The Touch Screen That’s Coming To The Mac And Why That’s A Crazy, Brain Dead Idea

Touch screen PCs have never been big sellers. At best, they’re a tiny niche, useful for kiosks, tennis elbow, shoulder bursitis, and good for the pharmaceutical industry.

Why would anyone advocate for a Mac with a touchscreen? That’s a brain dead idea.

Look at Microsoft’s Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets. The former is a tablet with lite apps, but can use a keyboard like a notebook. The latter is a notebook with tablet-like characteristics– a touch screen.

The Surface is neither notebook nor tablet, despite characteristics of both, and sales are so anemic that Microsoft seems embarrassed to even discuss the Surface. But it has a touchscreen, so that makes it a modern device, right?

Patently Apple describes in great detail Apple’s new iPhone 5 integrated touch display technology and says it loudly screams, ‘coming to all Macs eventually.’

No it does not.

Despite the intricate differences between iPhone 5 and other touch screen devices, touch for a Mac is not a good idea. Why not? Tennis elbow. Shoulder bursitis. Medication.

Navigating an iPhone or iPad is easy with touch. All that’s required is a large enough button for the wrist to move a finger to touch and something happens, and motions are mostly downward, going with the force of gravity. A touch screen Mac requires much more physical effort.

Move shoulder, move arm, move wrist, lift up finger, touch screen, going against gravity. Repeat ad nauseam, or until inflammation medication is no longer effective to ward off the growing pain in the aforementioned shoulder and elbow.

Sorry, no touch screen for the Mac, no matter how good the technology may be, or how many tech pundits clamor for Apple to be innovative by copying Microsoft’s losing proposition.

Now, all that said, could Apple redefine the Mac by creating a hybrid of Mac OS X and iOS with a built-in keyboard and a touch screen.


That’s been done already by Microsoft and friends and doesn’t seem to be doing all that well in the marketplace. Besides, Apple may be creative, but they’re not a company run by fools (as opposed to Microsoft). The non-hybrid approach means Apple’s customers delight in owning an iPhone, an iPad, and a Mac or two. A hybrid device that combines functionality would reduce the number of devices we Apple loyalists would need to buy.

No touch screen Mac, please. Case closed.


  1. The Ultrabook Convertible is only coming out later this year so it hasn’t had a chance in the market.

    That said, HP’s Envy X2 is a brilliant example of what we could expect. As soon as HP adopts the new Haswell processor for their convertible I’ll be buying one instantly. It’s a perfect notebook, for some of the PC related work that I do. The display is detachable with one press of a button and I have a touch tablet.

    I don’t need Apple to come out with this to know that it’s the best of both worlds. Google’s Chromebook Pixel on the other hand is just a touchscreen on a stationary notebook which makes no sense, as you point out. But in a hybrid notebook-tablet device, its perfect, regardless of what Tim Cook appears to think. I buy products that fill a need, not what Apple’s management dictate.

    The vast majority of Apple patents list “notebooks, PDA’s” and generic categories routinely. The current patent actually listed Apple’s product line device by device. That is a notable difference.

    It may be a backup plan, but it’s there in black and white. With a hybrid notebook-tablet there isn’t any associated gorilla arm or as you state, “Tennis elbow, shoulder bursitis or medication.” Lord, that’s a brain dead view.

    I’ve appreciated some of your past work, Kate, but I disagree with you on this point. Then again, at least on paper, you parrot Tim Cook’s position very well.

  2. But having a touchscreen doesn’t mean having to use it as a primary input device, all the time, the same way trackpads and mice (and Siri, eventually) aren’t mutually exclusive. Also, having it in a Mac laptop, with their smaller screens so close to the keyboard, means a far less taxing experience, not that different from an iPad’s.

    For low precision (or no precision required) gestures, it is a nifty thing to have, specially if you own an iPad already and find yourself reaching for the Mac’s screen out of sheer habit (it happens to me quite often).

    I think if touchscreen layers become commoditized Apple ought to take advantage of them. At that, I hope Apple is investigating other complementary types of input, such as Kinect-like motion capture.

  3. Spot on, Kate. The hybrids won’t sell in big numbers because touch screen PCs have never sold well. The touchscreen goes against physics. It’s too much effort, and there’s not a hybrid model that’s worthy of my money.

  4. Anyone who thinks these hybrid touchscreen notebooks will sell in big numbers is deluded. Seriously. Apple did it the right way. A notebook is not a tablet.

    Maybe someday Apple will do a hybrid that will rock everyone’s world, but it won’t be until the hardware is ultra thin, very powerful, and capable of running both OS X and iOS apps at the same time.

    Don’t hold your breath.

    • Apple won’t do a hybrid OS X/ iOS computer…please Apple don’t do this. It’s inelegant and unwieldy.

      I wrote an article over at MyMac (no I won’t link to it from someone else’s website’s comment section…that’s just rude) talking about Apple’s future and long term I don’t think it’s going to involve the Mac in a big way. I see a further consolidation of the Mac lines, the Mac Pro and Mini disappearing and all the laptops becoming MacBook Airs. Where does that leave the Pro market? Pretty much out in the cold which based on infrequent updates or outright cancellations of Pro software from Apple means you better bundle up because it’s COLD out there!

      iOS is Apple’s future along with an expanding consumer product line. Another iPhone (no idea what will make it different from current or other future models) and a larger screened iPad with docking stations to accomodate the desktop crowd. iOS with bring more “Mac-like” features including multiple user log-ins and a rudimentary file management system beyond the anemic offerings currently in iOS. iOS is what will carry Apple into the future and the Mac will sooner rather than later become a fond memory.

  5. Some of these arguments are brain dead, too. There is NO evidence that a touchscreen PC or notebook will be a big seller. Repeat: NO evidence.

    HP’s Envy X2 is a brilliant example of a computer solution searching for a problem. Yeah, the technology is cool but to what end?

    Google’s Chromebook Pixel is $1,299. Who will buy that? A MacBook Air runs rings around it in terms of functionality. Anybody notice that Windows and Mac OS X really such as ‘touch’ devices?

    Funniest Line of the Week: ‘Tennis elbow, shoulder bursitis, or medication.” You made my day. Keep up the good work. It’s always a pleasure to see thoughtful perspectives on Apple.

    • There was no evidence that Apple would develop an iPhone or iPad in 2006 except for patent evidence. I could remember Macites that were oh so sure tha Apple would never ever touch a tablet again and a cell phone, are you kidding me? And yet they did. So the “NO evidence” line is not a case for Apple not to create a hybrid device.

      And by the way, Apple has a hybrid patent on record. They may never use it, but Apple spent a lot of time and money to have it ready on hand should they need it.

      You stated that “HP’s Envy X2 is a brilliant example of a computer solution searching for a problem. Yeah, the technology is cool but to what end?” Really, you can’t figure that out? Amazing.

      I will use my HP hybrid to work on PC only apps and with speed and accuracy that only a full keyboard could provide. At night, I’ll detach the display and use it as a full featured tablet that will run Flash videos and allow me to work on my blog without havinng to use a 3rd party app like I do on my iPad. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Retina iPad. But it doesn’t do some things I want or need. In the end it’s just another tool to get work done and I get the tablet as a bonus.

      • Jack, you’re in need of some facts. Apple’s fans were in great expectation of the iPhone before it was launched. It met with instant criticism, as is usually the case with Apple products, but the public loved it, still loves it, and despite intense competition, sells better than any other phone. Ever.

        No, I cannot see the advantage of an HP hybrid. It IS a solution looking for a problem– for most computer users. Not techno elite snobs like you. MOST computer users won’t bother. And, amazingly, Apple’s products are created primarily for ‘the rest of us.’

        Not you.

        Just because you like something over there, and hate something over here, doesn’t put you in step with the average PC or Mac or smartphone or tablet user.

        It seems to me that Apple wants to provide great products for a certain segment of the gadget user. So far, so good. Everyone else but Samsung is going broke trying to do it differently.

  6. I see the point about the physical limitations of using a touchscreen on a notebook or a desktop Mac. Maybe that’s why the road is less traveled– touch screens simply require too much effort.

    But I wouldn’t mind having an Apple-designed hybrid– OS X and iOS, touchscreen, and keyboard– so long as it would be amazingly thin and have at least the same battery life as my iPad.

  7. Interesting thought. ‘Brain dead?’ Probably, although it’s a strong term which brings out the defensive emotions of the techno-gadget hounds who want to buy what’s new and different, even if it’s not as useful as what’s already on the market.

    I’ve heard it said, ‘The road less traveled is often less traveled for a reason.’ I take that to mean the reason we don’t see many touchscreen PCs is because they require a level of effort, physical effort, that doesn’t bring a reward. Contrast that with the simple touch of an iPhone or iPad screen.

    Kate has pointed out over and over again that product ‘differentiation’ is key to a technology business. How else can Samsung, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft compete with Apple in smartphones and tablets without upping the ante– faster CPUs, more CPU cores, more RAM, even some off the wall crazy ideas such as selling products at cost, or making a hybrid tablet notebook, or a phone-tablet, the ‘phablet’?

    Those company MUST go in that direction because Apple has already sewn up the market for usability for the masses.

  8. Can’t help but notice a humongous amount of sarcasm but then I maybe wrong.

  9. Hamranhansenhansen says:

    I think you are worrying unnecessarily. I don’t think Apple will just bolt on a touchscreen to a MacBook and ship it. The touchscreen warrants a redesign from the 1992 PowerBook form factor today’s notebooks are all using. There are many other ways to go with a touch Mac than that.

    A touch Mac could be a MacBook with the mechanical keyboard replaced by a touch screen and the top screen left the same. Notice that many Mac apps only use the keyboard as a poor man’s touchscreen. Final Cut and Logic don’t want a keyboard, they want the user to have a jog wheel, specially labeled buttons, mixer faders, etc. There are touch interfaces for Final Cut and Logic on iPads today, but they really should be part of the Mac app and the keyboard not part of the Mac. The keyboard gets in the way in these apps.

    Or, a touch Mac could be based on the iMac. Add a a touchscreen and a stand with some iMac G4 -type magic in it that enables the iMac to lay flatter or stand up as desired, and you have a touch iMac. Now, shrink it to 13 inches and put in batteries and you have a portable touch Mac. As always with the iMac, the keyboard is separate.

    Also, the people who really love and need a mechanical keyboard are becoming Bluetooth keyboard aficionados. The romance of the typewriter is back — you try dozens of keyboards and you buy the one that just feels right to you, and then you use that keyboard with your iPhone, iPad, Mac, even a Windows PC.

    Consider that the separate keyboard is the rule, not the exception. iPad was not the first computer without a keyboard built-in — the majority of computers ever sold came that way. The notebook is the odd one out. I don’t expect Apple to burden future Macs with a mechanical keyboard when we have Bluetooth 4 and about 10,000 accessory Mac/iPad keyboards to choose from.

    And finally, consider there is no Mac today with a Greek keyboard, and many, many other languages are missing, too. There are keycap stickers you can buy to try and customize a Mac for the many languages that Mac OS supports but which Mac hardware does not support. Again, an accessory keyboard is better.

  10. Elizabeth Whitmire says:

    A touch interface is better for productivity. It’s more natural. But current touch interfaces lack compatibility with Adobe’s Creative Suite. The full version apps that is – Illustrator, InDesign, and the full version of Photoshop. What I am hoping and wishing for is a touch interface on a big ass display (24″ plus) with that software compatibility that’s currently missing. If wishes were horses, I’d have a ranch…

    • How is a touch interface better for productivity? That’s silly. Sure, it’s better for an iPhone and an iPad, but not a Mac or PC. Those screens are nearly vertical which requires the entire arm– fingers, hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder to be moved to replace a single mouse click? Brain dead, indeed.