This is a big year for unity across Apple platforms. At WWDC (2019) Apple unveiled two things that have have been a subject of speculation for some time now. One was Catalyst, formerly known as Marzipan, which will allow developers to build Mac OS apps from iPad apps, to put it simply. The other is SwiftUI, a declarative React-like framework that lets developers build Graphical User Interfaces quickly for any of Apple’s platforms. It achieves this by abstracting away the actual view classes. So your view could be an NSView (Mac), or a UIView (iOS), or any future view technologies apple may create (edit: it also converts standard iOS elements to their Mac equivalent, like pickers and lists). SwiftUI is a big source of excitement right now for developers, myself included.
Apple also showed us iOS 13, which will include mouse support (edit: I meant to say iPadOS… though it’s still basically iOS). Apple was quick to stress the point that this is being added as an accessibility feature, and not intended to be part of the standard iPad experience. But many are rejoicing at this announcement, not as an accessibility feature (as important as that is), but as a productivity feature. Apple is positioning the iPad Pro as an alternative to Mac laptops. More and more users seem to be willing to take them up on that possibility. But the lack of mouse support is a big deal breaker for many of us, who need to edit text-based documents. Basically anyone in school would be at a disadvantage without a mouse and keyboard, as well as anyone who does programming or writing (edit: or graphic design!). That’s a lot of people.
The formerly clear line between portable touch devices, and traditional computers is starting to vanish. It’s clear that the iPad has become more computer-like, with a keyboard and mouse. But I’d also like to posit that the MacBook is becoming more like a mobile touch device. It’s getting thinner and lighter. The keyboard is becoming more shallow, like a tablet keyboard. Many pundits believe that Apple is working toward delivering an ARM based MacBook. And now Catalyst will let users run apps originally designed for iPad on Macs.
It’s a big win for Mac users, in my opinion, as the iPad has an ever growing library of software. It’s a bustling eco-system that can add value to the Mac. It would be crazy to make developers write an app twice for each platforms, or choose only one.
Are you ready to break through to the other side? Are you ready to let your freak flag fly? Good. I think a touchscreen MacBook is inevitable. Yes, that would harm the purity of the Mac platform. Yes, many Apple affciandos say that users don’t want to hold out their arms to touch a laptop screen. I know. But it’s hard for me to imagine a future where apps are getting designed once, mostly targeting iPhones and iPads, and running on Macs without touch support. Stick me in the looney bin, I say it’s coming down the line at some point, and we‘re already seeing the preparation for it. A catalyst, if you will.
Microsoft has been supporting touchscreen laptops for years. I’ve seen people use these things. Tablet-laptop hybrids are actually pretty popular.
I mean think about it, would you really want to run your favorite iPad apps without being able to sometimes take advantage of the unique touch-based interactions? Swipes, taps, and pinches, or that gesture that people do when they say “muahh”? Even if the app were nicely optimized to look and feel like a Mac app, there are usually a lot of big targets, and little things that say “hey put your finger here.” There are ways to get that keyboard out of the way, and just use it like a tablet. The Yoga from Lenovo does this.
The way I see it, in the long run, all consumer technologies have to grow or die. They have to evolve. If we want the Mac to stick around, I think it must support innovative and new technologies. We don’t know what the future holds, but if the Mac supported touch interactions, it would be more versatile and better able to pivot to whatever may come next. The alternative is that the Mac will become a more and more niche product, as voice, touch, and AR take on a bigger role.
update: made some grammatical corrections.