If you’re reading this article on a MacBook, reach out and touch the screen. Tap around on some tabs or pretend to select text or zoom in on a photo.
How did it feel? Not great, right? The screen moved, it wasn’t intuitive or efficient, and everything was better when your hand rested on the keyboard again. There’s a reason why laptop design hasn’t really changed much in the last 20 years. It’s perfect for what it does.
And the MacBook is the pinnacle of that perfection. Whether you’re using a MacBook Air or a 16-inch MacBook Pro, the design, form factor, and build quality are fantastic, it’s incredibly comfortable, and the Force Touch trackpad is awesome. Now that the butterfly nightmare is over, the keyboard is fantastic and comfortable, and even the 16-inch model is light enough to take anywhere.
While there’s certainly room for improvement – a better webcam, Face ID, 5G support and, of course, longer battery life – I don’t find the latest rumor that Apple is working on adding a touchscreen to the MacBook exciting. On the contrary, I think it would make the MacBook worse.
Look but don’t touch
If you look at the most successful touchscreen PCs, they have one thing in common: they turn into tablets. Tapping on a screen with a hinge does not provide a good experience. That’s why Apple’s Magic Keyboard has a “floating cantilever design” and Microsoft’s Surface has a kickstand. Simply putting a touch-sensitive screen on a MacBook Air won’t get it done.
I’m pretty sure Apple isn’t going to add a kickstand to the MacBook. So you are left with two options for turning an existing MacBook into a touchscreen device: build a hinge strong enough to withstand taps and squeezes without moving, or make a MacBook screen that can rotate or unfold 180 degrees like the Surface Laptop Studio. Any move would categorically change what the MacBook is, probably add a few hundred dollars to the price, and basically create an entirely new class of devices that might not be any better than what we have now.
But if it’s still under the MacBook umbrella, it would presumably still be running macOS. Over the past four decades, Apple has refined its desktop operating system to work with a cursor, so the interface should change in a not insignificant way. The basis of macOS is a GUI with a permanent pointing device, and our fingers aren’t small enough to just take that place. Interface elements should be bigger, menus should be simplified, and multitasking should evolve.
Most importantly, we need to change the way we use our Macs. When you buy a new MacBook, it is immediately familiar. Even if you’ve never used a laptop before, macOS makes it easy to figure out how to jump in and get to work. A hybrid interface on top of the existing one would either complicate things or add an unnecessary layer that adds little to the experience. And a new interface would make this touchscreen MacBook something completely different.
So what is it?
I have no doubt that the rumor that Apple is working on a touchscreen Mac is correct. With the M1 chip, Apple has a chance to take a bold new direction with the Mac, which is probably why the company now chose to start exploring a touchscreen laptop. But I also think that Apple will soon realize that this is not the way forward for the Mac.
The Mac has shown it can exist in this post-PC world, so much so that Apple is rumored to be releasing a new 15-inch MacBook Air, despite already having a 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16 -inch laptop in it’s catalog. People have a lot of problems with the Mac and macOS Ventura, but none of them need a touch interface. The Mac works and there’s no reason to turn it into something it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against the idea of a hybrid device that combines the iPad with a MacBook. Apple has a lot of overlapping parts — the Magic Keyboard, Stage Manager, and the ability to use iPhone and iPad apps on Mac with Apple silicon — that are more useful than groundbreaking, and they need something to bring them all together. Maybe it’s an iPad with a desktop interface or a folding screen with a brand new operating system. But Steve Jobs was right. The solution is no touchscreen Mac.