A couple of years ago, I took advantage of the Q&A session at an Apple press event to ask Steve Jobs if Apple might release touch-screen Macs. (I did so on behalf of a Technologizer community member.) Jobs told me that the company had experimented with the idea and didn't think it made sense just yet. At the time, I noted that this answer didn't preclude the possibility of touch-screen Macs -- it was pretty much the stock response that he always gives about potential Apple products, right up until the moment that the company releases the item in question.
Now DigiTimes is reporting apparent concrete evidence of a touch Mac that might not be all that far from release: Apple is supposedly testing touch-screen panels for new iMacs.
Sounds plausible to me. And it leads to a few intriguing questions:
How much would Apple change OS X for a touch-enabled Mac? Windows 7 proves that minor tweaks aren't enough; HP's TouchSmart interface shows that it's possible to do interesting things if you make touch the primary mode of input. A touchable OS X could be either a slight reworking of Snow Leopard or a big deal on the level of the iPhone and iPad variants of iOS.
Would touch complement the keyboard and mouse or attempt to kill them? Or to put it another way, what percentage of the time would a typical user of one of these iMacs get stuff done by touching rather than typing and mousing -- 10%, 50%, 100%?
What impact would touch have on industrial design? HP has done a nice job with the TouchSmarts, but they're pretty typical all-in-one computers, with some subtle adjustments that help make the touch capability work well. Would a touch iMac look a whole lot like today's non-touch iMacs, or would it represent a radical rethinking of the desktop computer?
Would a touch iMac be a specialty product or the first step in the touchification of all Macs? The TouchSmarts seem to be popular, but I suspect HP has no plans to discontinue the manufacturing of non-touch computers any time soon. Apple, on the other hand, rarely releases niche products -- when it introduces a new feature, it tends to roll it out across all its products.
Are we positive that a touch-screen desktop Apple computer would be a Mac as we know it? My guess is that Apple sees iOS, not OS X in its original form, as the future of the company, and that it envisions a future in which iOS is around long after old-school OS X goes away. I suspect that we'll eventually see iOS-powered devices that look more like traditional computers than the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad do -- and while it seems a tad early for an iOS desktop, you never know.
Any speculation on any of the above, or additional questions? Are you itching to buy a touchable iMac?
This story, "Touch-Screen iMacs: A Few Questions" was originally published by Technologizer.