse-display paradigm. Apple is taking a long time to move this to the Mac line, while Microsoft doesn’t care how it works, and is simply deploying half-baked semi-solution right away, hoping that people would like it.

    Federighi is right; you can’t use UI built for the precision and accuracy of a mouse pointer and ask people to manipulate it using their fingers (or even a pen). There is a fundamental difference on many levels (there is no mouse equivalent to multi-touch; there is no finger equivalent to hover; there is no finger equivalent to moving the mouse pointer without dragging, etc, etc, etc). Microsoft has simply slapped a multi-touch display on top of the standard Windows UI (mouse-based), and it simply doesn’t work well.

    I still believe Apple will eventually eliminate the mouse-based macOS and replace it with iOS on desktop. Consolidating all the development on a single platform may be the side benefit, but the main one is the proper, intuitive and logical interface for a touch-based device.

    1. Predrag wrote “I still believe Apple will eventually eliminate the mouse-based macOS and replace it with iOS on desktop. Consolidating all the development on a single platform may be the side benefit, but the main one is the proper, intuitive and logical interface for a touch-based device.”

      Please, Apple, don’t do that! Think of the Gorilla Arm problems on a large screen. Imagine the convolutions required of those who use multiple screens.

      1. I do a lot of timeline based HTML5 animation, and it requires the precision of a mouse and a dialogue box. The dialogue box often requires 1 pixel precision.

        ZERO chance of a touch or even a voice activated interface on that.

      2. People just don’t get that the ergonomic issues with touch on a desktop machine aren’t going to just magically go away because they’re in love with the idea of touch on a desktop.

        Which I think is the real issue of the matter. People are so enthralled by an idea that they just can’t let it go despite all evidence to the contrary. In their minds, there just has to be some way to make it work.

        No matter what, there are going to be problems with arm and/or shoulder, or neck and/or back, or combinations of all four issues. Positioning of a device/screen in relationship to how a user is sitting/standing isn’t going to change that, because setting up a system to alleviate one set of issues will aggravate the other set.

        Even with the Surface Studio. It alleviates the gorilla arm issue by shifting into a drawing board setup. But… that’s the position that causes neck, back and shoulder issues for artists, who have them from sitting hunched over a drawing board for extended periods of time. Move the screen to a vertical position and stand up? You’re back to the gorilla arm issue.

        The ergonomic issues aren’t going to go away, period. No matter how a touch PC/Mac may be set up… horizontally, vertically, or somewhere in-between.

  11. Concepts:
    iPad Pro + Apple Pencil.
    MacBook Pro + Wacom tablet.

    No thank you:
    MacBook Pro + touch screen.
    I will never see the point.

    Then there’s always Steve Jobs’ point of view:
    Why ‘Gorilla Arm Syndrome’ Rules Out Multitouch Notebook Displays

    “We’ve done tons of user testing on this,” Steve Jobs said in Wednesday’s press conference, “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.”

    1. Have to agree with you that vertical orientation of the touch surface is not conducive to workplace computing. However as you lower the orientation to a more tabletop orientation touch surfaces become much more natural for prolonged use regardless of size. This opens up possibilities for tables at bars/restaurants replacing vertical touchscreens for order taking at tables with the table itself being the device. If you integrate tech similar to the MS Dial in say the dishes, placemats, coasters, etc. you might come up with some creative solutions. One that immediately comes to mind would be actually ‘paying’ at the table by touching your phone/payment device to the table itself which would bring up a window allowing you to adjust tip, confirm your order and complete payment.

  12. I use an HP SmartTouch PC for a couple applications I run (Windows, only, sadly) in the live audio/stage lighting application area.

    Fingerprints have never been a problem on the screen. Touch is perfect for this application, with one exception: bugs. Bugs like to land on the screen and (being capacitive rather than resistive) this sets off random lighting cues. That said, the HP TouchSmart is an excellent implementation of a touch screen. Like the new Microsoft Studio, the HP TouchSmart folds down for ease of use in touch screen mode.

    Granted, I don’t see the use cases for touch screens in general PC work, but the fact that Apple can seem to figure out how to make it work doesn’t mean that it’s impossible or even a bad idea — it just means that Apple’s engineers are so locked into their own way of thinking that they can’t come up with a solution that works well. Can Innovate, My Ass ™.

    I suspect that someday Apple will release a 21″ giant iPad and start making the claim that they’ve solved the problem. 🙂

    All that said, I’m actually glad that Apple refuses to put touch on the Mac display. That would hasten the convergence of Mac OS X and iOS. And that’s the last thing, as a long-time Mac owner (and Apple II owner before that) that I’d want to see.

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.