A few weeks ago someone mocked up a concept MacBook touch, and in a nutshell, they way-y-y-y-y overthought it. After a week(ish) using my iPad with an external keyboard, I can see how the worlds could and should collide. And I think it’s exactly what Apple plans to do – one day. The concept is already as much as there in their products anyway: ship Mountain Lion with the ability to “launch” iOS. That’s it.
In the current OS X, Lion, we already have LaunchPad, a feature clearly designed for a touch-screen interface, mainly because it’s the exact UI for iOS apps. This would/should be touch-enabled.
Next, OS X already has an App Store, the inventory of which could easily expand to include iOS apps.
The LaunchPad would become the primary “desktop”, and Finder would move to be an app instead of the primary navigation metaphor.
Apps could then be written as OS X, or OS X with touch, or iOS. Standard OS X apps would function like they do today, expecting a mouse + keyboard interface. That’s the easy part.
iOS apps would go into full-screen, thought likely not include the ability to rotate – but maybe they wouldn’t have to. The next-gen MacBooks are already rumored to go retina anyway, which provides enough pixels for a portrait-mode app to run on the screen size of a 13″ laptop. Granted, a ton of apps would work poorly – things that require lots of motion sensitive or heavy gesture inputs. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe this isn’t about a laptop with great Infinity Blade capabilities, it’s a bit more focused on productivity. More on this in a bit.
OS X with touch apps would be able to support mouse + keyboard + touch interfaces. This is the tricky part. There are times when touch works great, other times when the mouse is ideal. For example, a pull-down menu is going to be too tiny to easily work with a finger, but the mouse is perfect. Similarly, mouse-overs are useful for many applications, and the pixel-level work in design apps could never be done without a mouse. But moving files, selecting apps to run, and creating free-form quick designs are all radically better with a touch input. Gestures are awesome methods of navigating through computing interfaces. There’s a right balance, and as long as Apple can clearly delineate best practices, I think some great new experiences would emerge.
Combining the full power of OS X and iOS brings great power, and accordingly, great… You know. But in all seriousness, this isn’t meant as a “make a MacBook all fun like the iPad” nor is it “turn the iPad into a productivity center”. It’s both. The computing era has evolved to the point where touch is a key part of things. Further, Apple is uniquely positioned to create a product like this, where the touch features augment the overall platform, as opposed to just being gimmicky. Lastly, they’ll create yet another leap forward that their competition will have to spend eons catching up to.
ps – for those wondering, I’m using the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad. I love it. I started with the Apple Wireless Keyboard (with great sleeve by SF Bags) but ultimately preferred Logitech’s solution. Amazingly.