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The 1st touchscreen MacBooks – is the dream about to become a reality?

It has long been one of those will they, won’t they stories…but recent rumours suggest it could yet happen?

MacBooks with touchscreen

First things first

The ideas and rumours of a MacBook with a touchscreen have been floating around now, for a very long time.

In fact, we can track back to 2010, just after the introduction of iPad, that Steve Jobs firmly stated that there would never be a touchscreen Mac. He said, “it would be ergonomically terrible”. And, he was not alone in his views – Sir Jony Ive saying “that a touchscreen Mac would not be a particularly useful or appropriate application of Multi-Touch.”

Over the years, John Ternus, and Craig Federighi have also weighed in with their opinions. Federighi stating;

“Apple designed and evolved the look of macOS in a way that felt comfortable and natural across a family of devices, and something like touch is not remotely considered. This is not to mention the potential ergonomic issues of a touchscreen keyboard and trackpad. As a result, an all-touchscreen MacBook seems to be very much out of step with the company’s thinking in recent years.”

…interesting, he should mention ‘an all-touchscreen MacBook’ in particular. These guys are outstanding communicators, and rarely make off-the-cuff, rash statements.

Of course, those views, and opinions all matter, but yesterday, news broke that the company may once again be looking closely at the idea of a touchscreen MacBook, and even foldable screens.

It’s all about the OLED

Last night, my attention was caught by a tweet from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman about MacBooks and touchscreens.

In it, Gurman reports that Apple engineers are ‘actively engaged’ in the project. The current line-up of MacBooks are due for a re-launch in 2025, and that would appear to be the dateline that Apple are working towards, with the idea of their first touchscreen MacBooks.

“Based on current internal deliberations, the company could launch its first touch-screen Mac in 2025 as part of a larger update to the MacBook Pro, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.”

The current design cue, is that the MacBook will retain a traditional laptop design – which means it will still use a trackpad & keyboard. Then, over the following years, more, and more support for touchscreen would be brought to the MacBook range.

The re-design of 2025, would also offer the perfect timing to introduce organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens to MacBooks. Today, MacBooks use LCD screens, but OLED displays are already used for Apple Watch and iPhones. The benefits of OLED are improved colour and display brightness.

The only half-hearted attempt at bringing touchscreen to the MacBooks was in 2016, with the introduction of the much maligned Touch Bar. Due to its poor reception, Apple dropped the Touch Bar when the latest MacBooks were launched in 2021.

Foldable MacBooks

This has always been the other half of the story – when touchscreens on MacBooks are mentioned, so is the idea of a foldable screen always debated.

Although this story has been quiet for a few months, there is reason to believe there is some time being spent on it at Apple’s Cupertino HQ.

Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) analyst Ross Young claimed that Apple is exploring the possibility of offering foldable displays. As we know, Young is to be taken pretty seriously. Concepts, and designs often start with sourcing screen technology, and this puts Young in a unique position to judge the future market demands.

Young has been responsible for being the first to tell us about iPhone 13 and it ProMotion display, the MacBooks latest mini-LED displays, and the dimensions of the sixth generation iPad mini. His opinion is that this technology could create an entirely new product category for Apple.

With the concept being so early in its cycle, exact details are scarce on what direction Apple may take with the new touchscreen/foldable MacBooks. Here are three routes they may decide to pursue.

Uni-screen MacBook

This is the idea that probably springs to mind first when your mind runs away with the idea of a foldable MacBook – one large display that rolls down from top to bottom, as you open your MacBook.

Young sees this possibility as having a dual-purpose. It would work well as a stand-alone notebook, using a full-sized, on-screen keyboard, or as a monitor, when unfolded, and used with an external keyboard.

At one time, this design seemed to be at odds with Apple’s views on touchscreens, but, with the breaking news we had from Gurman yesterday, this concept now works. A rolling, folding, top-to-bottom touchscreen sounds highly tactile, and, dare I say it, desirable.

Folding display and full keyboard

So, rather than the above idea, this concept, would be more of a hybrid between that, and a conventional MacBook.

The display, in this instance, could grow, and roll over the hinge, down to where the Touch Bar used to sit. Speaking of which, this could give a rebirth to the Touch Bar, but this time not at the exclusion of the function keys. Unlike the above design, you’d still have a full, traditional keyboard, and trackpad on this model.

It would also sit neatly within Apple’s form factor, too. Federighi has previously said;

“We really feel that the ergonomics of using a Mac are that your hands are rested on a surface, and that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do.”

And even if the Touch Bar is voted out, an extended display, as I have described, would let MacBook users keep their arms down, but still benefit from some aspects of a touchscreen.

iPad meets MacBook

Of course, from a sales standpoint, Apple is keen to keep the iPad and Mac as separate devices, with separate operating systems.

On first sight, this idea seems the most left-field. In 2021, Apple marketing executive Tom Boger explained that “iPad is already the world’s best touch computer, and that Mac is totally optimised for direct input.”

But, 2021 was a long time ago, and ideas develop. Although Young described a ‘notebook’, we could eventually see a large, folding iPad, morphing the best of the two experiences together.

Gurman has previously reported on the possibility of a large, 20-inch iPad – now the idea kind fits together well, wouldn’t you say? As the demarcation between tablet, desktop, and laptop becomes ever finer, a foldable iPad/MacBook could be a possibility;

“I’m told that Apple has engineers and designers exploring larger iPads that could hit stores a couple of years down the road. But a big iPad would be the perfect device for many people, including me, and would continue to blur the lines between tablet and laptop.”

As Stage Manager continues to be refined, it would bring the MacBook experience ever closer to iPad. They are clearly looking for ways to bring effective multitasking to iPad. With iPad currently suffering somewhat of a loss of identity, could this be the way to win our hearts back?

Wrapping up

There is a lot of speculation and rumour that I simply choose to ignore, but when Gurman and Young speak, I tend to listen. As a rule, the apples don’t fall too far from the tree with these two.

Would I be interested? Yeah, I think so. A MacBook at desk level, with the top leaning back, and a stylus, or pencil…what a way to edit video, photos, and audio. Bringing some form of tactility to that workflow, whilst utilising the best of the Mac apps, sounds a pretty meaningful set-up to me.

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