Counting Down to the MacBook Touch…
Since before the release of the iPhone, the feature flow has been from Apple’s Mac OS X operating system to the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad operating system. Part of the iDevice’s reliability is the solid core of OS X underneath.
But with the release of the iPad, the future seems clear: The touch-based interface’s features are headed back to the Mac computers.
No, I don’t have any special information. But my eyes can see, and what I see looks pretty cool.
The Importance of Being OS X?
Right now, Apple has two separate computer product streams. One is the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad line. The other is the MacBook/iMac personal computer line. The computers are popular enough, the iDevices are wildly successful, and both run versions of Mac OS X.
OS X is a selling point for the MacBooks and iMacs; more so, I would argue, than the hardware itself. While the hardware is on average nicer than commodity Dell and HP computers, it is only incrementally nicer. No, the real difference is in the operating system. OS X is a well-thought-out environment. You can trace much of Apple’s revival to the introduction of OS X, while Microsoft dawdled.
Windows, is … Windows. Sigh. Better with Windows 7, but Vista was a missed opportunity for Microsoft. I use Linux myself, because it gives me great performance out of commodity Dell hardware. Cheap/Fast equals Good, and I like to tinker. But I am not in the fat part of the bell curve for marketers.
In the end, Linux is not a shrink-wrapped solution and Windows is technologically late to the game, so the comfy, powerful environs of OS X give Apple a distinct advantage.
But first with the iPod, then with the iPhone, particularly the 3G, Apple got a taste of what it meant to have a massive advantage over their competitors. When the 3G was released, the capabilities of the hardware were so far ahead of everyone else (speaking as someone who test-drove a G1, a Samsung Omnia, and a Blackberry), Apple had more than a year until the first serious contender showed up (the Droid). In that time — they made money by the barrel-full, controlled the parameters for a new market, and set the table for the iPad.
What stands in the way of a MacBook Touch right now? Not as much as you might think. Software is not much of a problem. Functionality will flow from the mobile platform back the the non-mobile platform for OS X, enhanced by Apple’s engineers. Heck, if all they had was touch support for Safari, it would make useful. And Apple doesn’t stop at merely useful.
Cost, as in the cost of the screen, and power consumption by the same screen, seem to be the two technical barriers. Both are pretty easily dealt with.
The iPad’s resolution is 1024-by-768; about a quarter of the size needed to replace all their displays, right up to the cinema displays. Certainly within striking distance of the 1920×1200 display on the top-end MacBook Pro. Just as the quantities of touch screens needed for the iPhone lead to the (reported) $95 price point for the iPad screen, the iPad’s sales will make the cost of a 1920×1200 touch screen feasible. Especially given Apple’s ability to charge a premium for hardware innovation.
Power consumption is the easiest hurdle; laptops are nowhere near as power sensitive as phones, or consumption devices like the iPad. Who wouldn’t give up a half-hour of battery life for that touch interface? I would, tomorrow.
Let me be clear, a really good MacBook Touch would not be easy. But if it is merely hard, you have to assume Apple can do it. Impossible is tough, but they have a good track record on executing hard.
By the summer of 2012, Apple won’t be selling computers without a touch screen.
Period. And it may be much, much sooner than that. Much like jettisoning floppies, only selling digital displays, moving everything to 64-bit, etc., Apple will bite the bullet and just move their entire hardware stack to touch screens in one fell swoop. It might be tough for the Mac Mini (you’d need to buy a display from Apple), but for the rest of their current line, it would be straightforward engineering.
Can you imagine how many touch-enabled 13inch MacBook’s Apple would sell at $1200? Giga-oodles.
How interested are you in what Apple’s engineers can do with the extra real estate if they can remove the touchpad from the laptop? A touch screen done right obviates the need for a mouse. A second screen on the bottom half of the laptop? More room for the battery? Who knows? I’d like to see Apple to try it though.
A Home Run for Apple, Sour Grapes for The Windows World
Apple is way ahead of everyone else on the confluence of battery technology and capacitance touch screens. Compare the battery life on an Apple laptop to the battery life of a Dell or HP laptop. Apple crushes. We Dell users develop an extra sensory organ somewhere which alerts us whenever we are more than five minutes from an outlet. Mac owners tend to far more cavalier about this because their batteries last longer. (Turnabout is fair play — even with a Mophie Juicer battery pack attached, my iPhone 3GS almost never makes it to 10pm without a second charge.)
If Apple debuts a MacBook Touch, they will have a product that eclipses anything on the market. It will take years for HP/Dell/Asus/Microsoft to catch up to the combination of Apple’s smoothly integrated battery tech, industrial design, touch screens, and touch-enabled software.
The last one is big — look how hard the Android crowd has worked to get close the iPhone’s user experience. The iPhone UI that has not appreciably changed in over a year! How long would it take someone, anyone, to catch Apple on the touch laptop, if Apple spent serious intellectual muscle on scaling up the touch interface?
(An open source project would get there before Microsoft would, I suspect. Open Source has no pride when it comes to flat out copying the good stuff. Microsoft will be shackled by the need to innovate.)
Having this big differentiator would enable Apple to really leapfrog everyone else, essentially creating a new personal computer market our of whole cloth, leaving non-touch operating systems behind. Forever. And Apple’s advantage would last for a long time. I see nothing to indicate that Dell, or HP, or Microsoft could match this innovation in the near- or even medium-term. Apple would create a new class of computers, and be the only supplier of them for several years. Buy AAPL now?
MacStore or MacSnore?
Apple will surely consider an App store for the laptop/desktop OS X/iTunes, but I am not sure it is a winner. Without the locked control they have in the iDevice world, it would be a hard sell. Might not be worth their time. On the other hand…
Apple has been wrong about the App Store before; famously they didn’t want one for the iPhone. Now I suspect you couldn’t pry the App Store out of their cold, dead, money-counting hands. So they might be tempted to push it into the desktop space.
I have no idea if it could work.
When I look at the iPad, what I want is a MacBook Touch.
I want an iPad for the creative users; the folks who write, who code, who draw, etc. A touch screen display married to a full strength OS X would give me the iPad I really want: the perfect lap accessory, with an intuitive couch interface married to a real keyboard and a command line terminal still accessible. An interface that let’s me move from passive consumption (Safari with touch) to furious creativity (Eclipse) all in a seamless experience.
I’d buy that in a heartbeat, and I’d pay a serious premium for it.
Summer 2012 at the latest. Start standing in line now.
The Jesus-Laptop is coming.