Is It Time For Apple To Make A Touchscreen Mac?
For years, some Apple users have been hoping for Apple to release a touchscreen Mac. This desire reached a fever pitch in 2012 when Microsoft released Windows 8, their first desktop OS designed and optimized from the ground up for touch-enabled computers and tablets.
And while Apple has resisted making a touch-screen Mac, Microsoft has always promoted touch-screen Windows PCs, even on prior Windows OS versions that didn’t have a touch-optimized shell. Years before the Microsoft Surface was introduced, Microsoft and Intel launched the UMPC project. These devices were tiny, extremely under-powered, and ran a variant of Windows XP (and later, Vista) that supported pen/stylus input. So what is the real reason why Apple has avoided touch for desktop like the plague, even while Microsoft has always been bullish on it?
Apple and especially Steve Jobs have criticized the phenomenon. During an October 2010 Macbook Pro Event, Steve jobs lambasted “Touch” on the PC, saying:
“We thought about this years ago. 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"
This was obviously a jab at the touch-screen Windows PCs, but also a way to justify the existence of the then-newly released iPad as an additional device to sit between the Mac and iPhone.
The excuse Apple (and Steve Jobs in the keynote) gave for not making a touchscreen Mac was “Gorilla Arm”, a "study" that purports that humans aren't designed to hold their arms in front of their faces making small motions, because after more than a very few selections, the arm begins to feel sore, cramped, and oversized. This is a ridiculous theory. Touch is a compliment for the mouse and keyboard. It is not the only or even the primary way to interact with a touch-enabled PC. No one will have their hand awkwardly extended for any appreciable period to cause this sore, cramped and oversized feeling. That is why it's an excuse.
I also call it an excuse because the iPad Pro exists now. And Apple claims that the iPad Pro can replace your [Windows] PC. There is a small problem however. iOS does not have support for mouse input. So if you were to use the iPad on your desk (or on your lap) with Apple's Smart Keyboard (or any other keyboard), you would have to extend your arm in the same exact way to touch the screen, therefore being susceptible to Gorilla Arm. And in my experience, using the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro attached to a keyboard on a desk requires it to be held in the same angle as you would, with your hand on a touch-screen PC (or Mac). The only exception would be when you're using the Apple Pencil to take notes or draw/sketch while the iPad lays flat on the desk.
It is obvious then that the decision to keep touch off the Mac is a business decision and purely political. I am sure that if Apple was convinced that a touch-enabled Mac OS would not cannibalize iPad sales, they’d make it. It is true that Mac OS X was not designed for touch and would therefore be impossible to interact with using one’s fingers, but there are several outfits that have retrofitted a touch screen onto the Mac, albeit with limited success. And for the record, this extemporaneous claim of the iPad Pro being able to replace a PC is an attempt to improve iPad sales which have been steadily declining over the past few years. I love my iPad, but even I can’t say that its ready to replace the Mac (or PC) - yet. (More on this in a future post).
But even with the decline in sales, the iPad far outsells the Mac every quarter. That said, the Mac generates more revenue than the iPad, due to its higher average selling price (ASP) and possibly, a higher profit margin. So what is Apple to do? Will the iPad continue to gain more desktop-y Mac OS X features (like a file system) and eventually be powerful and capable enough to truly replace the Mac? And until that happens, will Apple continue to omit touch from OS X? Because in my opinion, the iPad Pro, especially the 12.9-inch variant, proves that Gorilla Arm is a myth.