MacBook Pro

Despite what companies like Microsoft may be doing and what some customers continue asking for, Apple is really confident that you wouldn’t like a touch screen on your MacBook. Here’s Phil Schiller explaining Apple’s view on touch screen Macs to Backchannel‘s Steven Levy:

Apple came to this conclusion by testing if touch screens made sense on the Mac. “Our instincts were that it didn’t, but, what the heck, we could be wrong—so our teams worked on that for a number of times over the years,” says Schiller. “We’ve absolutely come away with the belief that it isn’t the right thing to do. Our instincts were correct.”

Of course, Apple is slowly introducing multi-touch to Macs with the release of new MacBook Pros that replace function keys with a dynamic touch panel…

The reviews are starting to come in this morning and reception is mixed when it comes to the utility of the Touch Bar so far, and Schiller is confident that it’s the best approach for the notebook form factor.

“Watch, iPhone, iPad, Macbook, iMac,” he said. “They really are all computers. Each one is offering customers something unique and each one is made with a simple form that perhaps is eternal. People in the industry may question them — we don’t, for some very simple reasons.”

Translation: don’t expect an iPad/MacBook hybrid anytime soon like Microsoft’s convertible Surface products. Part of the reason may be that Apple wants a unified experience between notebooks and desktops.

“We think of the whole platform,” he says. “If we were to do Multi-Touch on the screen of the notebook, that wouldn’t be enough — then the desktop wouldn’t work that way.” And touch on the desktop, he says, would be a disaster. Can you imagine a 27-inch iMac where you have to reach over the air to try to touch and do things? That becomes absurd.”

For Microsoft’s part, they’re launching what they call the Surface Studio — a giant iMac-like touch screen display that lowers into a giant iPad-like panel for artists. Apple’s take is that you can’t design the desktop operating system to be best for both touch and mouse input.

He also explains that such a move would mean totally redesigning the menu bar for fingers, in a way that would ruin the experience for those using pointer devices like the touch or mouse. “You can’t optimize for both,” he says. “It’s the lowest common denominator thinking.”

The messaging for now seems clear: don’t expect the Touch Bar to creep up to the display any time soon (if ever); instead, I’d expect iPads to get more powerful and dynamic in form factor (like Smart Keyboard for example) as Apple’s answer to this request from customers.

For now, Touch Bar sounds more like Apple’s answer to a static row of function keys that may not get as much use as keys that could replace them. Multi-touch gestures on the trackpad may feel closer to touch — just not directly.


Schiller’s reasoning here does suggest to me that iMacs will see the Touch Bar arrive in some form sooner or later. Can’t do touch screen MacBooks because it doesn’t work for iMacs, so Touch Bar can right?

Schiller isn’t the only Apple exec to detail the company’s previous experimentation with touch screen MacBooks either. Craig Federighi hinted at the past experiments in recent interviews as well. Bottom line is don’t hold your breath on touch Macs in any form anytime soon if ever.

Steve Jobs, of course, also spoke against the idea of touch screen Macs when selling the iPad:

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. Touch surfaces want to be horizontal, hence pads.

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About the Author

Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news, hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast, and created