Why A Touchscreen MacBook Probably Isn't Happening Anytime Soon, According To Apple

In an interview to celebrate the Mac's 30th anniversary, Apple executives reveal some interesting hints into the company's future plans.

Thirty years ago today, Apple pulled the curtains off a heavy, plastic cube that had the dazzling ability to display 2-D pictures. You could even use a mouse to click on stuff. It was called the Macintosh.

By today's lofty standards, the first Mac had all the horsepower of a pager or graphing calculator. A lot has changed, of course, and the Mac's considerable influence can be felt in just about every piece of technology you'll touch today, from the 20-something-inch screen you're reading on, to the iPhone or Android in your pocket.

To celebrate, Apple has a splash on its homepage that leads to a mini-site tracking the personal computer's evolution. And in an insightful interview with Macworld, Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of marketing, Bud Tribble, the company's vice president of software technology who was a member of the original Mac team, and Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, reflect on the history and future of the Mac. It's an incisive bit of storytelling that you should read in its entirety.

The trio drop a few salient hints about Apple's product roadmap for the future--the most interesting of which concerns the Mac and its relationship to the iPhone and iPad. While Microsoft and its Surface--and to a lesser extent Google with its puzzling Chromebook Pixel--are banking on touch screens soon becoming ubiquitous on PCs, Apple's shot callers seem far less convinced that mobile and desktop computing are on a collision course.

"The reason OS X has a different interface than iOS isn't because one came after the other or because this one's old and this one’s new," Federighi tells Macworld. Here's the key bit. (Emphasis added.)

Instead, it's because using a mouse and keyboard just isn't the same as tapping with your finger. "This device," Federighi said, pointing at a MacBook Air screen, "has been honed over 30 years to be optimal" for keyboards and mice. Schiller and Federighi both made clear that Apple believes that competitors who try to attach a touchscreen to a PC or a clamshell keyboard onto a tablet are barking up the wrong tree.

"It's obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience?" says Federighi. "We believe, no."

It's a fascinating revelation that, if taken at face value, would seem to dispel some of the speculation that a touchscreen MacBook (or an iPad with a Surface-like, almost-essential keyboard) was an inevitability. Adds Federighi: "To say [OS X and iOS] should be the same, independent of their purpose? Let's just converge, for the sake of convergence? [It’s] absolutely a nongoal."

[Image: Apple]

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16 Comments

  • I have a MacBook and a Touchscreen Windows, I never use the Windows and when I do I never use the touchscreen. I always use my MacBook and why would I touch the screen to get fingerprints on it? -__-

  • I changed to Mac OS on 2008. I've owned five different macs ever since and I'm waiting for a macbook with touch simply because it would make my life easier. I am not a designer but I manage some projects and I need to sketch down ideas to work with my team. The Cintiq helps with that when I am at office but nowadays I rarely work from my office.

    Yes, I have the iPad, butI see it is more and more evident that for my workflow everything in one device would be the best.

    At my class (on Copenhagen Business School) more than 90% of my colleagues have macbooks. The other day I saw one guy using Surface and I must say, despite hating Windows before, it was quite smart to be able to work with touch AND a pen with apps like Photoshop and Illustrator (Creative Cloud).

    It makes me sad that Apple is choosing to look the other way. Maybe I should look the other too.

  • Reinaldo Vieira

    What planet is this Federighi guy from?

    The system is honed? Mac has obvious flaws from not looking at it's competitors which provide more efficient operating systems(mavericks comming out with tabs centuries late)..

    The fact is: Who wouldn't love a Macbook with a touchscreen. And so you say it would ruin the ipads market. No. The price range would be for a different audience; the Macbook Pro audience.

    Take me for example - I use a Macbook Pro Late 2012, why? Because I have 2 Ssd's installed totalling 1.75Terabytes of storage.

    Why should I "upgrade" to soldered on platforms(macbook retinas hds) that don't allow me to install my own hdds or ssds and don't even have near the storage my current setup does?

    Typing on a keyboard is better for a lot of people because: 1.Viewing angle is better the screen is at a distance and 2. It feels more like what we are used to.

    If apple doesn't make this happen in 2014 I will buy a pc/tablet and might just switch back to using pc

  • mikeconnor840

    Apple will concede that touch screen laptops are awesome when they've lost enough lunch money. I recently purchased a $350 15" Dell touchscreen laptop with Win8.1 and it rocks! I bought only because I have stay familiar all things tech, but now this el cheapo laptop is my go-to laptop. I don't even pick up the MacBooks unless I have to deal with or be seen with Apple products or I need a good terminal window. For desktops, yep, keep going with track pads & mice.

  • Brent Zabka

    If there is concern that some won't like having a touch screen, allow them to disable it. That said, I don't know any of my friends who would disable such a feature. We're not talking innovation here. Where talking keeping up with the competitors that Apple used to poke fun at.

  • Jeffancy Vegancy

    "we're" / not where / sorry I was editor of my college newspaper, I totally agree w your point, late as this is to reply :D

  • As much as I love Apple products they aren't advancing as fast as they could or should. They are rapidly pulling in the cash and don't want to disrupt the Apple cart too fast. OS X and iOS are getting closer and closer to the same identity, but until touch equals big bucks like OS X they will ride it out. It's too bad because using your finger on a screen, a most tactile and gratifying user experience should be a primary consideration for creating future products. I hope they don't wait too long out of greed and destroy their golden goose.

  • Armin Seltz

    Not really. Ok a little bit. The shot in question you can see someone sort of swiping on the screen and another person swiping on the touchpad at the same time. It LOOKS like someone is swiping on the screen, but isnt. Strange that they left it in though, but as you can see the person swiping on the touchpad its legitemate, though a little misleading.

  • C.j. Chipman John Schmidt

    So what you are saying is that the person swiping was having a better experience than the one using the mouse pad?

  • C.j. Chipman John Schmidt

    So you are saying that the person swiping was having a better experience than the one using the pad?

  • Dan Mercer

    disregard giving your consumers any options well within the scope of the product

  • Tom Mengel

    The first rule of any tech company the size of Apple or Microsoft is "don't piss in the bathtub". Seeing as MacBooks cost 2 to 5 times what an iPad does should answer why we will never see a touch MacBook or a Mouse driven iPad. I did a jail break on an older iPod I got free to add the keyboard and mouse and, even with the fact the mouse is now a "touch device" (no right click menu to cut/copy/paste or store files), it makes the use of the iPad at least 200% better by not having to reach for the screen icon at every turn or being able to use a "real" keyboard to type long sessions. And this was from a 3rd party application shop and it works very well. Now, tell me again why the in house programmers can't do this or a lot better? And please, spare me the "preserving the customer experience" and "30 years to perfect the icon/mouse system". It took me 5 minutes to get the hang of it and I can always use the iPad as it originally came from the factory.

  • Gerry Seymour

    I agree. While it is questionable just how useful touch is on a laptop, I have a couple of strong arguments in favor of these crossover concepts:

    1) When I use a laptop, I often instinctively reach for the screen, because I spend so much time on my iPad. I don't think using the screen is actually better (actually, possibly not even "as good") an experience, but it's a reflex action now, and I often wish it actually did something when I tap the screen.

    2) Many iPad users buy 3rd-part keyboards already, to allow us to use the iPad for typing (taking notes, etc.) at times when a full computer simply isn't necessary. For basic word processing, an iPad has far more horsepower than needed. Can I use the touchscreen while I type:? Of course. Would I prefer a touchpad? Yes, and that requires that the iPad accept a mouse. Oh, and right-click should just do what a long press does in the touch interface - it's roughly analogous.