Don't fear the touchscreen MacBook

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Touched by an angle

I like to imagine that the catacombs of One Infinite Loop are filled with more one-of-a-kind twisted chimeras than the island of Doctor Moreau. Mostly because I have a rich fantasy life. But I would be surprised if there wasn't a touchscreen MacBook somewhere in there, waiting for the day it's no longer a freak of nature, but a real live boy--an Apple product.

I can't say it's going to happen for certain; I have no special knowledge. But one possible clue that Apple might be headed in that direction came when the company switched from inverted scrolling to "natural" scrolling in Lion. Or maybe Apple was pedantically insisting that the trackpad act the same as its iOS devices. I wouldn't rule that out.

Of course, you can't just slap a touchscreen on a MacBook and call it a day. The last thing I want to do is navigate through menu bars with my fingers. Try that on Microsoft's Surface tablet for a while and you'll be inexplicably screaming at a litter of adorable kittens in no time. And take my word for it, they will ask you to leave the pet shop if you do that.

I haven't spent a huge amount of time with a Surface, but I have used one enough to know that adding touch to a desktop operating system isn't a simple thing. OK, I concede that Microsoft put a nice front end on Windows 8, but the minute you hit the classic desktop, it's like you've got sausage fingers (which is a condition, not a delicious microwave treat). I don't know how to solve this problem--Microsoft doesn't either, coincidentally--but I've learned over the years that just because I don't know how to solve a problem doesn't mean Apple doesn't.

While I don't like people touching my screen, there are instances where I already want to perform an action by touch instead of by using the cursor. Dismissing notifications is a good example. Clicking on a notification in Mountain Lion and dragging to the right will dismiss it (which is especially useful for software-update notifications that have no button option for banishing them). Doing this with a cursor instead of a finger isn't the most onerous action I perform in the course of a given day (I have a dog), but a swipe with a finger would be easier. You can also hover over the notification and swipe it away with two fingers on the trackpad and no click, but sometimes a screen element is just asking for a more pointed dismissal.

"I said 'Good day' to you, sir. I SAID 'GOOD DAY'!"

The use of iOS devices has prompted us to expect screens to be responsive--particularly kids who are growing up with them. While other vendors shipped touchscreen computers first, Apple is the company that could ship them right. Microsoft's approach has been to say, "It's got touch because it's a laptop and a tablet! Also a floor wax! And an ear wax! No, wait, not that. Unless you're into that. In which case it's also an ear wax." Apple's approach, assuming this particular rumor actually materializes, will have to reinvent user interaction on the desktop.

I hope the company takes up that challenge. Because while I hate fingerprints on my screens, I like easier forms of input.

This story, "Don't fear the touchscreen MacBook" was originally published by Macworld.

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