How much longer can Apple avoid making a touchscreen laptop?

This doesn’t really cut it.
This doesn’t really cut it.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Earlier this week, Apple unveiled a new version of its entry-level iPad, marketed to students.

But realistically, it’s not going to be a useful device for most schools out of the box. The iPad needs a rugged case to protect it from the drops and scratches it will invariably get the moment it’s introduced into the classroom, and Apple is pushing its Pencil stylus, or Logitech’s Crayon version, as the main input method on the tablet. Logitech also announced a durable keyboard case during the event, which might look like something you’ve seen before:

It basically turns the iPad into a makeshift laptop, or a Microsoft Surface Pro. Apple itself doesn’t sell a keyboard case for this iPad, but does for its more expensive Pro models.

Regardless, the keyboard cases are not as easy to type on as regular keyboards, especially if you’re trying to type on anything other than a desk—the devices teeter and shake from their top-heaviness and always feel as if they’re going to fall off your lap. While the new iPad might be pretty useful for taking notes in class or working on group projects, it won’t be much help for writing anything longer than an email.

Just about every other computer manufacturer has added touchscreen options to their laptops, apart from Apple. The closest it’s come is the rather awkward Touch Bar strip it’s added to its newest MacBook Pro laptops, which replaces function keys and annoys developers, among others. It’s also rather useless.

Apple executives, including head designer Jony Ive, have defended the company’s decision to eschew touchscreens, saying they wouldn’t be “particularly useful” on a Mac, and might be a “burden” on the weight of the computer. (For reference, Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar weighs 3.02 pounds, whereas Dell’s similarly sized XPS 13 with a touchscreen weighs 2.9 pounds.)

The company has in the past taken hard-line stances on tech trends, only to renege later on. The late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously said, “Who wants a stylus?” when introducing the original iPhone. It released its Pencil in 2015 with the launch of the iPad Pro. In 2010, Jobs also said that ”no one’s going to buy” a large phone that you can’t wrap your hand around. Apple launched the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in 2014.

Current CEO Tim Cook said on a 2012 earnings call that he found Microsoft’s new Surface tablet, with a removable keyboard case, to be “a compromised, confusing product.” Apple released something very similar in the iPad Pro just three years later.

Apple used to be the company that others copied from—and some are still stealing some of its bizarre design decisions. But in recent years, it’s felt like the company has been playing catch-up to what the rest of the consumer electronics market has been doing. Even the Apple Watch, the company’s first wearable and first new product under Cook’s tenure, was released about a year after similar Google wearables hit the market.

The company almost certainly has some tricks up its sleeves for the future. But one can’t help but wonder when it’ll kowtow to the market trends in laptops  with a touchscreen Mac, especially when Mac sales have been falling below iPad sales in recent years:

There are certain things that will always be too fiddly to do with fingers or styluses on a touch screen, like closing windows or precision editing in PhotoShop. But there are also a lot of times where tapping the screen is quicker than maneuvering a mouse to click a button, like when skipping a track on iTunes. And trying to use an iPad Pro keyboard on your lap is just an exercise in futility.

Whenever Apple decides it wants to be “magical” and “revolutionary” by adding a touch screen to its laptops, like all its competitors already have, there will likely be a fair number people waiting with open arms—and laps.