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Why Don't MacBooks Have Touchscreens?

It's a question that comes up every time there's a Mac refresh, but the answers aren't always obvious.

MacBook Air M2 2022 laptop
Dan Ackerman/CNET

Having reviewed practically every MacBook since the beginning of the Intel Mac era to the current M2 chip versions, I've seen a lot of features added, taken away, and sometimes added back again. That goes for HDMI ports, SD card slots and even the MagSafe connector. But one occasionally requested feature that has never been part of an Apple-made computer is a touchscreen. 

I haven't given the idea much thought lately, being more concerned with questions like: Why does the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro exist? But my colleague Abrar Al-Heeti recently asked me to weigh in on the subject for a Q&A video. 

That forced me to sit down and actually articulate why touchscreens are so common on Windows laptops and even Chromebooks, but not on Macs. 

Now playing: Watch this: Why MacBooks Don't Have Touchscreens
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Apple wants you to feel like you should buy a MacBook and an iPad to get the full Apple experience. Recent OS changes make iPadOS a little more Mac-like and MacOS a little more iPad-like, but there's still a lot of daylight between them. If anything, the pendulum is swinging more toward adding Mac features to iPads than the other way around. 

Windows laptops just need it more. Because most Windows laptops have an OS made by Microsoft, chips made by Intel or AMD and hardware made by a wide range of other manufacturers, those PCs lack the overall cohesion you get from Apple's in-house hardware/software/chip combo. Frankly, most of the time when I use touch on a Windows laptop, it's because I'm running into a situation where the default touchpad navigation isn't as good as it should be. 

macbook-pro-15-inch-2017-touchbar-12.jpg

Technically, it's a touchscreen. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple has already tried it, with the Touch Bar. As always, there is an asterisk to the no-touch MacBook rule. The now-nearly-dead Touch Bar, originally found on several MacBook Pro laptops, but now only on that last lonely 13-inch MacBook Pro, is technically a touchscreen, even if it's only 60 pixels high. But as an experiment, it's safe to write that off as a failure, and it might even be an extra incentive for Apple to stay further away from touchscreens. 

And don't think people haven't tried to shoehorn touch into Macs. Back in 2008, I reviewed a MacBook that was taken apart and reassembled into a touchscreen tablet. Called the Axiotron ModBook, it didn't last long. There was also a device called the AirBar that could connect via USB and add a type of touch sensitivity to Mac screens. It didn't work very well either. 

modbookb.jpg

The Axiotron ModBook, circa 2008. 

But there is some light on the horizon for the touchscreen Mac idea. Now that both (some) iPads and Macs run the same M-series Apple silicon chips, the daylight between these products is slimmer than ever. Does this mean both products will eventually merge into a single device? Not anytime soon, but maybe we're closer than we were a year ago. 

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