Apple is adding touchscreens to its Mac computers, a move that would challenge the company’s long-held dogma and adopt an approach that co-founder Steve Jobs once called “humanly awful.”
Engineers are actively involved in the project, indicating the company is seriously considering making touchscreen Macs for the first time, according to people familiar with the effort. However, the launch process has not been finalized and plans may change.
For more than a decade, the company has argued that touchscreens don’t work well on laptops and that the iPad is a better option if someone wants a touch-sensitive interface. Apple is also concerned that touchscreen Macs could kill iPad sales.
Based on current internal deliberations, the company could launch its first touchscreen Mac in 2025 as part of a larger MacBook Pro refresh, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the plans are private.
Current work calls for Apple’s first touchscreen MacBook Pro to retain a traditional laptop design, including a standard keyboard and trackpad. But the laptop’s screen supports touch and gesture input – like an iPhone or iPad. Over time, Apple could expand touch support to more Mac models.
As part of the MacBook Pro redesign, Apple also plans to transition its displays to organic light-emitting diode, or OLED technology. The company currently uses LCD screens – liquid crystal displays – in its Macs, but the iPhone and Apple Watch are already based on OLED. These displays offer improved brightness and color and will also arrive on the iPad Pro in the first half of 2024.
If the touchscreen Mac moved forward, it would be a big change. The late Jobs said that the idea of having computer users reach out to touch a vertical screen “doesn’t work”.
“Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical,” he said in 2010. “After a long period of time, your arm wants to fall off.”
Apple’s laptop competitors, including Dell, HP, Microsoft, Lenovo, Samsung and Acer, have all moved forward with touchscreens. Apple is now the only major computer manufacturer not to offer such a product.
There were also outward signs that Apple is considering changing course.
In 2018, the company started integrating its apps, bringing apps from the iPad to the Mac. The following year, I did the same with apps from third-party developers. In 2020, the company started allowing iPhone apps to run on its computers.
People familiar with the situation said that even with touchscreen mirroring, Apple is not actively working to unite the iPad and Mac operating systems. Touchscreen Macs are more likely to use macOS.
For years, some Apple customers have asked for touchscreen Macs, and the company has made previous attempts to please those users. In 2016, it launched the Touch Bar, a virtual bar on the keyboard that controls functions. The feature was pointless, confusing to consumers, and not gaining enough traction with app developers. Apple discontinued the feature in 2021 on the high-end MacBook Pro.
Last October, Apple seemed less hostile to the idea of touchscreen Macs. When asked about the potential prospect at a conference, head of software engineering Craig Federighi replied, “Who knew?”