Touchscreen MacBooks: Will it Ever Happen?

Touchscreens. Their popularity is rising, from smartphones and tablets to our laptops and desktops, and they give a new, literal meaning to the phrase ‘at a touch of a button’. Many of the leading tech companies are churning out touchscreen devices to feed the fad, so why isn’t Apple jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to their MacBooks? According to Craig Federighi, Apple SVP of software, Apple isn’t touched by the concept at all.

In an interview with leading tech publication Wired, Federighi goes on to say that putting a touchscreen in a MacBook would be a completely unnecessary feature, predominantly because the MacBook is designed for users to rest both palms on the keyboard surface, making the most of its trackpad and keyboard to complete tasks and limit the amount of movement your hands have to make: “We really feel that the ergonomics of using a Mac are that your hands are rested on a surface, and that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do.”

Federighi questions the usability of touchscreen laptops, throwing some serious shade at Microsoft’s Surface line and calling them out as the company’s “experiments”. Touchscreens take away from the desktop experience, adding somewhat of a hindrance to those who utilise the systems for long-winded projects in creative industries.

Yet – unbeknown to some – Apple did actually experiment with touch screen technology on its desktop and laptops to make sure it wasn’t missing the mark. Well, it wasn’t… The result was coined a “disaster” by Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller.

Despite these comments, Apple has dabbled in releasing touchscreen elements in their MacBook series, maybe just to be on-trend, with the latest MacBook Pro models featuring a Touch Bar along the top of its keyboard. This horizontal OLED strip displays different buttons dependant on the app in use; a pretty nifty trick, hey?! The Touch Bar is the only way touchscreen elements have blended with Mac laptop devices, and it’s something that has received mixed reviews with its users. Schiller divides lovers and haters into two categories: the ones who have actually taken the time to interact with the Touch Bar and those who haven’t

Some old-school fanatics, however, have questioned the touch-screen element as an excessive and uncalled-for feature that significantly raises the cost of the device at retail price unnecessarily. Apple is currently marketing the smallest spec device (with Touch Bar) at around £1,749*; quite a jump from the same models without this feature. One way, however, cost-conscious users can get around such problem, and still have the latest model, is by looking for refurbished MacBooks for sale online instead. Same great model, but at a more appealing price.

*at the time of the live date of this piece.

So why, you may find yourself thinking, did Apple add the Touch Bar if it’s so against the concept of the touchscreen? Well, the idea behind it was to tap into iOS technology to improve the overall Mac experience for its users.

Apple is essentially looking toward a future where iOS apps can run on Macs. Through the MacOS Mojave update, Apple has “adapted… to specific Mac behaviours, like the use of trackpads and mouse, window resizing, and the integration of copy and paste and drag and drop into the system services on the Mac” according to Federighi’s presentation at the WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference). However, it is not yet known how iOS apps will specifically work on the devices if they are not touchscreen (with no mention of touchscreen support to help apps run better on Mac systems in Federighi’s speech) and whether, because of this, some apps will not be included in the blending. Essentially, developers will be looking at ways to tweak iOS apps to account for the different method of input interactions on a Mac system, so users will just have to be patient.

Apple isn’t looking to its competitors for inspiration for the future of computing experiences though, that’s for sure! With Federighi stating: “I don’t think we’ve looked at any of the other guys to date and said, how fast can we get there?”

And with some mixed reviews of the Touch Bar in the air, it will be interesting to see if Apple adopt the concept for their next releases or scrap the idea altogether. As consumer demands evolve, we will have to wait and see whether the concept of the touchscreen stays in Apple’s rejection bin indefinitely.

It will also be intriguing to see where the industry as a whole goes in terms of design, especially with Microsoft pushing their Surface devices, and whether the fad of the touchscreen in the computing experience will fade away as quickly as it appeared due to its impact on usability and the overall customer experience. All we know is that you should watch this space, Apple always has exciting things in the pipeline.

What do you think? Would MacBooks benefit from touchscreens or are Apple right in their logic? We’d love to hear your thoughts on what the MacBook of the future should feature! Let us know in our comment sections or by our social media channels.