Is the Touch Screen Mac Coming Any Time Soon?

Ever since Apple’s initial foray into touch screen technology with the iPhone, people have wondered whether touch based input would make the transition to the Mac desktop. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have an iMac that you could reach out and touch, swiping between applications and interacting with your media?

Well, maybe. Consumers are divided on whether or not this would be a good thing and, despite many other computer manufacturers including this technology in their machines, Apple has taken a fairly out-spoken stance against it. It’s now almost four years since the release of the first iPhone and we’re yet to see any sign of touch screen input making its way to the Mac.

But will this always be the case? And – even if Apple does decide to start shipping new-fangled touch screen Macs – would it be something we’d really use?

No Stranger to Experimentation

Despite many people outwardly rebuking Apple for not shipping touch screen desktop and notebook computers, they are no stranger to experimenting with – and receiving criticism for – input methods.

Over the past few years they have released a range of gradually improving gesture-enabled trackpads and mice, along with all the software that accompanies them. I’m a huge fan of the Magic Trackpad built into my MacBook, and am now certain that the Magic Mouse is the best mouse I’ve ever owned.

Let’s also not forget that it wasn’t until 2005 that Apple even shipped a two button mouse, so strong was their conviction that one button was the simplicity that most people needed. This is a company that sticks by their guns.

Jobs Says No

Unlike many of the subjects we Apple geeks speculate about, there’s some strong evidence to suggest Apple’s view on this specific debate. In 2010, Steve Jobs spent some time talking about touch screen Macs while presenting at their “Back to the Mac” special event:

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.

Steve Jobs, presenting at the "Back to the Mac" event in 2010

Steve Jobs, presenting at the "Back to the Mac" event in 2010

Strong words, but they certainly make sense. I can’t for a moment imagine spending hours interacting with a touch screen Mac, and even the notion of typing on one could probably give you a bout of RSI.

It’s clear to see that Apple hasn’t stuck it’s head in the sand and ignored this opportunity altogether. The technology is out there, but Apple has done the user testing and decided that it doesn’t make sense.

Of course, sometimes it can be advisable to take Steve Jobs’ words with a pinch of salt. Times change, and so do Apple’s priorities – it was only back in 2003 that Jobs make it very clear that Apple had “no plans to make a tablet“.

Back to the Mac

One argument for the inclusion of a touch screen centres around the range of apps that are making the move from iOS to the Mac App Store. These were all originally designed for use with a touch screen, and many feel fairly un-natural when used with a keyboard and mouse.

Angry Birds, for instance, is a great way to demonstrate the capabilities of gaming on the iPad. All that magic disappears instantly when you’re dragging birds around with your mouse – it just isn’t the same.

This argument certainly holds some weight – there are thousands of apps available for iOS, and many of could instantly be available for use on the Mac if a touch screen were introduced. People wouldn’t use it for typing out long documents, but it could be a fun extra for desktop gaming and software that has a high level of interactivity.

That said, I suppose Apple’s response to this would simply be “get an iPad”. It’s a device made for touch screen interactivity, and has features such as an accelerometer that could simply never work on an iMac (unless you’re this guy).

The Resolution Issue

A trend in Apple’s latest MacBooks has been towards a higher screen resolution in their smaller displays. The new 11″ MacBook Air, for instance, has the equivalent resolution of the 13″ MacBook. This means that everything appears slightly smaller, with greater detail in a tighter space.

This is perfect for a device such as the MacBook Air, making an 11″ screen a usable choice for most tasks. The tradeoff you make when choosing a tiny form factor is lessened, as you can still fit plenty of content and information on the smaller display.

For those of you hoping to see a completely touch-enabled version of OS X, this poses a problem. If you’re wanting to use your MacBook at the recommend native resolution – anything else would look awful – you’ll be left with tiny targets to try and tap with your finger.

Anything other than a mouse pointer doesn’t cut it at this resolution, and it would be an unpleasant, frustrating experience to use the MacBook Air with a touch screen. And just to pre-empt any mention of it, let’s not get dragged into a discussion about the humble stylus. I think we’ve established that Apple has no intention whatsoever of releasing a stylish stylus – however beautifully designed it would be.

No Time Soon

The bottom line is that Apple has looked into this, built the technology, and done the user testing. Touch screen Macs certainly exist somewhere in the research labs at Cupertino, but they won’t be seeing the light of day any time soon.

Although the arguments for a touch screen-enabled Mac are getting stronger every year (and OS X Lion seems set to make this even more apparent), I wouldn’t get your hopes up. This is a technology that Apple know an awful lot about, but it simply doesn’t yet make sense to port it to the desktop.

Personally, I’m fine with Apple’s stance on this issue. I can’t see myself having any use whatsoever for a touch screen Mac, but your opinion may well differ! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, so feel free to share. Is this something you’d really like to see? And if so, why?


Add Yours
  • The only possible use I see for this is as a supplemental technology. I agree with SJ insomuch that I do not want to spend 8 hours a day with my arm in the air, retouching in Photoshop.

    As a supplemental technology it might be useful for presentations for instance, or perhaps surfing the web. I’m pretty sure we’d still get tired/bored of it pretty quick.

  • It’s actually pretty simple. Take the iMac, change the stand in a way that the screen can lie flat. And… boom! There you have it. And with Lion, certain functions will be ready to use with your fingertips. If they change the iLife apps in iPad fashion, that would be already a leap forward.
    I don’t think a touch screen iMac is thàt far away. Maybe next year or so.

    • I totally agree that the day is coming where you can have everything.
      The best idea is to have the screen turn on a swivel and then lay down over the keyboard to make for an instant tablet. An alternative would be for the screen to rotate like normal but be able to go all the way around to the other side to lay down. With a snap on keyboard cover, you could also get to an instant tablet. Imagine a device like mac book air 11 inch, with regular keyboard that could turn itself into a tablet anytime anywhere.

  • i dont think this will happen,
    i have a terrible experience from the Hp touch screen , as u said it make it non ergonomic to use..
    and if they made it the same model, to turn into a table, why to have a table then ?

    • In Canada, in the 90’s the computers were placed in the desk, ready for use when needed. They were also networked to the teachers desk. Have seen at least one store this century with the computer embedded into the desk. Touch screens are great for children with learning problems. Interactivity is less disjointed. (Far more direct.) I am resigned to getting a new ipad, if the voice recognition is up to scratch.

  • Oh no, just leave the touch screen feature on the iPod, iPad and iPhone.

  • It’s quite simple really… Have a double screen iMac or Macbook where the keyboard is gone and instead you have another screen mimicking the vertical one. Switches to keyboard at anytime.

    No one wants to touch a vertical screen.. Your arm would really fall off.

    • I’m not sure even that would work, really. I know that typing on my iPad is a pain – I like the tactile feedback that a keyboard can provide!

      • Check this video out.. This Acer came up with it at CES –

        I think it is a pretty sweet idea for at least a new model of MPs.

        However I do agree with you, a physical keyboard is a must! But if Apple ever decides to integrate the technology to make touch screens feel like real key being pressed, I wouldn’t mind a computer with dual touch screens.

    • Double screen Mac with the touch surface in place of the key board. Allow it to be formatted the way that works for you. Need a keyboard, then it’s a keyboard. A magic surface, then it’s a magic surface that lets you draw with your finger. Maybe you want to play like you’re on the Enterprise…whip up a control surface for a helmsman. Don’t think it just has to be a keyboard…it’s an Apple…it can be something fantastic.

    • Well, I wouldn’t say no one wants that. Take the multi-touch gestures on the trackpads right now for manipulating images. For casual users, it would probably feel more natural to grab a picture on screen to enlarge of rotate it. Now, anyone doing serious work with images is going to want the ergonomics of using a mouse or other input device instead.

      Me, personally, I carry my tech around a lot and so I would love to have an air that was convertible the way some of these new PCs are. Then I could flip it back and use Penultimate on the same machine where I have everything else.

      How many people genuinely would use that functionality, though? And how much would it fracture Apple’s marketing for the separate devices? I guess from their perspective, it just doesn’t make sense.

  • you left off the ADB Mouse II, the second best mouse Apple’s designed, after the Magic Mouse.

    And I think it’s clear the multi-touch track pad is Apple’s answer to the touch on the Mac question.

  • Boo! Let’s leave the lame touch screen computers to HP :-)

    It’s one thing to have an iPad down in your lap or hands and be touching the screen, which makes sense. But a laptop or computer? That’s just kind of awkward. A laptop, for example, sits up right obviously, and your hands naturally rest where the keyboard and trackpad are. To lift your hands up to the screen and hold them there while you do stuff is just awkward.

  • If they’re not going to make a touchscreen Mac, they should leave the ugly iOS user interface elements out of OS X Lion.

    I’d like a touchscreen Mac, but unless they hurry up and deliver I’ll be getting an Android tablet.

  • it’s like using an ipad with the keyboard. painful.

  • No it won’t come.. Steve jobs even said that.. The reason why they don’t is because you won’t be able to use the computer for longer period aday, ur arm will get tired.. It will be annoying.. Touch is great for ipad, iphone and ipod.. But for a computer that you would use for work or other stuff.. I don’t think it will happen..

    • Great answer! I agree!

  • Touchscreen Macs, no, more touch interfaces such as Magic Trackpad, yes.

    I worked with Wacom a few years ago, before the Magic Trackpad came out and we worked on the principle that touch interfaces were the way forward.

    Phones have screens which by and large work well, but desktops were using 40-year old tech in the mouse and the time for change was coming. The trackpad was exactly the product Wacom wanted in the marketplace so stuff’s happening behind the scenes in the lab.

    • I’d love to see a trackpad that had an in-built retina display akin to the iPhone. The possibilities are endless!

  • Touchscreen iMacs, Macbook Pro/Airs .. no, but more touchinterface devices like the magic trackpad. In my opinion touch gestures work very well on the iPad/iPhone and iPod but nobody really want to work 8 hours per day with a touchinterface on an iMac.

  • Just do it on desktop computer, iMac and iDisplay (Cinema Display 27″ with a touch input).
    Make it posible to change the angle of the screen so it can be 20° with the desk surface.

    Then it is not painfull to use it for extentive period of time.

    I actually need it for Ableton Live 8. It will be a great gain of performance in my workflow if i can just directly touch the interface. And guess what, in that software, it is possible to zoom the interface !! by 200% So no problems of “too little buttons”.


  • I don’t know if I have ever consciously hoped for a touch screen Mac, but I have caught myself touching the screen on my MacBook Air lately! Too much iPad and iPhone experience!

  • I get so annoyed when someone comes over while I’m working and uses their finger to point to something on my iMac and touches the screen! Can you imagine all the fingerprints and smudges on your screen? You would need to clean it every half hour or more just to continue working on it. It would be disgusting.
    Seeing what people do and eat around their computers in the office, I would want to hide the fact that a computer was touchscreen even if it was just so people wouldn’t touch the screen.

  • Dang! I so want to be like Tom Cruise running the big-screen computer in Minority Report, but would probably just lose those special gloves.

  • My first thought: Oh gosh, I hope not. One word: fingerprints.

  • I developed a tough screen interfaced application ages ago for a pipeline company. because of that, I had an Elo touch screen at my workspace. I wouldn’t ever want hat to be my only interface because of the resolution & widget size issues but it was very natural to reach out and touch things at times. I frequently found myself reaching out to touch every other display, accidentally, until I was long gone from that project. I fully agree with the ergonomics issue. any display that’s vertical and not meant to be in your hands should not require or expect touch for regular use. I also agree with the messiness concern. it annoys me that my iPhone needs constant rubbing & wiping but I don’t do imaging work on it. I’d never ever want anyone touching my primary screens for the same reason.

    eventually, though, it will come along as an “also has” feature.

    I’m with the people who think an iPhone 4 retina touch screen would make a great built in trackpad on future macs!

  • and you can see how horrible my horizontal iPhone-typing on forum comment postings are, thanks to touch screens… in fact, this is one of the most annoying things on the iPhone: horizontal two finger typing sucks if you try to be at all fast. dropping the letter t happens constantly due to keyboard interpretation being incorrect (it’s not me, it’s the interpreter, you can see the letter being triggered, I’m not missing it, I’m just too fast for the intended audience this is designed for). same for the meta keys and space bar. no way in hell would I willingly give up tactile keyboard functionality on full size computers or laptops.

  • I have used an HP Touchsmart PC with Windows 7, and I can tell you that adding touch capability to a computer is definitely a great idea, especially with the fact that Macs are still so widely accepted as the standard in graphic design. I wanted to buy a Touchscreen Laptop for college, but I forgot to note that I’ll need a Mac for graphic design classes, and when I started looking into it, the Modbook SUCKS, but that’s the only option. I’ll tell you the reason why Jobs doesn’t want a touchscreen Mac, $$$$$$$$ If they make touchscreen macs, no one will buy iPads anymore. This way you’ll have you iPod, iPad, Macbook, and iMac, instead of a touchscreen Macbook pro and throw the rest away.

    It’s not due to technology not being able to handle it correctly, or because the OS and games wouldn’t run right. None of those are even close to being correct. As you wrote this article did you realize that they wouldn’t be porting iOS to Macs? Apple would just make OSX touchscreen capable, and I have played Angry birds on a touchscreen computer, and with just a mouse on my PC, it loses nothing in the translation to 1600×1200. You wouldn’t be running iPad, and iPhone apps on your Mac, you would be running OSX Programs with the addition of a touchscreen, also being able to use keyboard and mouse if needed.

    Far too narrow minded approach, and btw. look at Windows 8 presentations. It’s the next step towards universal computing. Jobs is just blinded by the money, and not thinking correctly if he really is this anti-touchscreen Mac.

  • Do all of you forget that there is still a keyboard and mouse? You wouldn’t be stuck with HAVING to use the touchscreen only.

    For simple drawing, and art on Photoshop the HP touchsmart worked great with CS5, but when you’re on the net, or copying files use the mouse. Duh

  • By not releasing touch screen, what it seems to those of us in retail Apple is missing is the Point of Sale market. Restaurant owners have clamored for years for a touch screen POS that runs on MacOS. Smaller operators are making use of Ipads, but those who have larger operations (more items, more need for data collection, etc.) really need a larger screen. We’d jump at a touch screen Imac for restaurant use, and the apps working on the Ipad could be modified easily enough.

  • vertical touch screen is fine. I use my ipad every day on a stand with a zaggmate keyboard. In the UK at an arcade I played the Fruit Ninja app on a 36″ touch screen (vertical). That was fun!

    In fact, horizontal is no good. No one uses their iphone/pad/pod fully horizontally. Looking down is uncomfortable. I think Jobs says stuff like that to throw off the competition.

    I expect the macs to come out with a touch screen in the fall with a mouse or trackpad as appropriate. Lion practically demands it. There are some things were fine control is useful and other things where multi-gesture is useful. Multiple input would be great.

  • I understand the argument apple puts forth about the portable touch screen problems and peoples’ arms getting tired. The solution(s)? Make a touchscreen laptop where the screen can fold all the way back so that it can be flat. Add a gyroscope so you can turn it around and the screen follows you, that way the keyboard isn’t in the way. For iMacs, make the stand detachable.

  • The main reason why I will probably upgrade to new PCs instead of Macs for my business later this month, is because Mac desktops simply do not have the Touch Screen capabilities that we rely on so heavily in our POS tasks. In my retail business,
    Touch Screen capabilities provide quick and easy sales transactions and more. I could not imagine having to point and click with a mouse for every transaction, during high volume seasons at my shop.

    Mr Jobs, think of all the business-end users (restaurants, retailers, Designers) that would love to buy Macs for their businesses, but won’t, because they rely on Touch Screen functions that Macs do not provide. You should reconsider.

  • For me, the ideal laptop would be a Macbook Air with a swivel, touch screen that I could write on with a stylus. When wanting to work with the screen vertical – type. When wanting to work horizontally – touch and scribble. This issue was the determining factor for our school abandoning the Mac platform when moving to a 1:1 laptop program with the students. Of course, our IT gurus chose a HP to replace ALL of our Macs …… HP is going out of the computer business.

  • A touch screen Mac would be fantastic! I’m considering wall mounting a 27″ Mac in my kitchen and using it as a multi media base. I’d also let the kids use it for homework etc and so would need mouse and keyboard but for purely media based ops a touch screen would be great. Plus dealing with my 4 kids busy schedule and lists etc a touch screen in the kitchen on a wall mounted Mac would be perfect.

  • Hey Apple, make a MacBook/iPad integration laptop. Laptop when it is open like a clamshell, then you can 180 the screen, and then close the notebook. Now it’s an iPad like device where it can be touched and have apps and what not! Kind of like that horrible Windows computer that has the turnable screen, but better.

  • If you dont like the idea of a touchscreen mac, just dont plan on touching the screen!!

  • There is no way that a touchscreen Mac or MacBook can be cast aside. There will just have to be a lot of R&D into an adjustable/removable stand/support that makes the most sense. I think the real problem is that Apple would be facing is a phase out of some of their products. Because when you make sense of the touchscreen idea, you would need to bring the screen closer to the operator for ergonomic’s sake. Then what you have is a giant laptop. Which i wouldn’t mind at home. Think of a Mac body attached (with the aforementioned fully R&D’ed integration) to the keyboard. To have the computing power of the Mac with the functionality of the iPad integrated with a keyboard would phase out the iPad and MacBook, that is, if nanotech can supply us with the needed components to cram into a space that lies in between the thickness of the Mac body and the MacBook. I’m sure it isnt too far away. As for the iPhone, it’ll probably never go away… Just get better. With iCloud and wireless peripherals freeing up space there is no reason this could be available in late 2012

  • And to clarify, giant laptop, I should have said a ‘top heavy’ MacBook. The problem with integrating the two at this stage is Apple has moved from basing all the guts in the monitor, whereas PC laptops are gutted in the keyboard area. Maybe redesigning the layout to where the majority of the units computing technology is in the base like typical laptops, but sti maintaining that Apple sexiness. Idkwtfever

  • One good resin could be that i would throw my pc away instantly.
    I would like to use touch for my music programs, example could be touch dj i bought a touch screen, for my pc off that reason now i bought two macs, but i can’t use my touchscreen for other then as ordinary screen.
    i still hope that they make it possible.

  • We have an iphone, ipad and an acer laptop with touch screen control. It is great and is used all the time. why funble with the mouse/touchpad when a quick touch on the screen is all that is needed. So much quicker navigating around websites, programs etc.

    A vote for touch screens for us.

  • If you have not already, go into any computer store and play around with a HP, Sony, (or a few other) Touch Screen computers. I think you will quickly see the benefits it offers, remembering you can still have a mouse and keyboard.

    OS X does have touch screen support. Search for NextWindow the makers of touch screens for the above.

  • Take the Blackberry 9900/9930 for example. It’s still a Blackberry with touchpad and keyboard, but you can also use the touchscreen for simple things like sweep pictures or run apps, and use the keyboard for texting. Same on the next macbook! Keep everything the same and just add the touchscreen. So you don’t have to use it… You could do it if you want to. Just like at the Blackberry :D

  • I think than can put the touch in the iMac, Mac Book Pro etc… and also keep the keyboard and mouse once in a while we can touch the screen and show or do stuff we want to that would be otherwise a little cumbersome with the keyboard and mouse.

    How about that??


  • I TOTALLY want a laptop with a touch-screen and normal keyboard and mouse. That way i have OPTIONS for how I want to do things. Imagine using the pinch your fingers apart on your screen to enlarge a portion of a photo in photoshop, then using your mouse to do what you need to do to it. then pinching it back. then touching the screen to close photoshop, then scrolling over to word, touching to open, then typing in word on your keyboard. the technology is there – why not put it all together!!!!

  • I would love to see a touchscreen mac.. I am a graphic designer and I love working on HP touch smarts and I demoed an Ispiron by Dell today that laid flat and it was great

  • I couldn’t agree more with the previous few posts. I’m sitting here on a MBP13, having just been using an iPad2, and can’t help occasionally reaching up to swipe the screen. Pinching would be great too. Sometimes just need to momentarily zoom a small section of fine print, etc. Definitely going to look at HP, et al., after Win 8 settles.

  • I agree that a touch screen keyboard on a Mac would be bad, but why not a tilted iMac, or a Macbook with a flip-screen a la Dell Inspiron Duo or rotated one like many others, but obviously without the issues if designed by apple). I don’t really see any insurmountable problems with this, and I for one would be extremely excited by the possibilities.

  • One word, Hauptwerk. OK, maybe a few more words. Who says that having a touch screen on your computer means that you can’t have any other input method? Try operating a virtual organ with a mouse and keyboard only. You use the keyboard and mouse for setup and configuration but when you need to pull stops you have to be able to do it quickly and with minimal hand movements.

    Apple is so far ahead of the curve in so many things, why is this such a hard thing to offer?


  • Hard to believe all the nay sayers for touch screens. After using my Galaxy 10.1 tablet and my wifes’s iPad it seems strange not having a touch screen on my MacBook Pro. I say go for it. It’s quite natural to reach out and touch. I have an HP laptop which can double as a tablet but all the while its mouse pad and the touch screen are both available. It’s pretty neat. The only fault is that the laptop is too small for my aging eyes. I do like to have both the touch screen and the mouse pad available to me. I can imagine one hazard and that would be if you have to share your computer with your kids and sticky fingers. The screens and keyboards should be waterproof so they can be cleaned without fear of damage.

  • Just been reading some more of the comments. My stance toward wanting a touch screen does not suggest having a touch screen keyboard, I want the tactile feel of my keyboard. The horrible keyboards on the tablets leave me grumpy. I see there is a thriving business in blue tooth keyboards as an add on for tablets. If a MacBook Air had a touch screen it would have the small size of a tablet, plus keyboard, plus touch screen and mouse pad. A person would have it all in a very handy package. Just get the price down a bit maybe for us paupers.

  • Why not have both interfaces on laptops and desktops? I mean, for some tasks you would use the touch screen for other tasks you would use mouse and keyboard?

    I wouldn’t want to type out a word document or program a website with a touch screen but sure as hell would be amazing for my music production and illustration!

    Why does adding a touch screen mean that we can’t use a mouse and keyboard when we want to?

  • I love my new iPad. It’s som much better than typing with a keyboard. Plus u can move ur pad around to change your position. I’m already all clicked out from photoshop slider bars adjustments tec. .i would like a touchscreen tablet for photoshop/photography.

  • Its natural for people to be afraid of the unknown but just because there is a touch screen in a Mac doesn’t mean there can’t be a key board as well, it would just be nice to have the option, I for one rather have technology move forward then stand still, all apple is doing is having the iMac is stand still sure better programming and better picture, but that will always be done, they gave us such incredible device like iPhone, iPod touch, and iPads but they are standing still with iMacs just doesn’t make sense

  • I use a vertical touch screen with Windows 7 on an Asus EP121 with a bluetooth tablet. The stylus is okay. But as a graphic designer I’d much rather be using OSX with a touch screen and stylus. I desperately want to be able to draw directly on the screen and use Adobe’s full Creative Suite (not just tablet Apps) using a Mac interface and hardware. So frustrating to be forced to use a PC for this.

    • Correction: bluetooth keyboard, not bluetooth tablet.

  • I agree I want a convertible Mac laptop! Converting as in it can turn into a tablet! I will pay anything to get my hands on one of those!