MacBook Air finally gets a touchscreen, no thanks to Apple

A new version of the AirBar accessory adds touchscreen functions to Apple’s MacBook Air.

Brianne Garrett Editorial Intern
Brianne is an editorial intern for CNET from Bay Shore, NY. She is a rising senior at Boston University, studying journalism and Spanish. A lover of food and travel, her passion is storytelling in all its forms.
Brianne Garrett
3 min read

It was touch and go there for a while: The possibility of ever seeing a MacBook with touchscreen features seemed remote. But a new version of a computer accessory called the AirBar makes this a reality, adding touch functions to Apple 's slim 13-inch MacBook Air laptop, thanks to a USB-connected sensor bar that attaches to the bottom edge of the display.  

The device -- previously available for 13-, 14- and 15-inch Windows laptops -- sends a beam of light up from a slim, sleek bar that attaches magnetically below the MacBook's screen. The AirBar's USB connector sits at the end of a short wire and fits into the USB port on the right side of the MacBook. This also means it can only work on the Air, which is the only current Apple laptop with a standard-size USB port.

The simple installation process takes only a couple of minutes. First, align the bar along the bottom bezel of the screen (this model is specifically sized for the 13-inch MacBook Air), then attach a couple of small round adhesive magnets. After that, the bar can be attached and removed easily.


In addition to the one-finger plug-and-play function, you can also download additional multifinger gestures. 

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While you get one-finger plug-and-play functionality out of the box, there's also a special MacOS driver available on the AirBar website that adds support for multifinger gestures such as pinch-to-zoom.

Blends right in

Even though it's a metal and plastic stick magnetically attached to your laptop, the design blends in perfectly with the look of the MacBook Air. 

There's an AirBar in black that's compatible with Windows laptops, but the model for the MacBook Air is the same exact aluminum color as the laptop. This camouflage-like design will make you forget it's there, at least until you try to close your laptop. The lid won't close with the AirBar attached, so don't forget to remove it when it's time to quit working.


The AirBar model is the exact same aluminum color as the MacBook Air. 

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It's still missing that magic touch, though: While the touch function works great towards the middle and bottom of the screen, the top (and further away from the bar) is where things start to get finicky. More often than I'd care to admit, attempts to open a new browser tab with my index finger misfired, resulting in closed tabs or accidentally activating drop-down menus. 

There can also be a tiny delay between when your finger taps the screen and when the screen actually registers its touch. Patience goes a long way here.


According to AirBar, the touch screen function works with any object. 

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AirBar also claims that the touchscreen function effectively works with any object. I tried using the eraser of a pencil, which did help with accuracy at the top of the screen but I had to tap much harder, causing the screen to wobble. This could work well for artists looking to sketch on their MacBooks with a paintbrush or other instrument, but it's nothing like using the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro.

The AirBar is a relatively new product, so there's no surprise that there's still room for improvement. The brilliance of creating a touchscreen feature for MacBooks doesn't go unnoticed, but the AirBar will need to work out some kinks before it can really be considered universally useful. 

You can preorder the AirBar for the 13-inch MacBook Air on the company's website, and it will soon be available through Amazon for $99. There's no planned international release yet, but that works out to roughly £75 or AU$130. The Windows version is already available for around $80.