Please Just Make a Touch-Screen Macbook Already
Today, Apple announced a new iPad Pro that will use the same M1 processor as its Macbook Air, Macbook Pro, and now even the new, more colorful iMacs. The inevitable convergence of Apple’s lineup seems obvious to everyone but Apple itself.
So I’m begging you, Apple. Please just make a touch-screen Macbook already.
For years, the appeal of an iPad Pro has been, ostensibly, that it’s powerful enough to fill the space that a laptop would usually fill but with a more intuitive touch screen, much better battery life, and access to the vast library of iOS apps. And for a while, that was a pretty decent pitch. Sure, you gave up full desktop apps like Photoshop with an iPad Pro, but maybe that was worth it to you.
Now, the iPad’s advantages are diminishing. The new M1 laptops have nearly the best battery life in the history of Apple laptops. Meanwhile, macOS on the new M1 silicon can not only keep running the older, Intel-based apps from previous Macs, but it can also run iPhone and iPad apps (so long as developers have updated their apps, a process that will admittedly take time for everyone to get on board.)
So the iPad Pro’s core advantages over devices like the Macbook Air are now mostly narrowed to… that it has a touch screen. But the corollary is also true: The Macbook Air doesn’t have many advantages over the iPad Pro, either. The two product lines that used to have a litany of differences to distinguish them look more and more like each other with each passing year. One just has a windowed operating system while the other uses touch-based, largely full-screen apps.
The reason to choose one or the other is (and will increasingly be) one of personal preference. Do you care more about desktop applications like the full Adobe suite? Or are you more concerned with drawing applications like Procreate? Do you need something with at least 13 inches of screen space? Or are you comfortable with a more portable 11-inch display? Do you like navigating with a touch screen? Or do you prefer using a touch pad? Even that line has started to become blurred as recent iPads adopt an optional on-screen cursor when using a track pad.
Apple knows that form factor matters just as much (if not more) than a technical list of pros and cons. Even if a Macbook Air and iPad Pro were otherwise 100% identical, some people would prefer a touch-screen slab with a foldaway keyboard while others would buy a more traditional laptop if for no other reason than because that’s what those people like.
Which raises the question: Why all the hesitancy to cross this final line? Why not make a touch-screen Macbook and get it over with?
On the Windows side of the world, touch-screen laptops have already proven their worth. Microsoft’s own Surface Book line — which I personally was using before switching to the M1 Macbook Air — offered an ideal compromise. It was a touch-screen laptop that could detach from its keyboard base and work as a standalone, large-screen tablet.
This was wonderful. When I needed to sketch out a design for a video, I could flip it into tablet mode. When I had to write a script for that same video, I could attach the keyboard. There was no need to worry about which apps are on which platform because they were all the same device. As recently as last year, the Surface Book 3 was still setting the standard for convertible laptops.
Apple doesn’t need to go full Transformers with a decidedly un-Apple-like latching dock to find that kind of sweet spot. The company could bridge the gap as easily as making a device with an iPad Pro form factor that runs macOS (which, to be clear, isn’t necessarily easy, but it is firmly within the realm of feasibility). But so long as touch-screen capabilities remain the exclusive right of iOS devices, Apple’s plans for a unified platform will never be fully realized.
As it stands now, either choice feels like a bit of a compromise for someone who wants it all. I’m currently using this Macbook Air to write this article, but once I’m done, I’ll have to switch to designing a graphic for an upcoming video. If I want to sketch that out with a stylus, I’ll have to reach for an old iPad or make it work with a mouse on my desktop.
It would be lovely to have one device — a single laptop or tablet — that could run all my desktop applications, all my mobile apps, with a full keyboard and a stylus-friendly touch screen. One device that can do it all. But for now, as long as I’m hanging out in Apple’s ecosystem, I’ll still be waiting.