Touchscreen or No Touchscreen, That is the Question!

A lot has already been written about Apple’s Touch Bar for the MacBook Pro and how Apple should have just gone all in and actually added a touchscreen. I hinted on the day of the event that the Touch Bar could actually end up being more impactful than a touch screen and I would like to explain why.

Windows Touch Screens Were a Response to Mobile

I think it is important to look at why we have touch screens in the Windows camp.

Touch screens on Windows were not the result of a platform need. When we started to see hybrid devices running Windows, we were still on Windows 8, which was not optimized for touch. Nor were touch screens the result of an innovation aimed at changing the way we worked and interacted with content.

We got touch screens because Windows as a platform was trying to catch up to mobile.

With very little opportunity for growth in smartphones, and iPad at the high-end and cheap Android tablets at the low-end impacting PC sales, Windows PC makers wanted to fight back by adding the one function the world seemed never to get enough of. By adding touch to PCs, vendors were hoping to shift the downward trend in PC sales while decelerating tablet growth.

Then there was Surface. Microsoft started Surface because what vendors were releasing at the time was failing to compete with tablets. Consumers were not interested in buying a new PC and enterprises were still not sure they wanted to invest in the premium that touch was bringing to the new machines. Surely productivity did not need touch!

Not just about the hardware

Even Surface did not hit a home run the first time around. While it was the best hardware Windows had to offer at the time, the first iteration of Surface running Windows 8 was a less than optimal experience when using touch. The obsession of competing with the iPad was also giving way to confused products like Surface RT.

Fast forward to today and you have Surface Pro 4 running on Windows 10, offering a full computing experience in a versatile form factor with an OS that runs well with using both touch and keyboard.

Looking at hardware alone, however, is not enough to understand how far a device can go when it comes to bridging PCs and tablets. Apps have been key in tablets. So much so that the market has been clearly split in two: a high-end that is dominated by iPad, where there are over one million dedicated apps, and a low-end market where Android tablets reign supreme mainly as content consumption screens.

Windows based 2-in-1s, Surface included, suffer from the lack of touch-first apps that would help move the needle in adoption and, most of all, with engagement and loyalty. It is for this reason that seeing Microsoft invest in first party apps is so refreshing. Microsoft is delivering value and hopefully showing the potential to developers even with both apps and new devices such as the Surface Dial. In an interview with Business Insiders, VP of Microsoft Devices, Panos Panay said something I could not agree more with: “The entire ecosystem benefits when we create new categories and experiences that bring together the best of hardware and software.” 

Meanwhile, across the fence, the Mac OS store has not captured developers in the same way the iOS Store has. The prospect of being able to reach hundreds of millions vs. tens of millions of users has kept a lot of developers focusing on iPhone and iPad.

Adding touch support for macOS Sierra might have left users not much better off than they were before. I assume developing for the Touch Bar is much easier than designing a brand new app for Sierra optimized for touch, which ultimately would result in a better experience for the user.

The “I need a keyboard” argument

Clearly, Apple did not just do the Touch Bar because it was easier to develop for. Apple continues to maintain that vertical touch is not the right approach. Many disagree because the extensive use of touch is getting us more and more often to reach out to touch our screens. Yet, when we touch our screens, we generally want to scroll or select. We really do not want to do complex things which begs the question, why can’t we do it on the trackpad we have on our keyboard? We can discuss this point till the cows come home and we will find pros and cons on both sides.

So let’s look at this point a little differently. There are two main reasons why someone buys a MacBook Pro today: OS and the keyboard. Rightly or wrongly, many people still think iOS is not a “full OS” – another point we can discuss till the cows come home. But the keyboard is key.

If the keyboard is so important for these users, it seems fitting Apple focused on making that experience better. In a recent interview for CNET, Jony Ive said:

“Our starting point, from the design team’s point of view, was recognizing the value with both input methodologies. But also there are so many inputs from a traditional keyboard that are buried a couple of layers in…So our point of departure was to see if there was a way of designing a new input that really could be the best of both of those different worlds. To be able to have something that was contextually specific and adaptable, and also something that was mechanical and fixed, because there’s truly value in also having a predictable and complete set of fixed input mechanisms.”

Taking touch and contextualizing it to the keyboard to make gestures, steps, and functions more natural, immediate,and precise makes a lot of sense to me. As often with Apple, you get what you asked for but not in the form you thought you wanted it.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

For Apple, it means it is serving two different audiences that think of computing in different ways. Apple will do so for as long as it will take for MacBook users to be convinced the iPad Pro and iOS 10 represent the next computing platform.

For Microsoft, it is about focusing on the larger and longer term shift that will see Mixed Reality play a big role in the way we interact with devices, the way we do business, and the way we learn. Microsoft is making sure it is shaping its own path rather than finding itself blindsided and left to scramble as it did with mobile.

Published by

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc, a market intelligence and strategy consulting firm based in Silicon Valley and recognized as one of the premier sources of quantitative and qualitative research and insights in tech. At Creative Strategies, Carolina focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services, she analyzes today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, she drove thought leadership research by marrying her deep understanding of global market dynamics with the wealth of data coming from ComTech’s longitudinal studies on smartphones and tablets. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role, she led the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets, and PCs. She spent most of her time advising clients from VC firms, to technology providers, to traditional enterprise clients. Carolina is often quoted as an industry expert and commentator in publications such as The Financial Times, Bloomberg, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She regularly appears on BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox, NBC News and other networks. Her Twitter account was recently listed in the “101 accounts to follow to make Twitter more interesting” by Wired Italy.

193 thoughts on “Touchscreen or No Touchscreen, That is the Question!”

  1. “Windows PC makers wanted to fight back by adding the one function the world seemed never to get enough of.”

    Wasn’t it actually Microsoft that pushed them to include touch screens by making touch the dominant paradigm for Windows Metro, which replaced the start menu as the default app launcher in Win 8?

    “Windows based 2-in-1s, Surface included, suffer from the lack of
    touch-first apps that would help move the needle in adoption and, most
    of all, with engagement and loyalty.”

    Because MS faces a chicken-and-egg problem — most of the installed base of windows users are still using Windows 7 or XP, which do not have touch built in. The percentage of windows users who have devices with touch screens is even smaller (most of the PCs running Windows 10 were free upgrades from Windows 7 and cannot be counted on to have touch screens). Developers have no reason whatsoever to spend their valuable time integrating touch support into their apps when the vast majority of their customers will not be able to benefit from that work.

    “Meanwhile, across the fence, the Mac OS store has not captured
    developers in the same way the iOS Store has. The prospect of being able
    to reach hundreds of millions vs. tens of millions of users has kept a
    lot of developers focusing on iPhone and iPad.”

    Well actually it’s that Mac OS developers don’t want to surrender 20% of their revenue and sandbox their apps in order to get into the Mac App store. Which has little to do with anything being discussed, since Mac apps are easily available the old fashioned way, from the developers’ web sites.

    The point is that if Apple launched a Mac with a touch screen, there would be zero apps available for it outside of Apple’s own apps. Compared to the however many thousand non-phone apps that are in Microsoft’s app store. Supposing Apple got a change of religion and decided that touch screens were the future of the Mac. They would have to announce the news to their developers at least a full year ahead of time, the way they did with their announcement of the transition from powerPC to Intel chips. Lacking such an announcement, there’s no reason to have any expectation that Macs would start to ship with touch screens.

    “it means it is serving two different audiences that think of computing
    in different ways. Apple will do so for as long as it will take for
    MacBook users to be convinced the iPad Pro and iOS 10 represent the next
    computing platform.”

    That statement makes about as much sense as saying “for however long it will take boat riders to be convinced that automobiles are the next transportation platform.”

    Computing is not a dog-eat-dog world where the new dog utterly destroys the old dog. It’s additive. Building sized computers used to be the only computers there were. They did everything from Apollo mission trajectories to payroll for giant corporations. Today we still have almost as many building sized supercomputers as we did in the heyday of the mainframe, except instead of payroll, they’re calculating global climate models and the gravitational dynamics of galactic collisions. Whereas payroll has been demoted to something done by 1/20th of a single 1u machine in the company’s datacenter. New computing form factors shave off some of the jobs from the old form factor and take over new jobs that were never thought of as being suited to a computer before, freeing the old form factor to pursue more complicated and difficult work that the new form factor cannot do.

    It used to be that in order to use the web, you had to have a PC. now you can use the web and a whole lot more with your phone. Computing tasks migrate to the least powerful, least expensive platform that can perform them adequately.

    But the PC is still there and still doing work that it would be silly or impossible to do on any phone or tablet. Show me a novelist who writes books on their phone. Show me an orthopedic specialist who is stupid enough to only look at X rays on a 5″ phone screen instead of a 20+” desktop screen (ditto for oncology lab techs and endless other jobs that require you to be able to see fine details in large images). The PC form factor provides unique benefits that phones and tablets cannot. It also provides computational power that is beyond the realm of even the fastest tablet.

    In every era, we have had tasks that we wanted our computers to do that pushed them to their limits. The specific tasks have changed as computers became more performant, but the need for all the compute that computer manufacturers are able to provide will never go away. Form factor benefits aside, battery powered, passively cooled mobile devices are always going to be much more performance limited than devices that can rely on mains power and active cooling solutions.

    1. “But the PC is still there and still doing work that it would be silly or impossible to do on any phone or tablet.”

      – I use my iPad Pro as my main computer all the time. I am not saying it is for everybody the same way as I would not say that real work can only be done on a PC

      1. Carolina,

        Well written article. In regards to tablets vs. PCs, at Techpinions, I suspect that articles that include research information (with graphical support) are more likely produced on PCs or Macs, due to the much superior multitasking capabilities. Writing straightforward textual analysis seems easily within the capabilities of any iPad. The iPad Pro sits in the middle as I see it.

        1. absolutely, i have created short presentations on iPad Pro and dealt with making charts in Excel it’s possible but not my first choice which goes back to my point of there are people who spend most of their working hours doing those things that will go PC first.

          1. I wonder if we might see an iPad Pro with a USB-C port in addition to a Lightning port. One Frankenstein scenario would be pairing an IPad Pro with a new standalone Apple keyboard with Touch Bar. What if IOS Force Touch options showed up on the Touch Bar?

      2. There are a bazillion things (trust me it’s a real number) that a PC can do that any tablet can’t. There is one thing a PC does not do as well as any tablet. Move.

      3. “I am not saying it is for everybody the same way as I would not say that real work can only be done on a PC”

        You were the one implying that mac users just need to become convinced that IOS is “the next computing platform.” If you didn’t mean to imply that desktop users are just a bunch of dinosaurs, then maybe you shouldn’t have said as much.

  2. The simple truth is that Apple will not make a MacBook with a touchscreen mainly because it would take sales away from the iPad, its a business decision not a technical one,
    there is no need to be on the defensive all the time for what they do

      1. Sales of the iPhone are stagnant, sales of the iPad and the Apple Watch are down, do you really expected Apple to make a moves that would accelerate theses trend?

        The Apple we know today would never come up with their own version of Surface Studios, because it’s better for their business, not for technical reasons that you buy a MacBook and an iPad rather than their own version of Surface.

        1. Given the MacBooks are more expensive than the iPad Pro it would not be a bad thing if Apple sold more. I am really not sure that the move is about not hurting iPad sales but it might help more people see the iPad Pro as a PC replacement.

          1. I do not consider the IPad pro to be a PC replacement the same way I do not consider the MacBook with a touch bar to be an IPad replacement

            I do not think that someone with an IPad and a MacBook is more creative and productive than someone with a Surface book

            But it is clear that today’s Apple today are the one who is afraid of disrupting themselves

          2. who said anything about being more creative with an iPad Pro and Mac over a Surface. As a matter of fact i think Surface has a better pen and keyboard than the iPad Pro. My only issue with Surface is lack of apps which prevent me from having the work and play balance i want

          3. The why do so many Apple Blogger continue to argue that the two computer platforms cannot converge?

            With the Surface Book, and also the Surface Studio, Microsoft managed to converge the creativity of touch, stylus with the productivity of the mouse and keyboard while reducing workflow, complexity and load use case.

            It is only a matter of time before developers start to create new forms of applications that benefits from all these modes of interaction.

          4. It’s early days yet, so early that when you lay the Studio down the puck slowly slides down the screen.

            The surface is a laptop that can be converted into a mediocre tablet.

            The studio hasn’t been used by professionals yet.

            Microsoft are hoping for the matter of time thing but that didn’t really work out for the Surface touch side, they had to pay developers to produce apps.

          5. Your reaction to the Surface Book reminds me of what most Apple blogger used to say about the phablet category until Apple was forced to create their own

          6. That’s revisionist history Kenny. We now know that Apple already had larger screen iPhones in development before pundits were criticizing Apple’s ‘refusal’ to create a larger screen iPhone. Apple almost certainly already has devices like a touch iMac or iOS MacBook in the lab, but they don’t talk about that and they don’t release everything they work on. The question is whether there is mainstream demand for devices like the Surface Studio, and the Surface tablets aren’t exactly killing it sales-wise. Last estimates I saw were around 2 million devices in a quarter.

          7. I do not think so,

            If you go back in 2011 to read what some Apple blogger used to say after Samsung introduced their Phablet category, you will see the similarity with what they say now with regard to the surface Book and surface studios

          8. I wasn’t referring to what bloggers were saying, I was referring to the myth that Apple was forced to make a larger screen iPhone. We now know that was false. Apple was already working on a larger screen iPhone at the time and was simply waiting. I said around that time that larger screen iPhones were inevitable, but also at that time we had good data on actual phablet sales, and sales were low (but growing). Apple waited until the demand/opportunity was large enough, that’s all.

          9. What have I said that was wrong, Kenny?

            The tablet side of the Surface Pro is so poor that Microsoft refocused their marketing to put it up against Apple’s MacBook. They tried for a year or so to market it against the iPad with little or no success.

            Unfortunately the current “you cant do that on a Mac” campaign can be countered with “you can do that on an iPad” in most cases.

          10. “. . .when you lay the Studio down the puck slowly slides down the screen.”

            So the Microsoft product designers did not notice this at all or did not think it was a problem that needed fixing? Or maybe their product lab is in a submarine that was on steep descent at the very moment they were testing the puck?

          11. Apparently not, Aardman. The movement is very slow but it happens. The guy who videod it was in the Seattle Microsoft store with the studio laid as flat as it could be.

          12. It might not actually be that much of a problem. It depends on the usage of the puck in normal operations. If you put it on the screen for a few minutes and then remove it and put it back on your desk, having it slide down slowly isn’t a big deal. On the other hand, if you tend to leave it on the screen for extended sessions and it moves, that could be pretty annoying. It’s a new UI device, probably no one knows yet how it will be used by actual people doing their work.

          13. It’s an example of the attention to detail that their designers have. Symptomatic, if you will.

    1. That is so stupid. Apple is the prime exponent of “I will cannibalize my own product because if I don’t somebody else will do it to me.” They’ve said it so many times, in so many ways, by so many Apple executives.

      1. Well, that’s what I thought, too. But Horace makes the case in the article Shameer references below, that is exactly the case. Or as Horace puts it:

        “Even so, it may seem that Apple is pulling punches. The product could have evolved into the full-touch, dual screens, pen input, hybrid model of Windows. But that only makes sense if you don’t have a mobile product that is promising the same and tearing up the world at the same time.

        “You’ve unleashed a disruptive force and now you’re supposed to retrofit the incumbent with the tools to compete. Why not just let the disruptor grow up unhindered.

        “The Mac is what it is because it’s not alone. It’s part of a family. It is a parent. It strives to be better but will not take the future from its child.”

        He lays out this artificial differentiation between direct and indirect input, which is total hogwash. So Apple deliberately held back on disruptive innovation on the Mac so that it doesn’t adversely affect iOs devices. They did not want to disrupt iOS.

        That is not the Apple either of us know.


  3. “For Apple, it means it is serving two different audiences that think of computing in different ways.”

    Well, that’s what I see as part of the problem. Audiences are starting to converge the two in their interactions now. Apple’s choice is to either help shape that, or follow how this plays out at a later date. The latter here is obviously their current chosen strategy.

    That is not a bad place, though. I met an architect of large scale environments, like college campuses, who would wait until after the facilities were in use to lay the sidewalks, except where it may be necessary such as for ADA compliance. Then he would see how people actually walked through the space based on wear patterns rather than start out with sidewalks people won’t use. Of course this still requires some use to base the decisions on. I guess Apple has MS to thank for trailblazing.

    “Apple will do so for as long as it will take for MacBook users to be convinced the iPad Pro and iOS 10 represent the next computing platform.”

    So no more trucks? I will agree as long as it also means an end to all the meaningless discussion of the analogy itself.


    1. Although, Apple being so vocally opposed to a touchscreen will make it even more notable when they _do_ decide to incorporate a touchscreen.

      Ah, marketing!


    2. i did not mention trucks, did I? 🙂
      I am not sure the audiences are merging that much yet. some users might want both but not necessarily in the same device for now.

      1. And I am quite thankful you did not mention trucks. Still feeling some carry over from other conversations on this board.

        Yeah, I’m not convinced anyone actually _wants_ touch screens on PCs, so I am sure you are correct. I just think we are getting to the point of expecting them. I know I get startled when I find myself reaching for the screen on either my laptop or desktop (even as I’ve pretty much abandoned my iPad). Same thing when I see others do it. They catch themselves and laugh. But it is becoming more common place in my own encounters.

        Of course you research this for a living. I don’t. I just try to be observant.


  4. A touchscreen on a MacBook Pro is a non-starter. In my home office, my MBP sits a full arms length away from me, as it is connected to peripherals including a large second monitor. I have a trackpad that sits right next to my external keyboard, and it works beautifully. When I take the MBP on the road, which is rare, I just disconnect everything and off I go. The trackpad on the MBP, although smaller, works just as well as my external trackpad. The thought of touching my screen to do clumsily what I can do efficiently with a trackpad is ludicrous. My wife has a brand new HP laptop that, from a distance, looks like a MBP. It runs Windows 10 and has a touchscreen. She never uses it. In fact, there is a little discussed problem with Windows 10 touchscreen laptops referred to has ghost touch. Sometimes, magically, items on the screen start getting selected and executed all on their own. It’s a joke.

    1. I mostly agree, except for different reasons. I think it is a non-starter because I really don’t think it will be much of a differentiator. I think people won’t understand why it _isn’t_ touch screen when everything else they interact with is a touch screen. Even if all it does are the two simplest things people kind of already expect as pointed out in the article—scrolling and selecting.

      Because of mobile, PCs needing this is not ground breaking, it isn’t going to be considered innovative; heck it probably won’t even ever really be _needed_. It will, more and more, just simply be expected. More so, or at least long before a voice UI.

      I’m like you at home. I don’t even have my laptop open. I have an external 24″ monitor attached and keep my Macbook closed. In that regard neither the touch bar nor the screen being touch enabled _on the laptop_ would benefit me. But, heck, I’ve even reached out to touch my external monitor. And I can absolutely see where I would benefit if my CAD software supported touch.

      I think it is ironic that I have been mischaracterized here of being a luddite and stubbornly averse to “the future” when this is more clearly the future (at least the nearer future) than most things promoted as “the future”. Because, as I see it, in this situation, the PC is actually playing catch up.


      1. think it is a non-starter because I really don’t think it will be much of a differentiator” jfutral

        It’s all depends on the form factor.
        Two weeks ago, would anyone of us have imagined the Surface Studios?
        I tried it and the thing is amazing,

        1. “Two weeks ago, would anyone of us have imagined the Surface Studios”

          Uh, yes. Apple has a patent from 2010 on a touch iMac, very similar to the Surface Studio (I was actually wondering if Apple’s patent is the reason Microsoft designed a different type of hinge mechanism). I’ve been talking about an iMac with touch UI that tilts down like a drafting table for years. I’ve said the Surface Studio looks amazing, but it is also obvious it isn’t going to sell in huge numbers, which is fine. Apple will eventually make something very much like the Surface Studio but it won’t be a touch iMac, it will be an iPad Studio.

          1. It is not about who had the idea first, rather who can execute it better and bring it to market first.

            it’s a niche category of product not a mass market one hence do not expect huge sell numbers

            The Surface studio is not simply a PC with Touch screen, it’s a different form factor for different use case

            An IPad Studio will not be the same as a Surface Studio, the same way the LG Prada wasn’t the same as an iPhone

          2. It also doesn’t matter much who brings it to market first. Better execution does matter, but you can be second, third, fourth, etc. By the way, I was simply answering your question “would anyone of us have imagined”, and the answer is yes, lots of people imagined this kind of device, for years already (myself included).

            We agree the Surface Studio is a niche category. It’s a Cintiq, but more and better (according to the reviews I’ve read so far).

            Did I say an iPad Studio would be the same as a Surface Studio? I’m pretty sure I said “very much like”, meaning a large touchscreen computer.

            In your world is the iPad Studio the LG Prada? Isn’t the LG Prada the device people trot out to prove Apple wasn’t First! ™? In that case the Surface Studio is the LG Prada and the iPad Studio whenever it comes out will be the iPhone (not first to market but a better experience).

            As much as I dig the Surface Studio it does have one major drawback, it isn’t very mobile. I’m not sure any 28 inch touchscreen computer can be very mobile though so maybe if you want a device like that you have to live with it being a desktop device.

          3. The party that has the idea first certainly matters if there is a patent blocking competition.

            Even so, barring that, the parties that come first make the mistakes that the party that made the best learned form.

        2. I would like a Surface Monitor, and supply my own PC. Still contend that the real value is in the monitor and that the PC side of it is underspec’ed and overpriced.

    2. The larger trackpad on the new MBP pretty much went unnoticed. I think it is significant because a larger trackpad will allow for more precise control of onscreen/graphical elements. (Once the apps take advantage of the new hardware feature, of course.)

  5. I also think (after reading a recent comment by an Apple exec, Cue? I can’t remember. But John Kirk has certainly made this point here) this whole “pixel precise” interface is over-stated. There aren’t many UI selectable points that are THAT pixel precise. Even as I sit here looking at Safari and this website, everything clickable is easily selectable by touch without any trouble.

    The obvious exception off the top of my head are graphics programs. But even then, most people zoom in far enough to make “pixel” selection easier.

    I am NOT saying touch is superior and mouse/trackpad are inferior or that mouse or trackpad should be ditched in favour of touch. But an obvious multiple input approach is not that difficult to conceive. I am saying Apple’s technological or usability justification is BS. But I do agree that the general public is not clamoring for it on their PCs, not yet. But then, the general public seems to be less interested in PCs.


    1. The usability of the touch bar works best when you are peering down on the keyboard, not something I do all the time, especially when relaxed on a lounge chair or in bed. In fact, it’s much easier to see the Mac dock along the bottom of the display from that position, so a touch sensitive strip along the bottom of the screen would be much easier to use.

  6. All very interesting but the fact is Apple is just unable to make macOS touch enabled. That is the only reason MacBooks will not have touch screen. Until, maybe, iOS is fully grown up and it can replace macOS.

    1. By then Microsoft, including Google with their Chrome OS might do to their Mac and IPad business what they did to other with the IPhone,

  7. It’s clear. In L-shape form factor, you don’t want to touch your screen. Occasionally you may want to try that, but I bet you don’t want to do it in a long working session. Even Microsoft realizes that. That’s why when you need to touch the Surface Studio’s screen, you want to slide it all the way down to 20°. Or, if you’re using Surface Book, you need to flip back the screen and change it to tablet form factor.

  8. The question seems pretty simple to me. What would a touch screen on my MacBook give me over and above the capabilities of my trackpad?

    I can’t think of a single reason why I would need to move my hands from their natural position on the keypad, to the screen.

    1. “I can’t think of a single reason why I would need to move my hands from their natural position on the keypad, to the screen.”

      That’s funny because this is exactly what DOS users back in the day used to say about the mouse. Huh.


      1. Not exactly, the question was “What would a touch screen on my MacBook give me over and above the capabilities of my trackpad?”

        That’s like the DOS users back in the day already having a mouse equivalent and wondering why they also needed some other device that gave them similar capability. Now, maybe the new mouse is better than the mouse equivalent, but I’m not sure we can make that call yet. And it could be the wrong question to focus on. Maybe the correct question is which would be better, a touch enabled MacBook or an iOS laptop?

    1. Interesting table. Thanks for sharing. I still say arm fatigue is overstated. Our arms are actually built for extending. We do it everyday, numerous times. It is not that big a deal.

      None-the-less, what would you think are the demerits that the touch bar introduces?


      1. I would expect that the touch bar would result in some confusion. You would have multiple controls that do the same thing which might confuse some users. In this sense, I actually think that it’s a good thing that the rollout will be slow, because it forces developers to make their apps backwards compatible with non-touchbar devices. This will ensure that function in the touch bar will always be available elsewhere.

        Another complication is that the touch bar is not visibly associated to a window. This is similar to the menu bar in the Mac UI. Sometimes it’s not clear which window is current and will accept the selected command. Many current Mac apps have controls directly associated with windows, and this is also true for web apps, so we are actually moving away from the Mac UI menu bar model. The touch bar has the risk of bringing this confusion back.

        Of course, one really has to try the real thing before coming to conclusions.

        1. “we are actually moving away from the Mac UI menu bar model”

          That’s interesting and makes sense. And it also helps Apple’s exec (again, I can’t remember who. I can’t keep them straight anymore) was talking about their biggest obstacle in a macOS touch interface is the traditional Apple menu bar. Debatable and arguable as that may be, your point puts his point into a different light than whether or not the menu bar is truly a point of friction.

          In terms of pro/power users and the touch bar vs F Keys I think _replacing_ the F-Keys is an unfortunate choice. Chances are (I know for myself and my work software) those users have customize the mapping of the F-Keys. Now, sure the touch-bar can directly replicate the F-Keys, but that would seem to undermine the potential of the touch bar.

          To address this I would imagine there will be a need not just to make the touch bar context sensitive, but user switchable to other usability “pages”. Not huge, but certainly an extra step that used to not be needed to a pro/power users workflow and habits.


          1. The current Mac UI is a complex mixture of decades of artefacts. Function keys and shortcuts predate the PC, menu bars were designed for 9-inch 512×342 pixel displays, right-click contextual menus come from Windows 95, etc.

            I think that is very unlikely we’ll have a clean consistent answer to what is the best UI for PCs. We’ll have to live with a hybrid, and the Touch Bar is one more UI convention to think about.

            Having said that though, I think the touch bar will be very helpful for me because I can only manage to remember about 10 shortcuts in all. And if you surveyed most “Pros”, I think they’ll all want to remember more but can’t.

          2. I guess it depends on which pros. The pros I’ve worked with (audio, video, 3d, cad) all have a solid grasp of their f-keys. Of course the pros I’m talking about are the ones who use the same few apps everyday, all year. I’m pretty good with my f-keys and mapped shortcuts in Vectorworks.


      2. With touch interface on a vertical screen, it’s not just the extended arms but the wrists bent backwards. Try simulating it with your laptop or desktop set at your typical work position. When I try it on mine, I can’t get a good finger-to-screen contact without bending my wrists backwards. Especially on multi-finger touch gestures.

        Constantly extending your arms will strengthen your arm and shoulder muscles. Constantly bending your wrists that way will lead to carpal tunnel problems for a significant number of people.

        1. Except that I do it all the time at work with both external touch screen monitors and a laptop touch screen (ETC ION lighting console and EOS client/offline software on a non-Mac laptop (ASUS, I think, I can’t remember at the moment—all PCs look alike)). It really isn’t that bad, even for occasional extended periods.

          But the main point is, the usage is not that extended. Like a voice UI, this is just one of several input techniques employed all in the same work session. And usually the user decides which works best for them.

        2. You would need to tilt the laptop screen back at a good angle. This is how I use my iPad 2 in a keyboard case, the screen is at quite an angle, and I can keep my elbow supported and swivel my arm/hand. That works very well and is quite comfortable. But I agree a more vertical screen would be much more difficult. This is why I think a larger screen iPad with an ever more powerful version of iOS is where Apple is headed. The question I’m thinking about is which device is better, a touch-enabled MacBook or an iOS laptop (and we sorta already have an iOS laptop).

  9. Here’s where _I_ think a touch screen laptop would be quite handy. Still dependent on software developers to take advantage of it, but what else is new? The main reason I keep my laptop closed when I am at home is because of lack of efficient control over the vastness of the screen real estate. My external monitor is my primary monitor, especially for CAD, audio, and video work. The small screen (I use a 13″ MBP because it fits better on airplane seat trays and you only have to have your laptop crushed once from someone slamming their seat back to make that mental change) is pretty useless at that point.

    Since there are so many palettes and windows in just about all major, professional software, I used to put all my control palettes on the MBP screen to keep my main screen clear for the work I do. Most professionals I know do that. But running the mouse back and forth, for me, was more trouble than what it gained me in main screen visibility.

    Making the laptop screen my control interface that doesn’t require the mouse would be quite helpful and actually make the small screen valuable again.

    My 2 cents,

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