The Mac-with-Touchscreen Argument Revisited

May 22nd, 2017

Just the other day, I read an article from a somewhat confused pundit that started with some accurate statements. But it then went off the rails.

So it correctly pointed out that Mac sales were up in the March quarter, whereas Microsoft Surface declined. This despite the arrival of the $2,999.99 Surface Studio all-in-one, a touchscreen-based PC that the critics claimed that Apple should emulate.

Things start to go astray in this article when the reader was informed that PCs with touchscreens are the only success stories on the Windows platform. This is the sort of claim that’s difficult to pin down, because PC makers don’t routinely break down sales by model or model configuration. The percentage of machines with touchscreens may indeed be higher as a product mix, so therefore you’d think they are more popular. But most people buy the cheaper models that don’t offer such extras.

Besides, I’ve read other reports claiming that 2-in-1 PCs aren’t doing so well, perhaps because they are more expensive, and that’s not where the market has moved.

The trip down the rabbit hole continues as the blogger suggests that people prefer touchscreens, based on a survey of — well, no survey at all. That a PC has a touchscreen doesn’t mean its user routinely takes advantage of the feature. Some may try it and confront the reality that it’s not a terribly comfortable use of a traditional notebook or computer display.

All, right, I didn’t take a survey either. But I have a 27-inch iMac, which would be very close to the 28-inch Surface Studio. Now my computer doesn’t have a touchscreen, obviously, but when I raise my hand to touch the display, the movement is not very comfortable. I imagine the impact of doing it hundreds of times a day and wonder whether I’ll get used to it, or whether it’ll just put stress on my aging limbs.

I suspect the latter.

Now Apple has claimed that putting a touchscreen on a Mac is akin to combining a refrigerator with a toaster oven. In other words, it’s a bad mix. The critics will allege that Apple doesn’t know what it’s doing, or has adopted a political posture that doesn’t recognize real market conditions.

To muddy the waters, an iPad that uses a keyboard case can be set up as a notebook with a — touchscreen. So is Apple just playing games with us? Personally, I’d prefer a keyboard case that offers a more familiar trackpad, so you can indeed skip the need to use trackpad mode on the iPad’s touchscreen. Indeed, I found a discussion thread at Apple where some iPad users suggested that Apple produce a Smart Keyboard with a trackpad

You can certainly buy them from third parties, though I can’t attest to how well they work. But if Apple expects us to take their objections to touchscreen-based notebooks seriously, this is a move they should consider. Of course, it would mean that the Smart Keyboard would have to be redesigned to accommodate this additional feature, maybe with a slide-out piece to provide the additional depth required.

None of this means that Apple wouldn’t find a way to deliver a 2-in-1 Mac, and make the excuse that they’ve somehow solved the problems that presently afflict such designs. For now, the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar may be the closest we’ll get. But the main point is whether reaching up to execute an input command makes more sense — or as much sense — as a Touch Bar and a trackpad.

Although I use a trackpad on my MacBook Pro, I still prefer a mouse. All right, I did work with the original Kensington Turbo Mouse trackball for a few months. I approached it with dedication and took it to the office during that period. I remember, once, visiting Kensington’s former New York City headquarters for replacement of a broken switch.

I continued using the Turbo Mouse until one day I woke up and decided it wasn’t, to me, as comfortable as a regular mouse. It appeared to place more stress on my busy fingers. So I returned to the mouse and never looked back. Well, except for those original PowerBooks, which also had trackballs. But Apple also decided it had a better idea, so, in 1994, they introduced a trackpad on the PowerBook 500.

That said, I notice that Kensington is still selling a version of the Turbo Mouse, known as Expert Mouse, plus a few other trackballs bearing the SlimBlade and Orbit brands.

In any case, I suppose you could cite Apple’s arguments that the 4-inch iPhone was a better fit than a smartphone with a larger display as an example of the company’s ability to change. The smaller-is-better approach worked until it didn’t. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus were hugely successful. Sure, maybe they are somewhat more awkward to handle, but that didn’t stop Apple from recognizing reality. But Apple also built the iPhone SE because there is a segment of customers that didn’t want larger handsets.

So even if Apple went with a 2-in-1 Mac — and I doubt it’ll happen — that move wouldn’t force you to ever use its touchscreen feature.

| Print This Article Print This Article

3 Responses to “The Mac-with-Touchscreen Argument Revisited”

  1. Bill Buchanan says:

    Hello, Gene. I find your columns interesting reading, and balanced in their degree of objectivity. In this case, allow me to say that the focus should not be on whether it’s “right” or “wrong” to have a touchscreen Mac per se, but whether or not it is appropriate to include a technology that is readily available on PCs today. Popularity of a component or how frequently it will be used should not factor into the equation; it is there – I can use it if and when I choose to do so. Be they ports, function keys, etc., it makes no difference whether or not they are used comfortably or frequently – they’re there, and that’s all that matters. I never use the right shift key. Does that mean that it should be eliminated since I suspect most people don’t either? No. Of course not. How about the ~/` key? Same. I must say that there are occasions on my Dell XPS 13″ touch screen where it’s quite handy to tap through options on the screen. And having only a 13″ is actually irrelevant because I will only tap the screen where it is comfortable to do so. On a 27″ iMac, I might just use the mouse to handle out-of-the-way selections. Still, the convenience of touch is there and it’s something that should be included. Oblige me a little further as I go into my next “compromise”. Apple, in my opinion, has already come up with a fantastic format that would handle touchscreen beautifully – and that is the old G4 iMac. Picture it – it is practically a giant iPad on a movable arm that could be positioned for touch comfortably. Naturally, it would have the convenience of mouse/keyboard combinations as well. Class, beauty, functionality – it would all be there. I don’t know the logistics of it, not being an engineer, but I suspect that it is doable. So there are options that would placate those calling for touch and for those who do not “require” it. In any case, it is vital that Apple provide. To ignore the demands of the user base – even if it be a minor one – is arrogant and short-sighted. Thanks for reading.

  2. Joe S says:

    I still remember, with great fondness, my Saratoga keyboard and matching Lynx trackball, a combination I used until the one of the OS updates. I much prefer not having my elbow involved so trackpads are fine by me.

Leave Your Comment