Why Apple didn’t make the new MacBook Pro touchscreen
Apple’s latest MacBook Pro doesn’t have a touchscreen. In fact, no Mac computers do – the method of input is that same-old trackpad or mouse. Competitors, like Microsoft, are way ahead of the curve because their computers have touchscreens. Being innovative is as simple as making the screen tappable, right?
Not quite. One reason for the absence of a touchscreen is form-factor complications. Reaching for a display that is too far in front of a person creates fatigue. On a tablet like the iPad, the user holds the display itself, which places the tap targets closer to the finger. This close display placement is an easier reach than the distance to a compter screen. To solve this reachability issue, companies like Microsoft have tried detaching the display from the keyboard base, essentially transforming the laptop into a tablet.
Transforming a laptop into a tablet in this manner causes a host of new problems. Many convertible devices, like Microsoft’s Surface Book, use laptop processors and other laptop-grade internals, requiring improved heat management and larger batteries. The result is a “tablet” with a bulky design and software that wasn’t made for touch. Portability and easy-to-use yet powerful software are the very selling points of tablets, but they are poorly delivered on laptop-tablet hybrids.
Laptops and tablets should work together, not try to be each other
Software is another key issue for convertibles. Apple puts a lot of thought into how its software works. For example, a mouse cursor is a lot smaller and more precise than a stubby finger. This means that for a Mac touchscreen to work, tap targets (like buttons, menu items, and other software controls) would need to be made larger. This means that an interface would be bigger and less information-dense, making the interface more like a tablet’s than a laptop’s. This waste of potential would “dumb down” a laptop, resulting in an unoptimized and feature-lacking tablet.
In laptop form, many of the essential internals are in the top display portion of the device, which makes for a more top-heavy, unbalanced device. Large, unattractive, and sometimes mechanically flawed hinges add to the lack of portability, style, and functionality.
A comparison could be made to the aircraft industry. A passenger jet could try to be a hybrid of a military fighter combined with a passenger jet. The result would be an airplane that isn’t good at shooting missiles or at carrying passengers. Sometimes having the specific tools and design for specific purposes is better.
Many people prize Microsoft’s “innovation” in the company’s Surface Book; yet, the company that created the iPhone, iPad, and the Mac could easily make a touchscreen computer, and probably with more ease than Microsoft’s team. However, it is not an issue of a lack of innovation or technical capability, it is a matter of careful consideration and restraint.
Laptops and tablets might be likened to oil and water. You can put the two in the same container, shake it, and say they’re together. But right after the sleek promotional video, and when real-world users start using them, the ingredients seem to separate once again, leaving consumers with a tablet that isn’t a very good tablet or a laptop that isn’t a great laptop.
Image credit: Apple