Apple hints that it isn't ruling out touchscreen MacBooks

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2020
A new patent describing the use of applications across multiple screens, such as iPhone and MacBook Pro, suggests that Apple hasn't completely eliminated the possibility of a touchscreen MacBook Pro.

A MacBook Air showing a detail from the new patent
A MacBook Air showing a detail from the new patent


Despite Apple continually saying it won't bring touchscreens to the Mac, a new patent includes one description that explicitly refers to touchscreen laptops. It is most likely an example of a patent attempting to cover every possibility, but the description is clear and specific.

Referring to drawings included in "Cross Device Interactions," Apple labels a smartphone as "electronic device 5004." A laptop computer's display is "electronic device 5012," and the patent details combinations of the two.

"In some embodiments, display 5012 is also a touch-sensitive display," it says. "In one or more of such embodiments, the user optionally performs a variety of finger inputs over display 5012 to enter user inputs via display 5012."

Previously, Craig Federighi has said Apple has decided against producing a touchscreen Mac.

"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," he said. "I don't think we've looked at any of the other guys to date and said, how fast can we get there?"

Detail from the new patent which includes one description of the laptop screen being touch-sensitive
Detail from the new patent which includes one description of the laptop screen being touch-sensitive


The chief aim of the new patent is to describe methods by which a user can leverage two or more devices at the same time.

"A user sometimes interacts with multiple devices to access content stored on or accessible through the respective devices," explains the patent. "However, some devices have or are connected to displays that are less optimal for viewing content. Further, the user is sometimes more comfortable with using certain input devices to interact with content."

After giving examples ranging from how images are displayed to methods by which users store and manipulate files or documents across devices, the patent claims current methods are no longer effective or efficient.

"But methods for performing these navigations and animating the transition between related user interfaces in a user interface hierarchy are cumbersome and inefficient," it says. "In addition, these methods take longer than necessary, thereby wasting energy. This latter consideration is particularly important in battery-operated devices."

"Additionally, abrupt transitions between different user interfaces can be distracting and jarring for users, reducing the efficiency and enjoyment of the user when using the device," it continues.

The patent refers to situations where the screen of one device may be positioned over the other, though it does not give many examples. One possibility is when the user has a MacBook Pro but is also using an iPhone which he or she moves in front of the laptop.

"While a second electronic device having a second display is placed over a first region of the first display, the method includes detecting, via the one or more input devices of the first electronic device, a first user input," explains the patent.

In what may be another example of merely attempting to cover every future possibility, the patent refers to using a user's gaze, voice commands and screen touches to determine where their attention is focused. It may be, for instance, that a user is watching something on a larger screen while controlling playback via their phone.

Apple's patent describes how the two devices can display different things depending on where your focus is and what you are doing. It's also about the two devices recognizing the proximity of each other and choosing to display relevant information on each while they are together.

"Current methods for interacting with content displayed on electronic devices are outdated, time consuming, and inefficient," it says. "For example, some existing methods use complex and time-consuming user interfaces, which may include multiple key presses or keystrokes, and may include extraneous user interfaces. In addition, these methods take longer than necessary, thereby wasting energy."

Those devices can include ones that do not have touchscreens, such as a laptop with a trackpad.

"There is a need for electronic devices that provide efficient methods and interfaces for engaging in cross device interactions. Such techniques can reduce the cognitive burden on a user who interacts with content displayed in computer user interfaces of devices that are placed over each other, thereby enhancing productivity," it concludes.

The four inventors credited on the patent include Chang Zhang, whose 50 previous patents include one for "Multifunction input device with an embedded capacitive sensing layer" - meaning an Apple Pencil with a touch-sensitive interface.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    seanjseanj Posts: 290member
    Surely we have this in Catalina using an iPad with your Mac?
    edited January 2020 mattinozleehammwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 36
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,170member
    I can understand the reasons for not implementing a touchscreen but I think they don't outweigh the reasons for having the option available for users on some models.

    Over the years one of the big differences I've noticed between Mac a PC users is that PC screens are always full of fingerprint smudges. Their fingers do end up touching the screen a lot when pointing to things. Conversely, Mac users often point to things on the screen - without actually touching it. And that's what I've always done. As the screens are not touch capable I never wanted those smudges all over the place.

    However, if I truly had a reason to touch it I probably would - in spite of smudging.

    Take this as an example which seems quite similar to what this patent is aiming for:



    I wonder if younger users would use the touchscreen for this or the trackpad.
    edited January 2020 CloudTalkinravnorodomkayessbigpics
  • Reply 3 of 36
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    People read way too much into what Apple says these days.   I don’t think they ever really said never.   Rather what they have said is that it doesn’t make sense with the current Mac OS and laptop hardware.  That would be true.  

    Also what many people don’t realize is that a touch screen has huge negatives.   Try adjusting screen tilt or angle for example on a laptop with a touch screen.   You almost always trigger something that you don’t want to happen.   One really needs to carefully consider how and when a touch screen works.  

    I kinda liken it to poor GUI design one feature of which is expanding a window to full screen when you move a window to the top of the screen.   That is just stupid design and is the last thing I want to happen when making room on screen.  Likewise you don’t always want your screen responding to random touches.     I think it is possible to extend MacOS to work better with touch screens but honestly I hope Apple provides a toggle to turn the feature off when needed.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 36
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    From its earliest days Apple has always thought that they should decide what users want and need.  While that philosophy has served them well, when you implement it, you better make sure that you're right.   It leaves no room for error.

    In this case, Apple was correct (I think) that using a touch screen on a laptop is awkward.  
    But they missed one important thing: It wasn't about "either / or" - it was both -- at the user's option:   If the user wanted to use the touch screen he could, if he wanted to use the cursor he could do that too -- and he could switch back & forth and mix and match as needed.

    I saw an example of that when my grandson's father tried to sign into Netflex on his son's new MacBook:   He kept reaching up and tapping the screen while I patiently reached over to tap the trackpad for him.   That didn't happen just once but over and over again (5 or 10 times).   He simply couldn't get it through his head that it was not a touch screen and, when I explained it to him, he thought the MacBook was garbage because it didn't have a touch screen.

    There's nothing wrong with giving the user options. 
    kayessbigpicslorin schultzgatorguy
  • Reply 5 of 36
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,471member
    I have no problem with such a feature on Macs if it is an optional extra.  I'd probably never use it on a larger screens my Mac Pro or iMac  (although if one hand is holding a coffee it might be useful) but on a MBP there are times when the option would be very useful (watching Netflix in bed for example).  Just as long as nothing is taken away from the existing GUI adding optional extras doesn't present any negatives as far as I can see.
    edited January 2020 lorin schultz
  • Reply 6 of 36
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,991member
    From its earliest days Apple has always thought that they should decide what users want and need.  While that philosophy has served them well, when you implement it, you better make sure that you're right.   It leaves no room for error.

    In this case, Apple was correct (I think) that using a touch screen on a laptop is awkward.  
    But they missed one important thing: It wasn't about "either / or" - it was both -- at the user's option:   If the user wanted to use the touch screen he could, if he wanted to use the cursor he could do that too -- and he could switch back & forth and mix and match as needed.

    I saw an example of that when my grandson's father tried to sign into Netflex on his son's new MacBook:   He kept reaching up and tapping the screen while I patiently reached over to tap the trackpad for him.   That didn't happen just once but over and over again (5 or 10 times).   He simply couldn't get it through his head that it was not a touch screen and, when I explained it to him, he thought the MacBook was garbage because it didn't have a touch screen.

    There's nothing wrong with giving the user options. 
    Except that "user options" are the biggest cause of bloat in operating systems. As the options increase so does the code that supports them. Suddenly you have millions of lines of code for a million options that only a fraction of the user base takes advantage of. Options are great for OCD nerds, not so much for the average user. IMHO
    tmaymacpluspluswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 36
    tobiantobian Posts: 125member
    I don't want to see this ever on the Mac. From design standpoint it truly makes no sense now, nor in the future. The feel using touch-screen input on a laptop is weird, uncomfortable, and (most importantly for me), display hinges would degrade quickly. Who wants to see MacBooks with worn-out dangling, smudged displays?
    larryamacpluspluswatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 36
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 6,170member
    lkrupp said:
    From its earliest days Apple has always thought that they should decide what users want and need.  While that philosophy has served them well, when you implement it, you better make sure that you're right.   It leaves no room for error.

    In this case, Apple was correct (I think) that using a touch screen on a laptop is awkward.  
    But they missed one important thing: It wasn't about "either / or" - it was both -- at the user's option:   If the user wanted to use the touch screen he could, if he wanted to use the cursor he could do that too -- and he could switch back & forth and mix and match as needed.

    I saw an example of that when my grandson's father tried to sign into Netflex on his son's new MacBook:   He kept reaching up and tapping the screen while I patiently reached over to tap the trackpad for him.   That didn't happen just once but over and over again (5 or 10 times).   He simply couldn't get it through his head that it was not a touch screen and, when I explained it to him, he thought the MacBook was garbage because it didn't have a touch screen.

    There's nothing wrong with giving the user options. 
    Except that "user options" are the biggest cause of bloat in operating systems. As the options increase so does the code that supports them. Suddenly you have millions of lines of code for a million options that only a fraction of the user base takes advantage of. Options are great for OCD nerds, not so much for the average user. IMHO
    OSX is already chock full of options even if you never see them. Just drop into Terminal for an ocean of options. 

    In fact, OSX has been 'dumbing down' certain aspects with regards to options - for GUI users - and actually going too far IMO. Look at what they did to Disk Utility for example (at least the versions I have access to).


  • Reply 9 of 36
    I understand why we don’t have touch screen Macs but the ergonomics argument went out the door with the iPad Pro and the Smart Keyboard. If that’s ergonomically OK then a Mac touch screen is too.
    d_2GeorgeBMacbigpicslorin schultzleehammgatorguy
  • Reply 10 of 36
    tobiantobian Posts: 125member
    I understand why we don’t have touch screen Macs but the ergonomics argument went out the door with the iPad Pro and the Smart Keyboard. If that’s ergonomically OK then a Mac touch screen is too.
    It's ment for lenghty typing, otherwise it's not ergonomically OK.
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 36
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,617member
    avon b7 said:
    I can understand the reasons for not implementing a touchscreen but I think they don't outweigh the reasons for having the option available for users on some models.

    Over the years one of the big differences I've noticed between Mac a PC users is that PC screens are always full of fingerprint smudges. Their fingers do end up touching the screen a lot when pointing to things. Conversely, Mac users often point to things on the screen - without actually touching it. And that's what I've always done. As the screens are not touch capable I never wanted those smudges all over the place.

    However, if I truly had a reason to touch it I probably would - in spite of smudging.

    Take this as an example which seems quite similar to what this patent is aiming for:



    I wonder if younger users would use the touchscreen for this or the trackpad.
    Except with the new MBPs the clearance between the keyboard and the screen when the lid is closed that you get smudges anyway. I regularly have to wipe off the screen on my 2017 MBP because there's a nice grid of smudges on it. If I use the silicone keyboard protector I got to keep debris out of the keyboard so it stays usable then it's even worse.

    Brydge introduced a keyboard/trackpad for the 12" iPad pro at CES, so the lines are already getting blurred. Most of the time I'm comfortable just with the trackpad or a mouse, but there are definitely some times when a touchscreen would be handy.
    bigpicslorin schultz
  • Reply 12 of 36
    I think this would apply more to a Mac with two displays or a Mac with a single foldable display.  
    Something like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold or the Dell Ori Concept.

    Sure, lifting your hands to touch a vertical screen is too cumbersome, but if it's an on-screen keyboard on the bottom screen...

    I could imagine a revived 12" MacBook with dual screens instead of a keyboard.  A device that could bridge the iPad - Mac gap.
    It might even run on an A-class chip to support both MacOS (for ARM) as well as iPad applications.
    There will surely be some kind of soft keyboard like for the iPad.

    In that style I can see touch-screen Macs happening.
    edited January 2020 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 36
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,699member
    If touch screen laptop called 2-in-1 is what users want than do it. If users don't want Touch bar than don't do it. Some products or features you do based on what users will like and if turns out not, than remove it.
  • Reply 14 of 36
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,188member
    It always comes down to providing the best possible tool for the job and doing whatever it takes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the human-computer interaction. You can park your ass on principles and ideologies all you want but it you refuse to consider new ways of doing things you’re doing your customers a disservice. If it makes sense to implement touch screens on desktop and laptop computers - just do it. 

    The mock ups depicted in this patent are strikingly reminiscent of some of the early user interaction controls and displays used onboard naval ships and aircraft, dating back to the early 1960s. Of course everything back then was based on physical buttons (many of which were multifunctional with tiny film chips), dedicated screens, keyboards, and a trackball with multiple buttons as a pointing and selection device. While effective in the hands of a highly trained operator, it was a mountain of claptrap begging for something better. A single large slab of glass that supports virtual buttons, onscreen functional grouping, touch selection, and contextual overlays would have been several orders of magnitude better and easier on operators. Modern equivalents of these control and display workstations have exactly these types of virtual controls and touch features. 

    So yeah, if the tasks at hand and the jobs that need to be done would not benefit from touch screen  interaction then it makes no sense to provide it. A Good example of pointless touch screen interaction is the early incarnations of Microsoft mobile devices that had touch screens. All the touch screen did was turn your finger into a mouse pointer. It totally sucked. 

    At the other end of the spectrum there are problems that would benefit from touch screen interaction, for example someone tasked with a high cognitive workload task requiring highly dynamic situational awareness, like a air traffic controller or combat system operator.  In these domains a touch screen interaction can make a world of difference and even save lives because it removes a layer of claptrap imposed by traditional human-machine interaction devices like keyboards, pointing devices, and buttons. In these situations you don’t want people thinking about how to manipulate controls, you want them thinking about how to deal with a real world problem. 

    In between the extremes there are places where touch screens make sense for other reasons, like convenience, environment, and ease of access. Imagine what the self service checkout station at Walmart would be like if you had to use a mouse and keyboard to use it. It would suck. 
    mobirdmike1MplsP
  • Reply 15 of 36
    avon b7 said:
    lkrupp said:
    Except that "user options" are the biggest cause of bloat in operating systems. As the options increase so does the code that supports them. Suddenly you have millions of lines of code for a million options that only a fraction of the user base takes advantage of. Options are great for OCD nerds, not so much for the average user. IMHO
    OSX is already chock full of options even if you never see them. Just drop into Terminal for an ocean of options.
    Apple to this day refuses to support a context menu shortcut like every other desktop operating system on Earth does.


  • Reply 16 of 36
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 948member
    Things do not change until they do and then they can change very fast.

    I remember the first time I stood at the Iron Curtain in Germany back in my Army days out as a photographer. That was 1984 and it looked as if that border would always be there, but 5 years later it was gone. You can set a lawn chair where I stood and read a book- nobody would care.

    I am typing this on my iPad Pro with the Logitech Keyboard Cover. Touching the screen and having a keyboard is no big deal.  I have a really nice MacBook Air and rarely take it out and about in favor of the iPad Pro. 

    Remember when Steve Jobs brought out the Intel Macs? Hell froze over.
    bigpicswatto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 36
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,965member
    tobian said:
    I don't want to see this ever on the Mac. From design standpoint it truly makes no sense now, nor in the future. The feel using touch-screen input on a laptop is weird, uncomfortable, and (most importantly for me), display hinges would degrade quickly. Who wants to see MacBooks with worn-out dangling, smudged displays?

    Absolutes are usually a bad thing.
    Use cases evolve. What if Apple or software providers found a cool way to use the touchscreen when it is connected to a separate monitor?
    Maybe there are use cases nobody has thought of or commercialized yet.

    StrangeDaysbigpicswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 36
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    Well, fair is fair...
    Now that the iPad has a cursor and trackpad, the MacBook needed a touch screen just to keep up with the Jones's.
  • Reply 19 of 36
    From its earliest days Apple has always thought that they should decide what users want and need.  While that philosophy has served them well, when you implement it, you better make sure that you're right.   It leaves no room for error.

    In this case, Apple was correct (I think) that using a touch screen on a laptop is awkward.  
    But they missed one important thing: It wasn't about "either / or" - it was both -- at the user's option:   If the user wanted to use the touch screen he could, if he wanted to use the cursor he could do that too -- and he could switch back & forth and mix and match as needed.

    I saw an example of that when my grandson's father tried to sign into Netflex on his son's new MacBook:   He kept reaching up and tapping the screen while I patiently reached over to tap the trackpad for him.   That didn't happen just once but over and over again (5 or 10 times).   He simply couldn't get it through his head that it was not a touch screen and, when I explained it to him, he thought the MacBook was garbage because it didn't have a touch screen.

    There's nothing wrong with giving the user options. 
    I generally agree that options are a good thing.

    However, as another commenter pointed out, many of us regularly touch our screens to point something out (I personally don't and I cringe when someone else touches my screen, but that's just me). Anyway, I have come across several examples with different users on Windows touchscreen laptops experiencing unexpected behavior when pointing at something on their screen. These were typically users already very comfortable and familiar with Windows--not expert, but not total neophytes. I think since so many new and even low cost PCs come with touchscreens, when these users ended up acquiring a new PC, they did so without expressly asking for touch, and therefore would keep forgetting about it. With my dad, he messed things up so many times due to inadvertent screen touches, I had to disable the touch feature on his laptop (which is not the most straightforward process BTW).
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 36
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,401member
    i have a HP laptop:
    • at work I never use the touchscreen because it is docked
    • When it isn’t docked and the mouse is connected I use the mouse
    • when it isn’t docked and there isn’t a mouse connected, I use the touch screen to scroll and move about the screen. I really don’t tend do anything else with a laptop touchscreen.
    That’s it really. And this is because windows trackpads suck so badly. I am always astonished when I access one of my daughters’ Apple notebooks to realise how superior the Apple trackpad really is.

    But I also have to say it sometimes feels there has been a determination to steer people to iOS devices to the detriment of the Mac, and this could be an element of that. Especially the last five years. As others have said, it’s good to have the option, and believe it or not, sometimes people share devices with others more used to other ways of doing things. 
    edited January 2020 cornchipMacPro
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