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Touchscreen MacBook: 4 reasons why we love the idea - and 4 reasons why we don't

You'd buy a touchscreen MacBook, wouldn't you? Would you?
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer and  Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

Is there a touchscreen MacBook in Apple's future?

Image: Getty/Bloomberg

Apple is reportedly working on a touchscreen MacBook: something that some Apple fans have long wanted, while others -- including company insiders -- have long resisted. ZDNET asked two of its experts with differing opinions to present their views. Jason Cipriani thinks a touchscreen MacBook would be a great idea; Michael Gariffo thinks it will never work.

Also: ZDNET's LinkedIn fans want a touchscreen MacBook, too

Jason Cipriani: "Apple is combining the best of both the Mac and iPad"

Microsoft has proven touchscreen computers are a good idea

I love Microsoft's Surface Pro line. I even wrote a love letter to the Surface Pro 8 a while back. It's the ideal combination of portability and usability, with the touchscreen bringing true benefits to the user experience, while still giving you access to a full PC. But the Surface line has a major drawback for my workflow -- it runs Windows. 

Also: We need a touchscreen MacBook. The Surface Laptop Studio proves it

I know the current rumors are that Apple will release a MacBook Pro that looks like the current version, but with an additional touchscreen display. It's not an ideal form factor for a touchscreen device, I'll admit that. But name a single first-generation product from Apple that's ever not had some form of major compromise? 

MacOS and iPadOS are already very similar, but…

Over the last few years Apple has spent a lot of energy on software updates that either make the Mac look and work more like iPadOS or vice-versa. For example, both MacOS and iPadOS have a Stage Manager feature that looks and works in nearly identical fashion on both platforms. 

Even with the similarities, using an iPad Pro as their lone computer for many -- myself included -- just isn't possible because of limitations in iPadOS. Be it multitasking needs, or the availability of specific or pro-level applications, there are countless reasons why this is the case. By adding touch capabilities, and maybe, eventually, Apple Pencil support, Apple is combining the best of both the Mac and iPad. 

The Mac and iPad product offering gets stronger

Because the Mac and iPad are more similar than ever, any enhancements Apple makes to the touchscreen experience -- particularly when it comes with running a more robust operating system -- will also benefit the company's iPad lineup. 

Actually, that's a two-way street. Apple is surely going to use lessons learned from the iPad (more specifically, iPad Pro) line to improve the touchscreen Mac experience. All Apple users will benefit from that. 

Just because Apple said "never," doesn't mean it actually believes it

Remember when Steve Jobs made fun of smaller tablets? He even made a joke about users needing a piece of sandpaper to make the tips of their fingers smaller. Or what about when Jobs first introduced us to the iPad and immediately dismissed a stylus as a tool to improve the tablet experience? Then there was the time when Jobs said no one would ever buy big phones, and yet, we have the iPhone 14 Pro Max

Also: iPhone 14 Pro vs iPhone 14 Pro Max: Which is right for you?

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook and fellow executives have downplayed making a touchscreen Mac, but that doesn't mean the company hasn't been experimenting, tweaking and improving on the overall experience and shortfalls they've cited as reasons not to make the product. There's no chance that the mythical touchscreen MacBook Pro with MacOS looks and works like the MacBook Pro Apple currently offers.

Michael Gariffo: "What would adding touch to a MacBook really do to benefit you?"

MacOS was never meant for a touchscreen

Adding touch support to a MacBook will require a full OS revamp to avoid the frustration of struggling with tiny elements designed for on-screen cursors. Anyone that's used a Windows laptop that wasn't optimized for touch can understand how maddening it is to fail again and again when trying to select tiny interface elements with a disastrously inaccurate digit. 

Apple itself understood this as recently as 2021 when John Ternus, Apple's senior vice president of hardware engineering, told The Wall Street Journal "We make the world's best touch computer on an iPad. It's totally optimized for that. And the Mac is totally optimized for indirect input. We haven't really felt a reason to change that." For an example of the danger Apple was avoiding by keeping these worlds separate, just look at the disaster Windows 8's Metro interface became.

Apple already gave us its best shot at a touchscreen laptop

It's called the iPad. The company has spent years using its "what's a computer?" tagline to show that its tablet line can be just as good a laptop as, well, a laptop. Although this may be true for a few, MacBooks continue to be the better tools for getting work done. Given how powerful the latest iPad Pro models have become with the M2 chip, it's clear it's only the interface that's really holding the iPad back from truly matching a MacBook for productivity. And what's holding that interface back? The need to accommodate touch input.

Also: M1 iPad Pro (2021) vs. M2 iPad Pro (2022): Is it worth the upgrade?

It needs to fold flat      

The rumor that spurred this whole conversation suggests Apple's touchscreen laptop will use a standard form factor. This means that it won't have a fold-flat display or 360-degree hinge. Have you tried using a vertical touchscreen for extended periods of time? It's exhausting. The result is that most sane users will either fold their touchscreens flat (apparently not an option) or simply revert back to touchpad and keyboard inputs to rest their tired arms.

The Touch Bar was discontinued for a reason: most people hated it

Of course, you could make the argument that it was more the removal of a useful section of the keyboard rather than the Touch Bar itself that annoyed folks. However, I'd counter that users didn't like having to reach all the way up to the top of their keyboards for interface elements and actions that should've only taken a 1-2-inch flick of their finger to actuate. 

Now, imagine if those same elements are even further away on the laptop display itself. You'll probably just use the fingers already planted on the touchpad to get to them. If so, just re-read the above three points and wonder: What did adding touch to a MacBook really do to benefit you?

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