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Why Apple will never, ever make a touchscreen Mac

Apple’s M1 Macs look like they could be a real revolution, providing a huge quality-of-life boost to long-suffering Mac owners who have had to scrape by with middling performance on their expensive machines for far too long. But amid all the plaudits, there has been one complaint that just will not die: That Apple has failed by not giving its latest Macs a touchscreen. But not only is this idea wildly optimistic, it is also completely out of touch with both the way Apple thinks and what its users want. So can we all just put this idea to bed, please?

There is a very good reason why Apple will never make touchscreen Macs: They would be an ergonomic nightmare. Constantly reaching up to smear greasy fingerprints all over your screen not only breaks with your workflow as you move your hand away from your keyboard or trackpad, but it is tiring and deeply uncomfortable in the long run.

But don’t just take my word for it. Apple has said repeatedly that it is a bad idea. Here’s Steve Jobs speaking in 2010: “We’ve done tons of user testing on this, 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. It doesn’t work, it’s ergonomically terrible.”

Too long ago? How about this from Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, a few days ago: “I gotta tell you, when we released Big Sur and these articles started coming out saying, ‘Oh my God, look, Apple is preparing for touch,’ I was thinking like, ‘Whoa, why?’ We had designed and evolved the look for MacOS in a way that felt most comfortable and natural to us, not remotely considering something about touch.”

Apple’s belief has not changed here. It is still of the firm opinion that vertical touchscreens suck. It knows smartphone touchscreens can be ergonomically flawed and has managed to avoid their pitfalls, so why would it take the opposite approach for Macs? If you think the company’s point of view is changing any time soon, you are kidding yourself.

Missing the mark

Image used with permission by copyright holder

So why do we keep hearing all these talking heads berating the company for not doing a U-turn and opening the way for the inevitable pain-related lawsuits? I think the answer is rather simple: The tech press simply does not understand Apple, nor does it understand Apple users.

Here’s the thing. We tech journalists are a minority. We are obsessed with the latest trends and fads. If it is new and shiny, we want it. But spending so much time with high-end tech and new innovations creates a chasm between ourselves and the everyday folk we write for. If we are not careful, we lose sight of what most people actually want from their devices.

And that seems to be what is happening here. If Mac users really, deeply desired a touchscreen Mac, don’t you think they would be more vocal about it? Don’t you think Apple would have done something by now? After all, it has been 10 years since Steve Jobs struck down the idea of a touchscreen Mac — if demand for one had increased in the intervening years, we would surely have seen the results in new Apple products. Apple is not covering its ears and yelling over a tide of demand here — it does user testing and gathers feedback all the time, yet never has it found a strong desire for change. It simply ain’t happening, folks.

Two possibilities, but neither are realistic

Microsoft Surface Studio 2
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

OK, so maybe the title of this article was a little presumptuous. There are a couple of possible routes that Apple could take to a touchscreen Mac, but they are niche and narrow and by no means guaranteed. In fact, I would say they are downright implausible.

The first is that Apple brings out a 2-in-1 laptop with a touchscreen. After all, many of the company’s rivals have done this, and it (partially) eliminates fears of arm strain as you can use the touchscreen portion of the device as a tablet.

Yet I would be extremely surprised if Apple ever brought out a 2-in-1 touchscreen laptop. The company’s execs have said many times that if you want a touchscreen device, there is already a product for you: The iPad. Apple’s tablet is already basically a computer itself thanks to its incredibly powerful chip and range of Mac-like accessories. Why muddy the waters and confuse your customers further by bringing something out that wedges itself snugly between the already-close Mac and iPad?

The second option is that Apple emulates Microsoft and launches a large, artist-focused Mac that looks and feels like the Surface Studio. A moveable, slanting display is much more amenable to touch input because you do not have to hold your arms up at painful angles.

Yet here, again, this approach seems unlikely. The Surface Studio is a niche, niche product. How many people do you know who have the need for a huge digital-drawing-pad-and-computer combo that starts at a cool $3,500? For the record, I am not knocking the Surface Studio — I think it is a really strong device — but its sales numbers are not even remotely interesting to Apple. And anyway, if you need a big drawing pad, Apple already offers that with the iPad Pro, which, when combined with MacOS’s Sidecar feature, can be used to draw on your Mac.

Let the dream die

iPad Air 4
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

After hearing clueless pundits claim for the millionth time that Apple is wrong, wrong, wrong for not bringing out a touchscreen Mac, it starts to get a little tiring. Of course, I know we will be doing it all over again at the next Apple event, when the commentary class whips itself into another righteous fury at Apple’s supposed “arrogance.” None of it is of much consequence, not to Mac users and certainly not to Apple’s bigwigs.

If you want touchscreen Apple devices, there are already some fantastic options. The iPad can do more than ever before and easily blows away the competition. And if you want a touchscreen laptop, there are plenty of excellent options out there, including the superb HP Spectre x360 13.

But sometimes you just have to let an unrealistic dream die. For the remaining few who are clinging to the idea that Apple will pull a rabbit out of its hat and release a touchscreen Mac, now is probably a good time to move on.

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