The Touchscreen Mac

Every year, it is fun to look at the announcements from WWDC and look for the breadcrumbs that lead to new Apple hardware. Often signs exist pointing to new features, hardware, and screen sizes. You just have to look for them. That’s why many folks are looking at this week’s WWDC announcement and thinking that touchscreen Macs are on the way.

For years the argument against touchscreen Macs was that macOS made no concessions for touch, and trying to navigate an operating system made for a tiny mouse pointer with your big meaty finger would be madness.

But then there is the new macOS Big Sur. It seems to be made, if not explicitly, for touch, at least to be touch-friendly. For instance, just look at this Big Sur Apple Mail toolbar. (You can click to expand it). The toolbar is taller, the icons are bigger, and more spaced out. To get more room for these finger-friendly icons, they removed the search bar and replaced it with the magnifying glass icon. When you click (tap?) it, it expands for a full search bar. While space is nice, this takes it to an extreme if you are only using a mouse pointer.

Also, take a look at menu bar items. They are spaced out more than ever before. Again, that extra space looks nice, but it seems extreme if you use a mouse, yet just far enough to make selecting menu items with your finger possible.

The other bit of news that makes me think we’ll get a touchscreen Mac is that with the new Apple silicon Macs, they will natively run all iPhone and iPad apps. Think about that. You will be able to load any number of the millions of iPad and iPhone apps on your Mac, but the apps would (as matters currently stand) require a mouse or trackpad for interaction. None of those millions of apps were built with the idea of mouse input in mind, and it is going to be an odd (if not outright bad) experience. In the Platform State of the Union presentation, Apple made a show of using a mouse to play an iOS game on a Mac, but it all felt a little too precious.

So my theory is that at least some (if not all) of the Apple silicon Macs will be equipped with a touchscreen. That will let you run iPad and iPhone games as they were meant to be. The Big Sur user-interface changes will make it possible for you to navigate around your Mac with your meaty fingers. While macOS isn’t getting that bottom-up redesign for touch, Apple is hoping the changes they made will make it good enough for users to combine touch with mouse or trackpad when driving these machines as a traditional Mac.

I’m not the only one thinking about touchscreen Macs. Stephen and I discussed it on this week’s Mac Power Users episode just hours after the Keynote. Jason Snell wrote about this idea at Macworld and its potential long-term implications for the Mac. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if when the new Apple silicon Macs start shipping later this year, they have touchscreens.