Lack of touchscreen Mac shows Apple is adrift without adequate product leadership

“Undeterred by Apple’s pronouncements regarding ‘convergence’ of mobile and traditional PC devices, Neonode, a Swedish company, has designed the AirBar,” Mark Hibben writes for Seeking Alpha. “AirBar attaches to the bottom of the screen of a 13-inch MacBook Air to give it touch screen functionality. Even AppleInsider has called the experience ‘oddly satisfying.'”

Hibben writes, “It was back in November that Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing took to the Internet to explain and justify Apple’s refusal to endow Macs with touch screens. As reported by Backchannel, he had this to say:”

“We think of the whole platform,” he says. “If we were to do Multi-Touch on the screen of the notebook, that wouldn’t be enough – then the desktop wouldn’t work that way.” And touch on the desktop, he says, would be a disaster. “Can you imagine a 27-inch iMac where you have to reach over the air to try to touch and do things? That becomes absurd.” He also explains that such a move would mean totally redesigning the menu bar for fingers, in a way that would ruin the experience for those using pointer devices like the touch or mouse. “You can’t optimize for both,” he says. “It’s the lowest common denominator thinking.”

Apple came to this conclusion by testing if touch screens made sense on the Mac. “Our instincts were that it didn’t, but, what the heck, we could be wrong – so our teams worked on that for a number of times over the years,” says Schiller. “We’ve absolutely come away with the belief that it isn’t the right thing to do. Our instincts were correct.”

“I think Schiller is absolutely wrong. In fact, I think the whole issue of accommodating touchscreen mode on a large monitor is a red herring, for the following reasons,” Hibben writes. “No operating system, whether Microsoft’s Windows 10, or Google’s Android 7, that implements both touch and pointer driven interfaces forces the user to use one or the other exclusively. So Schiller’s statement about users of a 27-inch iMac being forced to use touch on the large screen doesn’t make any sense.”

“A properly designed macOS system that supported touchscreens would always allow users the option of using a mouse, touchpad or keyboard,” Hibben writes. “When I encounter that kind of transparently flawed rationalization, all I can think is that Apple is adrift without adequate product leadership. In this case, all Apple’s management can do is steer by the original guidance of Steve Jobs, who declared touchscreen notebooks ‘ergonomically terrible’ when the iPad was first introduced.”

“What I found interesting about AirBar is the fact that there is no change to the macOS user interface whatsoever. AirBar essentially acts like a giant trackpad overlaid on the screen. The mouse cursor simply goes to whatever point on the screen is touched. It’s that simple,” Hibben writes. “It’s really hard to believe that Apple worked ‘for years’ on this problem, only to conclude that they were right all along. I’ve seen this phenomenon before. Management goes through the motions of considering an alternative to the current policy, often making a big show of it. But the outcome is a foregone conclusion, because management has already made up its mind.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Hibben lists several reasons why Apple’s management might have come to a foregone conclusion, but one stands out: “Touchscreen Macs would cannibalize sales of the iPad.”

Apple brass seem to have convinced themselves that the iPad is the PC/Mac replacement for 95% of personal computer users today and, by Jobs, they’re sticking to it regardless of flashing neon signs to the contrary – even as they inexplicably fail to update iPads for Christmas and in the face of ever-declining iPad sales. We’ll be very interested to see what Cook & Co.’s plans are for iPad and, of course, for the Mac in this coming year.

Here’s an idea: Apple could sell iPad Pros as they do now, and for those wanting a “Mac,” Apple could sell them the macOS-powered display-less keyboard/trackpad/cpu/RAM/SSD/battery base unit. Attach your iPad for the display and off you go, you Mac-headed truck driver! Plus, you get to use the iPad’s battery, too, extending battery life to provide a truly all-day battery for portable Mac users. Detach the display and you get your iOS-powered iPad back, same as always.

Too outside the box? We’d love to be able to take our 12-inch iPad Pro, mate it with this theoretical Mac base unit, and turn it into a portable Mac. Right now, we carry 12-inch iPad Pros and MacBooks in our backpacks. Guess what’s redundant? Right, the displays. We don’t need to carry two screens on the road. The iPad Pro’s screen would do just fine, thanks.

Buy the Mac base on its own (for those who already have 12-inch iPad Pros) or buy it as part of a package (get a new 12-inch iPad Pro at a nice discount when you buy it with the Mac base). Imagine if Apple had unveiled this headless MacBook that you use with your iPad at their iPad event this past fall. What would the narrative about Apple be like versus what it is today? With such a product, would Apple have missed its revenue and profit goals for the year, causing Tim Cook and other high-level Apple executives to have their compensation cut? How many more 12-inch iPad Pro sales would such a product have generated? Enough to return iPad to unit sales growth, we bet. And, how many more Macs would have been sold, too?

As for touch:

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 (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.MacDailyNews, May 4, 2013

Think code convergence (more so than today) with UI modifications per device. A unified underlying codebase for Intel, Apple A-series, and, in Apple’s labs, likely other chips, too (just in case). This would allow for a single App Store for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users that features a mix of apps: Some that are touch-only, some that are Mac-only, and some that are universal (can run on both traditional notebooks and desktops as well as on multi-touch computers like iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and – pretty please, Apple – Apple TV). Don’t be surprised to see Apple A-series-powered Macs, either.MacDailyNews Take, January 9, 2014

Anyone in the market for a 12.9-inch device that’s an OS X-powered MacBook when docked with its keyboard base and an iOS-powered iPad when undocked? — MacDailyNews, October 7, 2014

Illustration from Apple's hybrid Mac-iPad patent application
Illustration from Apple’s hybrid Mac-iPad patent application

SEE ALSO:
Apple’s Craig Federighi explains why there is no touchscreen Mac – November 1, 2016
Apple’s A10 Fusion chip ‘blows away the competition,’ could easily power MacBook Air – Linley Group – October 21, 2016
Apple’s A10 Fusion chip miracle – September 20, 2016
The iPhone’s new A10 Fusion chip should worry Intel – September 16, 2016
Apple’s remarkable new A10, S2, W1 chips alter the semiconductor landscape – September 15, 2016

97 Comments

  1. I can’t agree with this article at all. This is a reduction of world wide market share, not mere quarterly sales, meaning people are dropping Macs for other makes. Lack of value for the money and mere gimmicks are what holds me back from buying new Macs today. Traditionally Macs had all the ports, better screens and cost about $200 more than equivalent PCs. That extra money was well spent for the MacOS and not needing virus wares or IT. Well, no more. Today’s Mac lineup lags in almost every category, lacks all the ports, yet is still premium priced. *IF* the cost of Macs after dropping all the ports was lower, I’d forgive them, but they are way too greedy and think we’ll buy anything with an Apple on it. Well, the market is clearly saying “Nope”. I have to wonder if they’ll see it soon enough to stop the slide before more lifelong Mac users like me are forced to jump ship.

  2. A simple test to know if touch screen on computer screen is a good idea:

    1. Raise your arm to the screen like you are going to touch it
    2. Now dont let your elbow touches the table.
    3. stay in that position for 1 minute.

    If you are tired, it’s not a good idea.

  3. Apple need to accept “Think Different” means people are not going to agree all the time. In touch vs. no touch screen discussion, neither sides are wrong. It is just one’s preference. By not offering the option on macOS, many will move to other OS which does offer the option. Apple is hoping they will move to iOS. However they will may lose them to Windows10 or Linux. Like it or not, MS has done a good job with their Surface computer, this time around. Apple should provide touch screen on macOS and let the 3rd party application developer come up with how to implement the user interface on their applications. I believe Adobe already has the code for Watcom touch screen monitor. Apple may be surprised with what they will come up with and find out how useful touch screen can be.

    Both mouth/track pad and touch screen are good user input devices and will be used differently. One does not replace the other.

    1. Nope. It’s not about “agreeing” on anything.

      Ergonomics dictates this issue, and no amount of rationalizing a personal desire is going to change the reality that touch on a desktop (regardless of how one approaches it) is very un-ergonomic for long term computer use.

      The people best suited to demonstrate this are artists/designers who engage in traditional arts that require an easel, drawing table, or similar equipment. The very people who it appears the MS Surface PC is aimed at… traditional artists who may want to move to the digital equivalent of that sort of artist’s equipment.

      I’m one of those people.

      The thing is that sort of work is hard on a person’s back, arms, shoulders, necks, etc. Award-winning comic book artist Colleen Doran recently wrote about this very issue.

      Changing the type of equipment artists use won’t change the ergonomic issues that have to be dealt with as a consequence of how artists have to work… or anyone else who would be using touch in a similar fashion. Meaning for an extended period of time.

      Ergonomics are not going away and they are going determine everything about the success of touch in the desktop arena. Which is not to say that it will never make an appearance on Macs, but (just like now on touch PCs) it isn’t going to be the predominate method of computer interaction… nor replace mice, keyboards, etc.

      And “Minority Report-style”, hand waving in midair with projected UI imagery isn’t going to work either, and for the same reasons.

  4. “Touchscreen Macs would cannibalize sales of the iPad.”
    It is better for Apple to cannibalize sales than someone else. Both macOS and iOS are now in mainstream. It is time to take off the self imposed limitations on both OS. Bring touchscreen to macOS and bring Xcode to iOS. Only difference between the two should be does it have intel or arm chip. Let the customers decide which one survives.

    1. The problem is Apple itself is blind to the limitations of iCloud and iOS. Selling other people’s iOS apps is quick easy money so they think iPads are all anyone needs. Macs have been produced by the Bream ever since Apple dropped the 17″ MBP workhorse. The Mac would cannibalize PC sales if Apple would get to work delivering solid Macs in the non-touchscreen configurations people want.

  5. i really want one of these dual iOS/macOS devices.

    detaching the touchscreen device while on the train or in a taxi or in a meeting where consumption of content is needed.

    but when you get back to your desk at office or home you attach it to a its keyboarded/trackpad base that turns it into a macOS device.

    then while in the kitchen or consuming movies anywhere it becoming an iPad again.

    will.pay.large.money.for.this.

    and while were at it, i want the apps to be compatible too. like Numbers, Pages, and Keynote are already between iOS and macOS versions.

    want.now.

    and for good measure, pls call it the (new) MacBook Air to revive its franchise.

  6. I also like idea of dual device. I also like remote terminal option on Windows, where I have access to a fast desktop from a laptop. Only problem is the setup has wrong OS. I like to see Apple offer a remote access to macOS desktop from iPad. Parallel provides the option, but would be nice to get the functionality from Apple.

  7. Pro Mac users, like myself, are sick and tired of the bullshit from Apple since 2012. My wife made a prediction a long time ago that Jony Ive was going to be the eventual downfall of Apple. Looks like she was correct.

    Apple has lost its soul IMO. With Ive’s stupidity regarding thinness we’ve got the new MacBook Pros and the new MacBooks – both of which are hobbled beyond belief for the average user. The new iMac is a bloody joke. No hard drive sizes in the 6, 8, 10 TB range.

    I, for one, am sick and tired of no real PRO offering – a headless Mac with bloody expansion to MY liking NOT Apple’s. So, screw Apple. I’m building a Windows 10 Pro PC in the Spring and I’m going to Hackintosh it without requiring any hacked drivers. I want to choose MY storage requirements and I want to choose MY video card requirements. Apple just doesn’t bloody get it anymore.

    1. But you would be forced to pay for it and manage the bastardized OS that attempts to handle all forms of input. No thanks.

      Note that Apple’s iOS gadgets don’t accept any external input devices and for some unknown reason Macs are not allowed to use iOS screens as input devices.

      So much for an ecosystem that plays well together for anything other than Apple’s cumbersome and limiting iWork apps. AirDrop almost works. ICloud doesn’t. ITunes and wired connection for iOS backup and file management hasn’t improved in years. Now you want Apple to copy Microsoft when they can’t even get Macs to play well with iPhones and iPads now?

      1. “… some unknown reason Macs are not allowed to use iOS screens as input devices.”

        Astropad will let you do just that. Does require an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. Haven’t used it myself, but looking into it.

  8. Yuk. Who wants fingerprints on their 5K or any other computer screen? Not I.

    Yes, I’ve got an iPhone and an iPad, but they are sub-computers, not as powerful, without the RAM and memory of a computer. It would be like running boards on the space shuttle. It may sell a few copies, but nearly totally useless (yes, astronauts can step on a running board as they get off the shuttle once it lands back on Earth, that is, if it doesn’t burn up on re-entry).

    Oh, BTW, every time I put my iPhone or iPad away, I wipe off the screen. I would not want to wipe my Retina 5K screen every day.

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