Will Richardson

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Tested: Apple Won't Make a Touch MacBook

October 30, 2016Will Richardson

Norm and Jeremy on the Tested.com podcast have frequently complained that Apple doesn’t make laptop with touchscreens. This past week they stated that it was almost an inevitability that there would be a touchscreen MacBook some time in the future. I think this is unlikely and most definitely not something that will be released anytime soon.

Before I go any further, just a note: I have not owned a laptop with a touchscreen (I do use a Pixel C like a laptop frequently, though). But when has having no experience in a subject stopped anyone from voicing their opinion on the internet?

Why am I so adamant that there will be no touch MacBooks? The answer is simple: macOS. MacOS/ OS X is not designed to accept imprecise inputs from a touchscreen - the touch targets are far too compact. The size of the window chrome on macOS has typically been smaller than the size of Window’s windows.

This was mentioned in an interesting post by the Chrome design team, which ran through the process of redesigning the Chrome UI across all platforms. The height of the chrome was significantly larger on Windows.

Most of the time I have spent using touchscreen laptops has been debugging group project code on team mates computers. This meant using IntelliJ - which has its fair share of menus and toolbar buttons - all designed for use with a mouse. Naturally because of the novelty of having a touchscreen (or the mediocre quality of the trackpads) I used it instead of the trackpad.

IntelliJ is basically unusable on the touchscreen, the menus and buttons are too small to hit. Navigating nested menus is not at all pleasant. Anyone that has used a Mac knows that most normal applications have all their actions in the menu, and common actions can be placed in the toolbar of the application. The minimum recommended size for a touch target on iOS is 44 by 44 points whereas the recommended size of toolbar items on macOS is “at least 19x19 points” the actual clickable area is slightly larger than this at 36 by 24 points. Menus are a similar story - they are only 30 points high.

For a touchscreen Mac to be a good user experience, macOS’s entire UI would have to be redesigned. This would mean a massive amount of work for third-party developers (maybe not so much for those that just use entirely system controls) and probably leave a sad collection of apps that look out of place in the new OS.

Of course Apple has not shied away from making massive changes that require significant work to support by developers (switching to Intel, introducing retina displays, Yosemite redesign, etc). However given fairly small changes to the Mac lineup, any major change seems unlikely.

This is coming from someone that uses the terminal to find files more often than Finder, and uses their Mac mostly for development. So just perhaps my useage is not quite the norm. Although almost everything that I do that is not development is done on my Pixel C.

I think Apple’s answer to people that want a touchscreen laptop is the iPad Pro. And no, they will not merge macOS and iOS.

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