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Apple's Touchscreen Predicament


Apple is in a predicament. It’s the company that popularized the touchscreen, but it’s now become its nemesis.

Touchscreens were not invented by Apple. They first appeared on PDAs such as the Palm Pilot, the Sharp Wizard and other handheld devices. But they used a different technology called "resistive" that required firm pressure and often a stylus to use, and only recognized a single point at a time. It wasn’t until Apple used "capacitive" technology that the touchscreens were enabled to do much more. Instead of just working with a single touch, capacitive displays let you touch multiple locations at one time and use your fingers to zoom, scan, and rotate.

These magical displays made possible the iPhone and iPad, the most successful mobile computing products of all time with hundreds of millions sold. The touchscreens were so intuitive and easy to use that a 2-year-old was able to use them.

But Apple’s success with the touchscreen may also be its downfall when it comes to computers. You would think computers, both notebooks and desktops, could benefit from a touchscreen, as well. After all, pointing and touching a large display offers many of the benefits of a tablet display. In some ways, a larger display becomes even more useful with a touch display. The buttons are larger and pointing accuracy is less demanding, and it’s easier to move a finger from one side to another compared to using a mouse.

But Apple has stubbornly refused to add a touch display to their computers. Apple says there’s no need and has no plan do so in the future.

In a CNET interview, Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, insists that a touchscreen on the Mac wouldn’t be “particularly useful."

Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, says, “We did spend a great deal of time looking at this a number of years ago and came to the conclusion that to make the best personal computer, you can’t try to turn MacOS into an iPhone. Conversely, you can’t turn iOS into a Mac ... So each one is best at what they’re meant to be — and we take what makes sense to add from each, but without fundamentally changing them so they’re compromised.”

But I think a more likely reason for Apple’s reluctance to add a touchscreen to their computers is that Microsoft beat them to it, and if Apple added them,  they’d be seen as a follower, rather than as an innovator. Explaining it would create a public relations nightmare.

The closest they’ve come is adding a Touch Bar to some of their notebooks. It's a thin display, about a half inch high, that runs the full width of the keyboard where the function keys were located. It’s used to provide simulated touch keys that change function based on what you are doing. If you’re using Microsoft Word, it provides keys for cut and paste. If you’re messaging it will display dozens of emojis to select from.