A Few Questions About Touch-Screen iMacs

By  |  Friday, October 1, 2010 at 9:18 am

A couple of years ago, I took advantage of the Q&A session at an Apple press event to ask Steve Jobs if Apple might release touch-screen Macs. (I did so on behalf of a Technologizer community member.) Jobs told me that the company had experimented with the idea and didn’t think it made sense just yet. At the time, I noted that this answer didn’t preclude the possibility of touch-screen Macs–it was pretty much the stock response that he always gives about potential Apple products, right up until the moment that the company releases the item in question.

Now DigiTimes is reporting apparent concrete evidence of a touch Mac that might not be all that far from release: Apple is supposedly testing touch-screen panels for new iMacs.

Sounds plausible to me. And it leads to a few intriguing questions:

How much would Apple change OS X for a touch-enabled Mac? Windows 7 proves that minor tweaks aren’t enough; HP’s TouchSmart interface shows that it’s possible to do interesting things if you make touch the primary mode of input. A touchable OS X could be either a slight reworking of Snow Leopard or a big deal on the level of the iPhone and iPad variants of iOS.

Would touch complement the keyboard and mouse or attempt to kill them? Or to put it another way, what percentage of the time would a typical user of one of these iMacs get stuff done by touching rather than typing and mousing–10%, 50%, 100%?

What impact would touch have on industrial design? HP has done a nice job with the TouchSmarts, but they’re pretty typical all-in-one computers, with some subtle adjustments that help make the touch capability work well. Would a touch iMac look a whole lot like today’s non-touch iMacs, or would it represent a radical rethinking of the desktop computer?

Would a touch iMac be a specialty product or the first step in the touchification of all Macs? The TouchSmarts seem to be popular, but I suspect HP has no plans to discontinue the manufacturing of non-touch computers any time soon. Apple, on the other hand, rarely releases niche products–when it introduces a new feature, it tends to roll it out across all its products.

Are we positive that a touch-screen desktop Apple computer would be a Mac as we know it? My guess is that Apple sees iOS, not OS X in its original form, as the future of the company, and that it envisions a future in which iOS is around long after old-school OS X goes away. I suspect that we’ll eventually see iOS-powered devices that look more like traditional computers than the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad do–and while it seems a tad early for an iOS desktop, you never know.

Any speculation on any of the above, or additional questions? Are you itching to buy a touchable iMac?


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9 Comments For This Post

  1. @jtoeman Says:

    Right on Harry – I am sitting in front of my 27" iMac right now, would *love* to draw on the screen. Might have to blog about this myself acshully… 😉

  2. Ryan Kim Says:

    I agree, it's only a matter of time. I've already tried to touch my MBP a number of times. I think you're right though, it makes sense for iOS to lead the way. It might be like those earlier patents with iOS in concert with OS X initially but iOS is the future of Apple.

  3. Martin Chorich Says:

    Touch on a 'traditional' desktop where screen and keyboard are separate is something that sounds like a good idea, but ergonomic realities get in the way. Your hand spends too much time shuttling between keyboard and screen. Even when using touch screen devices that make more sense–like an iPod or phone–let's just say I'm not the most well-knit person and spend a lot of time poking at the wrong things. Thus I approach almost any touch screen device with mild trepidation and often wish that the designers had cut out the cute stuff. On the other hand, the mouse is actually a very unnatural way to interact with a machine when you think about it, but somehow it has become second nature to almost all of us.

  4. thehumanyawn Says:

    Most Macs have a glass panel over the screen already, so it would be easy for them to implement capacitive touch panels without changing the look of their machines. It makes me wonder if this was the true intention of releasing the 27″ iMac… Interacting with your photos on a giant screen a la Surface.

  5. Sam Says:

    I was just discussing this same idea while trying to decide whether to pony up for a 27″ iMac. Some flavor of touch-screen iMac seems like an obvious eventuality. Now that I’ve made the purchase, we can expect to see the touch version any day now…

  6. David Hamilton Says:

    Just realised that both my monitors are about an inch out of reach from where I sit. So I don't see how this will work (for me) – I'd be leaning forward all the time and I reckon that would kill my back pretty quickly.

    Seems that, to date, the best touch input device for a Mac is a Magic TouchPad which, at least, can be held at a comfortable distance.

  7. Nawe Gr Says:

    Personally, what I would rather see is a Keyboard dock for the iPhone or iPad where the keyboard would "spread" like the Microsoft natural keyboard, and then the iPhone/iPad can be used as a touchpad for the main computer, while syncing work between the main computer and the docked device so that when you get up to leave, you can take your work with you. Could almost see a way to do this with a DropBox script, but the hardware is a different issue 🙂

  8. patrick Says:

    I'd like to see improvements in speech recognition and touch screens advance to the point where the keyboard is rendered obsolete. If I never had to type another word…

  9. pond Says:

    I’m guessing/speculating that the touch-mac would have a daughtercard with the A4, running iOS. You’ll be able to use touch on the OSX level, only the programs don’t much support it, so it wouldn’t be much better than touch on Windows7.

    Adding the handful of chips to reboot into iOS (or run iOS in a sandboxed window) would advance iOS to the next level. It would definitely be of interest to me — my main goal in iOS would be reading comics and PDFs, and the 9.7″ screen isn’t big enough; a 20″ screen would be ideal, showing double page magazines and PDFs, as well as giving me a lot more room to move stacks around.

    But then, I expect Apple to ‘move on’ from OSX around 2015, and be an iOS-only company. So, adding iOS as ‘sister-OS’ on the iMac would be an important step down that road.