Daniel Eran Dilger at the intersection of Technology & the Liberal Arts
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A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch

macbook touch
Daniel Eran Dilger
The next big thing for Mac laptops: a color LCD touchpad that brings the company’s iconic touch interface of the iPhone to Mac users. Here’s how it fits into Apple’s previous work and how it adds value and differentiation at surprisingly little additional cost.

Articles in this Series:
What’s Next from Apple: New iPods Sept 22, iPhone OS 2.1, iTunes 8.0
Two Decades of Portable Macs: 1989 – 2009 (updated)
The iPod Power Behind Apple’s Big Mac Push
A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch
Delivering the “state of the art new products at prices competitors can’t match” promised by Apple executives in the company’s July financial results conference call would require ‘something really new that captures people’s imaginations,’ as Bill Gates said of the original Mac nearly 25 years ago.

Software Differentiation.

Apple still has something really new that is capturing imaginations, something that Dell and HP can’t match: the software expertise and interface design savvy that is obvious to anyone who has seen the iPhone.

All of the PC makers have relied on Microsoft to do their software development, a strategy that worked only when Microsoft served as the common denominator across the entire PC industry and competition among PC makers was only related to hardware cost.

Dell differentiated itself by developing highly efficient PC distribution, while HP has struggled to plunge PC prices to compete, forcing Dell down with it. Neither were ready to compete against a reinvigorated Apple with unique software technology, particularly as Microsoft dropped the ball, exposing the entire monoculture of the PC market to a blight of consumer apathy with Vista.

Vista 1984

Microsoft’s Zune, Vista, and Windows Mobile 7 Strategy vs the iPhone
Windows Vista, 7, and Singularity: The New Copland, Gershwin and Taligent
Windows 95 and Vista: Why 2007 Won’t Be Like 1995

Hardware Differentiation.

Apple is not only competing against its PC rivals in terms of software, but also in hardware features. By putting an iPhone screen into its laptop line, Apple will draw a line of differentiation that will make it even more obvious for consumers that Macs are much more than just PCs running a different OS.

As the previous article pointed out, Apple has volume buying power in consumer electronics that dwarfs that of other PC makers. Apple already has orders in for tens of millions of iPhone touch screens.

HP and Dell don’t have more than a tiny fraction of that with their slow selling PDAs and failed MP3 players, and simply can’t afford to custom design any significant CE integration. They already do very little custom work on their PCs, and really only act as assemblers and resellers of commodity PC parts.

The iPod Power Behind Apple’s Big Mac Push

Something in the Air.

The MacBook Air demonstrated the demand for new technology. Pundits cackled about its price and tried to cheerlead for rival products the offered its performance in a bigger box, or less performance in a smaller box, or less of everything in a cheaper box, but the market demonstrated that people will pay a premium for a sexy, well designed product.

The MacBook Air has become a wildly popular, highly successful product, not just a flashy concept model as many other companies’ high end mobile laptops are.

The existing MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup is now due for a three year overhaul. Rumors suggest a new slimmer casing with a redesigned battery bay that exposes an easier to access hard drive and RAM. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not enough to carry Apple through another three years of differentiation. Adding a color LCD in place of its single button, multitouch trackpad will.

AppleInsider | Apple’s next-gen MacBook Pro casing design revealed

SideShow Bob.

Adding a secondary display is an easy gimmick. Take Microsoft’s Windows SideShow, which the company encouraged PC makers to add to their laptops as a feature of Windows Vista. The premise: users could poke at a four way joystick next to the the small display to access email and check contacts without having to open up their laptop and wait for Vista to slowly boot or wake from hibernation.

SideShow Vista

CNET raved about the wildly impractical boondoggle idea, which required the same kind of specialized support from developers to do anything useful for users, just like the Microsoft Surface. But most people haven’t even heard of the feature, in part because PC makers can’t afford to put it on their mainstream laptops, now selling at an average retail price of around $700. Additionally, why not just consult your smartphone to do those kinds of tasks?

SideShow is fixed to your huge laptop making it less than accessible while not even updating your information live; it only shows you a partial view of the static content on your laptop, not your current messages. SideShow is the kind of committee-designed foolishness that can only impress the reality-challenged gadget hounds at CNET who rave about poor selling consumer devices and can’t figure out why the public doesn’t share their breathless excitement for the empire’s new birthday suits.

That’s not to say dual screens are dumb idea. Many flip phones have a tiny screen on the outside to make it less necessary to open them up just as Microsoft tried to sell with Vista. Many desktop users plug in dual 17“ displays for a view that’s far more affordable than one huge display with the same overall resolution. Nintendo’s DS uses two screens to give it more flexibility and a distinctive identity at a cheaper price than Sony’s larger screened PSP.

Why Add a Color LCD Trackpad?

The point of having an LCD trackpad on the MacBook would solve a different problem. It wouldn’t just be a stupid gewgaw like SlideShow. It would turn the trackpad from a simple input device into an infinitely configurable input and feedback mechanism.
It is unrealistic to add a 15” touchscreen to a laptop’s main display, both because of cost and because of the strain related to holding your hand to the screen to smear around oily fingerprints. However, an iPhone-sized touch screen would give Macs a powerful touch input system that would put rapid access to menus, widgets, and lists literally at your fingertips.

The iPhone already proves how to seamlessly interact with regular controls such as popup menus on the web, converting them from devices designed to be navigated with a mouse pointer into dials that can be flicked through more naturally with a finger swipe. Two fingered zoom, scroll, rotate and click controls are already exposed on the MacBook Air.

Imagine if your trackpad could present customizable options for enhancing those controls with whatever level of complexity you desired, from a simple way to dial through menus faster than the careful mouse-pointer targeting currently required, to a fully custom panel that could accommodate anything from a ten key to the most sophisticated touch input and feedback system one could imagine in software.

Applications could invent their own specific uses for it, but out of the box it could offer an immediate way to target menus, launch apps, put existing Dashboard widgets at your fingers, and perform other shortcuts faster than the user can navigate the main interface with the trackpad. It would also silence critics who still think the Mac only supports a one button mouse.



“A State of the Art Product Transition…”

Of course, adding such a highly visible feature would throw a wet blanket on existing laptop sales. Who would buy an existing regular MacBook when the new model had a dual screen input device? One might also ask, “Who would buy a iPod mini after the Nano came out?” Or a PowerBook G4 after the Intel MacBook Pro was announced, or an iPhone after the iPhone 3G was released.

In each case, Apple let inventories dry up dramatically in the weeks before the new model, most recently taking a major hit in iPhone shipments despite a healthy demand prior to the availability of the iPhone 3G. If you haven’t noticed yet, today’s Mac laptop inventories are severely constrained.

Apple would incur a cost hit when installing an iPhone-style screen into the MacBook. According to speculation by iSuppli, the original iPhone’s bill of materials and manufacturing costs amounted to around $260. The company guessed that the display and touch screen made up 20% of that, around $56. Base on those figures, for Apple to add the feature profitably it would have to charge around $100 more for its laptops in an already competitive market.

However, what if Apple added the feature to blow away competition in the laptop space rather than to make a profit on $56 of additional hardware? That might result in a “product transition” that would cause a short term hit on margins, yet result in greater revenues and ultimately profitability in the long run that made the jump worth it.

The transition to Intel involved lots of short term costs that were clearly worth it, and the design of the iPhone and MacBook Air required initial investment that took months to pay back. The fact that Apple has already warned investors of this “product transition” means the company is ready to hit the ground running.

“… at Prices Competitors Can’t Match”

Dell and HP don’t have any in house expertise in the kind of software integration needed to deliver such a product. They rely upon Microsoft for that, and Microsoft is current working to deliver touch features in Windows 7 and Windows Mobile 7 that won’t be ready until at least the end of 2009.

That’s assuming that Microsoft can pull it off, can do it on time, and can do it without compromise given Apple’s recent furious efforts to patent all of its work. So far, Microsoft has only demonstrated copycat touch technology already delivered in the MacBook Air and iPhone.

While Microsoft was able to copy the original Macintosh, in large part because Bill Gates forced John Sculley to hand over a free license to use Mac inventions in 1985 or else risk the immediate termination of Excel on the Mac, it has been stymied to clone Mac OS X.

Instead, Vista had to deliver clumsy and inferior alternatives to Exposé and other familiar elements of the Mac desktop due to Apple actually working to protect its inventions this time around. Microsoft was also unable to deliver a functional iPod replacement that any consumers wanted to buy. So HP and Dell might never get delivery of the technology they would need to copy Apple’s highly visible LCD trackpad.

Office Wars 3 – How Microsoft Got Its Office Monopoly
Ten Myths of Leopard: 10 Leopard is a Vista Knockoff

CE Clone Home.

Other phone makers have similarly rushed to market iPhone clones, but those models either lack multitouch features or just deliver simple tap screens that require awkward pressure, a fingernail, or a clumsy stylus to use them. CNET and other sites have done their best to distract from the very real differences between the iPhone’s touchscreen and those in inferior imitative devices, but users are seeing the differences themselves.

Even if Dell and HP could figure out a reasonable approximation, the fact that they currently aren’t selling ten million iPhones means they’d lack the economies of scale to risk putting such a screen on their laptops, because the higher price would cause them to lose sales to cheaper machines lacking any fancy LCD touchscreens.

In the commodity world of PCs, cost is often the only competitive factor. Adding $100 to a $700 laptop is far harder than hiding $56 dollars of hardware within models ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 where Apple sells its products. Additionally, Apple’s buying power would allow it to buy up all of the high quality components, leaving Dell and HP to buy reject components on the cheap.

Lots of New Buyers.

That gives Apple the opportunity to blow away users with a feature that would clearly differentiate its mobile line for years, more closely associate its Macs with the iPhone brand, and jump from today’s 8 to 10% of the US market to a figure closer to 30% within just a year. We already know Apple has 66% of the consumer-oriented retail market for machines above $1000 in the US; why not take the rest?

This suggests Apple could take the unusual step of releasing its new MacBooks and MacBook Pros together, perhaps even at the same time that it launches its new iPods, which do not appear to be taking any huge risks in terms of wild new designs this year.

By giving iPods a little bump and releasing them next to a new fleet of iPod touch-integrated laptops, Apple would blow out huge publicity right after having sold out its existing inventory of laptops to back to school buyers, who got free $299 iPod touch models as part of the deal.

And what about existing MacBook users? There’s no technical reason for not letting them plug their iPhone or iPod touch in via USB and activating it as a color touchscreen to expose the exact same functionality. That might prevent existing Mac and iPhone users from rushing to get a new LCD-equipped MacBook, but Apple really needs new buyers, not just more of the same.

The company plans to sell lots of iPhones over the next year, reportedly taking orders for 40 million. If only half of them also ended up buying a new laptop, Apple would double its entire installed base of Macs and triple its annual unit sales, easily outpacing Microsoft in revenues.

So far, the evidence is only circumstantial. Leaked images have only shown what purports to be the back of the new MacBook cases, not the touchpad area. We can only infer that Apple would want to sex up the trackpad in the same way that it lit up the PoweBook’s keyboard, and to continue following its incremental progress to deliver increasingly sophisticated multitouch trackpads in recent MacBooks and again on the Air.

We’ll have to wait a month or so to see if Apple will revolutionize its Mac laptops using the technology it has already paid for on the iPhone. I’m betting it will.

Did you like this article? Let me know. Comment here, in the Forum, or email me with your ideas.

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1 What’s Next from Apple: New iPods Sept 22, iPhone OS 2.1, iTunes 8.0 — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 09.01.08 at 7:17 am }

[...] iTunes 8.0 Two Decades of Portable Macs: 1989 – 2009 The iPod Power Behind Apple’s Big Mac Push A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch . Rose likes to suggest what’s next from Apple, but his guesses only approach reality when [...]

2 Two Decades of Portable Macs: 1989 - 2009 — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 09.01.08 at 7:18 am }

[...] iTunes 8.0 Two Decades of Portable Macs: 1989 – 2009 The iPod Power Behind Apple’s Big Mac Push A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch . Support [...]

3 lmasanti { 09.01.08 at 7:44 am }

I see two problems:
1) One is software: still in a highly controlled internal developing environment like the iPhone, still not all the [Apple's] apps have the keyboard functioning landscape: Moving controls out of their actual position will take some time.
2) If –for actual owners of MB, MBA– you give a “new feature” (MB/MBA-itouch integration) Sarbanes-Oxley Act will make Apple “charge you” for the fix.

On the other hand, it could also be a “detachable” itouch from the laptop: always in sync! (I hate this detachability!)

4 gprovida { 09.01.08 at 8:07 am }

The idea is interesting, my concern is that today eyes on screen(s) hands on keys and pad. This results in a lot of head movement.

However if your fingers were mirrored on the display then you would have a touchsreen as large as the display without the oily fingers. With aqua transparencies the finger (tips) would not get in the way.

Tying the iPhone as screen extension other than VNC would mean iPhone experience would be separate from iTunes and very different between Mac and Windows. This would violate the precedent of cross platform parity that Apple has had for iPods and iPhone’s.

5 Berend Schotanus { 09.01.08 at 8:12 am }

Compliments for your nice and original analysis. It sure makes me curious!

Coincidentally I downloaded yesterday “PearPad” for my iPhone. It transforms the iPhone to a trackpad for your Mac over WiFi / Bonjour. Only one way traffic, only input, but it shows it sure is feasible.

6 Dorotea { 09.01.08 at 8:15 am }

Without see it, the LCD trackpad doesn’t sound compelling. But I’ve been wrong before. I thought the fatboy ipods would tank. Now I really like them.

7 Scott { 09.01.08 at 8:21 am }

I like the “detachable” idea. Imagine that!

8 lantinian { 09.01.08 at 8:45 am }

Very good Idea and exellent arguments to support it. Even if all that happened, the full software will likely come via updates. Also, I think the hardware button will remain as one finger controls will be left to move the mouse around.

Another thing is the size. A 3.5in touch screen might be too small for this. Eve the current Macbook Pros have bigger trackpad than 3.5in. The Macbook Air is even bigger and if Apple does not use the same touch screen, will it not affect the price considerably?

9 dallasmay { 09.01.08 at 8:57 am }

I love the idea. It would definitely go a long way to differentiate Apples Laptops. And with all of the Multitouch patents from Apple, you know they are planning something. But I’m afraid this one might have to wait until January. I don’t know, but I think this might need a true OS upgrade. Snow Leopard. Maybe it was more than just under laying tech after all.

“We already know Apple has 66% of the consumer-oriented retail market for machines above $1000 in the US; why not take the rest?”
Apple will have a very difficult time taking the rest of that 33% (By the way, where did you get that stat?) At best they will only be able to take about 5-10% in my estimation. Most laptops sold to businesses are sold as a huge package deal that will also include servers. Don’t get me wrong, Apple has the best Unix Servers available, but they haven’t had the same growth there as their other departments. Maybe, Apple could actually start selling a stripped down MacBook for $700. Why not? Sure it cuts margins a bit, but if you introduce it along side new laptops with touch screens, you won’t cannibalize the higher end.

10 khurt { 09.01.08 at 9:20 am }

I’m not buying ( literally and figuratively ) any of this. A touch screen trackpad as your describe sounds like a terrible idea. In fact is sound gimmicky. Apple should keep the innovations simple yet useful. Like sticking an iSight camera in each laptop. Simple, yet extremely useful ( I know we all have videos on YouTube ).

Besides, I already spend way too much time cleaning the screen on my iPod Touch.

11 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 9:41 am }

@ DED,
Did you whip this up after reading Engadget’s poor blogging of such a potential leak last night? They really need some fact and spell checkers over there!

I like your use of the calculator on the MBP. That shows a particular use. There could so many widgets/apps that I could flick through on the trackpad like I do with photos on the iPhone without affecting what I have on the main screen.

Other uses could be like SideShow on a notebook where the main the computer could be off for a flight and you can access RSS, Mail, and even iTunes on the small display without having to run a full version of Mac OS X to get simple functionality.

Or it could be used as a Wacom-like pad. Giving photoshop, Aperture and other professional users a actual display to interact with.

@ Scott,
That means it would requires an odd shaped device that ruins the aesthetics, adds bulk, uses more power than it should as you now have the entire Touch as just a trackpad, and it won’t work if you detach your Touch from the machine.

Apple has already increased the use of the trackpad from one touch to dual touch to multi-touch with gestures so I don’t see how adding more input options with output options would seem farfetched for any readers here.

Here are a couple of machines that have multi-use trackpads. Only the cPad is dynamic.
• Asus M70 — http://laptoplogic.com/data/reviews/images/221/m70_trackpad.jpg
• Toshiba 5105-s607 using Synaptic cPad — http://lct.informaworld.com/lct/uploads/vol11_iss2_socnews__keypad.jpg

Your estimates are for all PC sales, not consumer PC sales that are over $1000. That is where the real money is made.

12 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 9:48 am }

Ahead of its time and destined for obscurity:
“With Synaptics’ revolutionary cPad, Toshiba’s new notebook offers an array of features and functionality to its users. Some of cPad’s features include an application launcher, wallpaper, sticky notes, signature input, and calculator. By using the Synaptics’ cPad driver software, which is bundled with the Satellite 5105-S607 notebook, users can customize their cPad to take advantage of features such as wallpaper images, short cuts, tap zones and scrolling.
“As a leader in mobile computing, Toshiba recognizes the need to incorporate new technology that enhances the efficiency of the user,” said Oscar Koenders, vice president of product marketing, Toshiba Computer Systems Group. “Toshiba is proud to be the first notebook vendor to embrace the unique cPad interface, delivering convenience and performance to our customers.”
“Utilizing Synaptics’ capacitive ClearPad touch sensing technology, the cPad serves as both a navigation device for cursor control, and as a platform for interactive information display. cPad integrates a ClearPad sensor with a 240×160 pixel liquid crystal display and an EL-backlight. cPad communicates directly with the host computer via a standard USB interface that is fully compatible with the standard Microsoft mouse driver.
“Synaptics has developed a cPad API that allows both OEMs and third-party developers to build unique software solutions to add custom functionality and features to the cPad.”
March 4, 2002

13 scstsut { 09.01.08 at 10:05 am }

The multitouch surface doesn’t have to be a display. The entire lower half of the macbook (where the keyboard normally is) could be a multitouch surface without display. The keyboard would be virtual and could be drawn on the surface as a guide or not. With multitouch the software could even determine what letter you meant to touch and adjust the strike zone for the letters (for example, my little finger goes right between the “p” and “[” keys; that could be adjusted the same way the iPhone keyboard adjusts the strike zone size depending on the probability of the next letter).

Of course the whole surface would then be a multitouch track pad almost a foot square!

14 nat { 09.01.08 at 10:27 am }

You know, this sort of reminds me of Dan’s predictions and mock-ups for the original iPhone. They were good, but Apple exceeded those expectations.

At the same time, I’m reminded of the recently discovered Apple filing for what people first presumed was the fabled Mac tablet:

Perhaps we’re thinking too small and Apple is going to strip out the keyboard and trackpad area for a touch display that, while smaller than the main display, allows for a greater wealth of possibilities than what a trackpad could offer.

I think this is one of the hardest product transitions to speculate on, isn’t it? :D

15 CW { 09.01.08 at 10:28 am }


I believe you’re right on this but it’ll be even more. Instead of just a glass trackpad I believe the entire trackpad/keyboard surface will be replaced with iPhone-like capabilities in the laptop line. Sure, it’ll cost a lot because the surface would be larger than your iPhone/iPodT; but “significantly cutting the [consumer] costs” just to get something like this into the market I believe is was Apple meant. A glass trackpad w/ multi-touch, whoop-dee-doo, but an entire surface. Now that’s something game-changing. Wasn’t it posted somewhere that the multi-touch tech could detect palms resting? Think of all the real estate you would gain with such a transformation? No more wasted space where your palms rest today.

This will then pave the way and leave room in the market for a tablet-like device too. What about the iMac? Just like the full multi-touch keyboard surface in the laptop line, you break that out as a keyboard/surface peripheral for the iMac. Makes total sense on how to incorporate multi-touch into EVERY product line. Because if that’s where we’re going, multi-touch, and it is, you’re going to need to introduce aspects of it into each of your products. This is just the beginning.

16 LuisDias { 09.01.08 at 10:46 am }

I agree with khurt. It’s a gimmick, and not that useful. Why put gadgets near your keyboard, when you already got them where you are looking at (hint: the screen)? Why spend 60$ on the hardware plus all the R&D at the software, risk creating a space that doesn’t exist on other computers (diminishing its value to software developers), to build anything that is only a gimmick?

The current multitouchpad is brilliant, and way underhyped. Very slick, doesn’t stand out from the general design, and keeps your eyes focused on the screen, where they should be. It has the correct size, shape and proportions and benefits from the fact that most laptops already have touchpads, (only not multi-touch pads) so that the general pop isn’t forced to engage in a totally new useless gimmick that adds nothing in return for your cash and attention.

The only way multitouch pads get a lcd is through a complete lcd in the keyboard face, like that preview of OLPC v2 laptop. Then, it will generate a very wide and promising array of new functions (like for instance, use it as a book) that I can hardly imagine. I doubt Apple can pull that off such Trekky fantasy just yet, though. But hey, if they could pull off a screen of that size under just 200$, I can easily imagine MacBook Touch, son of “Air”, starting with a cost of 1999$, and it would fly.

17 lmasanti { 09.01.08 at 10:56 am }

For the iMac you must convert it in a real [resting] desktop device.
It wil have no stand: it will lay plane (it is lighty oblique) over the desktop, resting on it, and you’ll interact as with a book or sketch pad… horizontally and with your fingers! Just back to kindergarden!

As for portables, I like the “pocket book sized”, two displays/one touch and convertible to an ebook reader!

18 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 11:17 am }

I’m amazed by the responses that say this natural transition can’t be useful but then say that completely foregoing a physical keyboard for a touchscreen makes sense. That makes absolutely no sense to me.

Daniel clearly outlined devices that have useful multi displays/inputs.

Some things he didn’t touch on were:
• Wacom-like interface that allows for a stylus to be used. There are many native , professional apps that could benefit from being able to use such a device that would also show you what you are editing drawing on the screen you are doing it on. Some want this on the man display but putting it o a vertical screen is combursome and far from natural.

• Daniel mentioned widgets and shows a calculator in one pic. This is one of the firs GUI apps ever created and its never felt right on a notebook. Without a proper number pad the layout is difficult, you either have linear placing of the numbers at the top, an oddly placed, makeshift number pad when you use the Num Lock key (does anyone use this) or you have to use the mouse. Having this as a touchscreen would be such a benefit in and of itself. But there are so many other widgets that could benefit.

• Trackpads are already being used for other things like scrolling and and volume controls. Asus has a model that has music player functions built in. It’s a static display but it does add a useful feature that should not be overlooked.

• The trackpad would also make a lot of sense for Powerpoint/Keynote presentations. You could have the commands be displayed on the trackpad for you.

• If this were to follow SideShow’s system you could keep Mac OS X from running while you are able to use you Mac notebook as an iPod for times you want limited functionality but want to conserve battery life.

• GarageBand and other professional music apps could have small piano, drums, guitar chords, etc. Those seem gimmicky but sliders for an Equalizer would be great.

• The only “gimmicky” app I can think of from this technology would be fingerprint authentication, but I don’t think that this setup would come close to being sensitive enough to determine the user’s identity.

Just look to the iPhone or Touch for apps that are more natural on those devices because of the direct interaction with the user’s finger and you can see so many possibilities for this helping your productivity.

19 Tardis { 09.01.08 at 11:34 am }

Daniel, I am sure that you know better than anyone outside Apple that they COULD do what this article suggests, or even some of the alternatives that commenters have suggested, but do you have any reason to think that Apple WILL do this?

If you use a MacBook Air, you will become used to “pinching and twirling” the trackpad, but in this sense it is completely different from an iPhone or iPodTouch. Rather than looking at your fingers manipulating an image on a display, it is more like using a mouse or keyboard, where you are looking at the screen not your fingers.

I am sure you are right that Apple will continue to use technologies developed for the iPod or iPhone to be introduced to and improve the Mac and vice versa. I thought the way that you described they would do this was a nice idea, but I also thought that if “PearPad” for the iPhone does what is described, or if “the entire trackpad/keyboard surface will be replaced with iPhone-like capabilities” (could be B&W only?) that idea would not be necessary.

Meanwhile, there are other ways that Apple can deliver iPhone capabilities to Mac laptops, the most obvious being a mobile internet connection. You can explain the possibilities, you can speculate about how this might work, but right now, the only way that this would work is an agreement between Apple and service providers.

Similarly, anything Apple may be able to do in delivering Music or Movie services depends on content providers.

In the future, it may be the case that Apple can offer these capabilities from iPhones, Macs, iPods or Apple TV’s and service or content providers can supply them as they choose, but as long as Apple is pioneering these services, it has to be able to show both sides of the deal before people will sign up for it. I do not have any reason to believe that Apple can deliver any of this this year. Do you?

20 nat { 09.01.08 at 11:45 am }

One thing to consider is that while Apple wants to make their Mac laptops more compelling, they don’t want to make them so compelling that people might forego the purchase of an iPhone or iPod touch in favor of one of these laptops.

That’s why my earlier suggestion (echoed by others here and by some of the tech media) about replacing the trackpad and keyboard area with a MultiTouch display smaller than the main display, but larger than the iPhone’s display might NOT be such a good idea, and why Dan’s proposition seems more realistic. His guess would have a much lower risk of cannibalizing iPhone/iPod touch sales because the MultiTouch screen replacing the trackpad would be the same size used in the iPhone/iPod touch.

Before reading this article, I figured Apple would simply give their MacBook/Pros the same over-sized MultiTouch static trackpad as the MacBook Air’s, slimming them down a bit with tapered edges, but now, it does seem as though Apple will present something far more impressive and clever. It’ll tie in MultiTouch in some fashion, I just don’t know how.

21 LuisDias { 09.01.08 at 12:11 pm }


Be amazed at your own peril. All you have shown in your rationale is that such an “amazing” over-the-top gimmick would be useful to put… a calculator on. Wow, that’s… not amazing. Wacom style tablets are the size of A4s, at minimum, A5s. I had one, so I know. And so you could put extra commands in there… not amazing features. Even in my old win-XP pc, whenever I want to make a presentation of sorts, my computer can distinguish between the presentation screen and the laptop’s screen. It was never used, but it could be. That’s a software problem, not a hardware one, so there.

I can see the usefulness of having slides on there. Sound slides, etc. But that’s hardly a revolution, it’s a gimmick. And Apple hates gimmicks, that’s MS business.

There’s the main flaw of having two screens where you should only have one. I don’t like to go up and down with my eyes. I work with my hands on one face (keyboard) and with my eyes in the other (LCD screen), and there isn’t a calculator sufficiently “killer-apped” for me to change my behavior.

I don’t think I’m wrong, too. I just don’t look forward to this over-the-top lunacy to come in the next installments of MBP or MBA.

22 LuisDias { 09.01.08 at 12:15 pm }

…And this idea that MBs are going to cannibalize Ipod Touch’s market is simply… not even wrong.

(Sorry for taking over the discussion. Normality ensues)

23 dave123456 { 09.01.08 at 12:28 pm }

Sorry, I don’t understand the ergonomics of this (aside from the fact that it will look like ass, as your own mockup shows). They simply don’t work.

The usage of the iPhone and a trackpad are totally different- the iPhone works because you can hold it up to eye level and use it comfortably- you never lay it flat on your desk to manipulate. Do you? So that begs the question of how you will use this LCD trackpad- hunched over your laptop so you can see it, or do you hold the laptop up in front of your eyes- unbelievably unwieldy and uncomfortable. Are you then darting your eyes back and forth from the tiny screen to the large one, to see what’s going on? If you are just moving your fingers and looking at the input on the laptop screen, there is no requirement of an LCD.

I do not see the point or the advantage here. If it screws with the ergonomics, Apple won’t do it. Much better to simply have a new touchpad that recognizes all the multi-touch gestures beyond what the Air now recognizes.

24 stefn { 09.01.08 at 1:08 pm }

Great article, Daniel. All the design vectors you mention are right on:
* Smaller
* Thinner
* Lighter
* More graphical interface
* Less mechanical, keyboard based interface
* Stronger convergence of Apple’s GUIs and devices

So I like the two screen idea but prefer the versions above using two full screens on a smaller footprint. Why? A couple more vectors:
* More powerful, simple, communication GUI, which is now the predominant use.
* Even less mechanical GUI with the elimination of the keyboard.

And an added more intuitive factor:
* Appropriation of the book and journal metaphors as form factor.

* A screen based keyboard is all we need on the road. For industrial uses, a full sized keyboard can be plugged in, just as with desktops. Make keyboards, not multitouch, the option.
* A screen based drawing board has tons of uses, as the article describes.
* On a book sized footprint, the multitouch would allow the user to turn the laptop sideways to create a two page book spread, automatically. Wow.

25 kimball { 09.01.08 at 1:14 pm }

I’m sure none of the critics of this post ever look at their hands while using the keyboard! Also, I’m sure their field of vision includes every element on their 17-24″ desktop screens, requiring zero eye movement. If its true you don’t look down now, its because there is nothing to look at! And it is as trivial to glance down at the trackpad and keyboard as it is to glance up at the menu bar or the clock.

A calculator is only one example of where a mouse interface sucks and where a touch interface would shine, but there are many other instances where the point and click interface is less than ideal. Tell the control surface industry, who make hundreds of different audio related controls that the slider is a gimmick! The mouse is a poor substitute for volume sliders. And there are many other potential interactions that can be made better through visual multi-touch, as well as simple gestural multi-touch like the MacBook Air already employs.

Multi-touch on the iPhone is about usability, and any Apple implementation of multi-touch on the MacBook line will similarly be about enhancing usability, not about gimmicks. What concerns me is consistency of interaction. I want to have access to the trackpad as a trackpad whenever I want, so there would have to be a great way to switch between different trackpad modes.

Nothing could be a more natural progression than the LCD trackpad. Good post.

26 designguy { 09.01.08 at 1:25 pm }

@ CW

I already commented on dual large screens, realistically of course it would not work.

To expunge this matter fully though, Leopard does not have support for these features as yet. We can easily predict that it will not magically show up this close to Snow Leopard as well.

Would be nice though, and eventually we will see something similar.


I am in contested agreement with you.
You highlight a major thought on a “gimmick.” I was willing to go with Daniel at first on this one, but now I am having trouble quantifying this iPod Touch Screen.


I agree with you on the MacBook Touch possibility down the road with the right OS support and screen pricing.

@ Imasanti

Hopefully we will get a “Surface” like product soon. iMac will never be this though as most users look forward at a screen, not down to a device. This setup would be very uncomfortable for extended reading and writing sessions.

Maybe an iSlate Pro someday? :)

@ Tardis

Excellent arguments!

@ Anyone…

While I understand that there is a chip for handling touch detection on trackpads or screens, how will the OS use this information in a customized way? Widgets or assistive application support are all fine and dandy, but no support yet exists for this kind of feature.


How are you solving the OS support of this feature in short term, non-Snow Leopard?

Great Arguments everyone!

27 nat { 09.01.08 at 2:07 pm }

Another thought, just trying to narrow things down. Take a look at this picture:

Given that size difference, would Apple essentially go backwards in terms of trackpad size from the Air’s oversized MultiTouch pad to the iPod touch’s smaller and narrower MultiTouch screen? Or will they use a larger MultiTouch screen that fits the parameters of the Air’s static MultiTouch pad?

I also have to say it doesn’t make sense to completely dismiss Dan’s prediction out of hand. Look at the iPhone’s phone menu when talking to someone: pull it away from your ear and you’ll see a very useful, intuitive arrangement of buttons for putting people on hold, turning on speaker phone, and most notably (imo) the merge call button. Other phones had similar functionality of course, but Apple made it so slick and easy, my grandma could figure it out. It feels like Dan is on the right track, but perhaps he’s expecting too much. Maybe a MultiTouch screen trackpad replacement would offer more universal benefits, rather than his fairly specific tasks.

designguy, maybe they’ve been building in hidden support all along, like how they made Mac OS X compatible with Intel processors without anyone’s knowledge. :D

28 gus2000 { 09.01.08 at 2:33 pm }

If nothing else, RoughlyDrafted is stretching my vocabulary…I had to look up “gewgaw”. (It means “showy trifle” or “worthless bauble” for anyone else mystified.)

29 nat { 09.01.08 at 2:37 pm }

Hey, at the very least, a MultiTouch screen would put the largely neglected/forgotten (by most users) Widgets. It would be a similar move to how they turned .Mac, a service most people couldn’t see the value in, into a “push” communications service with slick web apps and strong iPhone/iPod touch integration.

30 nat { 09.01.08 at 2:39 pm }

Argh, meant to say this would “put the largely neglected/forgotten (by most users) Widgets TO GOOD USE.”

31 PerGrenerfors { 09.01.08 at 3:17 pm }

Let’s not forget about ergonomics. I think that you should keep your eyes on the screen at all times when you’re working. People who do a lot of number crunching should get an external numeric keyboard. I do think that more advanced trackpads are the way to go but they should be non-reflective so that light and image from the main screen of the laptop is not reflected into the user’s eyes. Without doubt this idea would really set Apple’s hardware apart but I’m not sure it would live up to the user experience that Apple lives and dies by.

I must say that Daniel’s speculations are some of the best on the internet and I’ve always enjoyed reading them. It’s nice to read this kind of articles without having to constantly roll your eyes.

32 lukeskymac { 09.01.08 at 3:21 pm }

I don’t get it. I think it would be easier to transform the keyboard in a giant touchscreen, so that specific programs would have specific keys ( This would be particulary great for games).

If Apple won’t do it because there are some whinners complaining about the touch, why don’t make use of that patent… The one which described the keyboard as having LEDs, and the keys were adaptive to the current program.

But I prefer a touchscreen keyboard anyways, specially with all of those features described in other patents…

33 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 3:30 pm }

lukeskymac wrote, “If Apple won’t do it because there are some whinners complaining about the touch, why don’t make use of that patent… The one which described the keyboard as having LEDs, and the keys were adaptive to the current program.”

It may be all futuristic to have a large, flat sheet of glass to type on but it won’t make the user more productive (which goes against the whole reason for technological advancements). As for OLEDs in the keys they are still too limited in functionality and way too costly. Consider that Daniel put this article out today as it’s now something that is technologically possible, whether you like the idea or not, yet in 2002 Toshiba and Synaptic had a working, selling notebook with a dynamic touchpad. I think dynamic OLED keys will be standard on keyboards, but not for many years.

34 Realtosh { 09.01.08 at 3:41 pm }

@ danieleran & John Muir

danielerean says, “…more closely associate its Macs with the iPhone brand, and jump from today’s 8 to 10% of the US market to a figure closer to 30% within just a year.”

That’s a tall order. Apple can do it but not by staying only in the $1,000 – $3,000. You, yourself tell us why, “We already know Apple has 66% of the consumer-oriented retail market for machines above $1000 in the US; why not take the rest?”

If Apple already owns 66% of the over $1,000 laptop market, they can’t triple their unit shipments by concentrating only in the premium space that they already dominate. There aren’t that many units in the premium space left that they’re not already getting. They have 66%. If they get the remaining 33-34%, that would only be an increase of 50%, and that’s counting on Apple selling every single laptop sold over $1,000. I’m very bullish on Apple; but I won’t hold my breath, nor do I recommend that you stop breathing either waiting.

Apple wants to grow, so they have to grow into the markets that are available. To achieve the kind of incredible unit growth that you’re dreaming about, Apple would have to tackle the under $1,000 market as well. It’s just this kind of assault on the under $1,000 market that would impact margins, as Apple has warned.

I’m sure that Apple will add functionality to current product line-up. That’s an easy call ’cause they’ve been doing it since forever. That LCD trackpad sounds cool and echoes John Muir’s idea of dual screens.

I don’t doubt that Apple would add more touch to their products. Touch is a wining input interface. I was enamored of the idea when John shared it with us earlier. I still don’t dislike the idea, as you share a modified version with us now.

But both your idea, and John’s earlier one of the dual screens, to me to think. The dynamism and flexibility of the input displays is not only so futuristic, yet it also already lives in the iPhone. But on the iPhone the visual input lives on the main display screen. On the iPhone this is partly to economize space since the iPhone has a much smaller screen. But also, it makes sense to put a visual input where you are already looking, which is the display.

I could see this feature added to the main screen. As John’s idea mentioned, the screen would replace not only the trackpad but also the keyboard. Note how you don’t look at your trackpad when you use it; you’re usually looking at the screen. Adding visual to the track pad actually confuses the visual field. By omitting the trackpad and keyboard, not only would you not have to look up and down constantly as you tried to use the visual trackpad, but you’d lose the whole bottom half of the laptop. You would be left with a slate/tablet/ personal computing device/ whatever you want to call it.

This unified form factor would lend itself better to the visual input that both you and John mention, and that gets us all excited. The visual input and the display are together, just like on the iPhone. Splitting them up like on a laptop would be taking a modern interface and sacrificing its simplicity and ease of use to maintain an old form factor that may not lend itself as easily to visual input. Maybe it makes more sense to keep the visual and the input together even in larger devices.

In order to keep the product pricing reasonable and maintain some profitability, the screen would likely have to be on the smaller side, laptop-wise. This smaller size would also add to the device’s portability, yet give it enough heft that it would lend it self to applications for which the iPhone can be uncomfortably small. The device would show maps better, allow easier reading of email, double as a book reader, and a media device for not only music but also movies and video, and additional games. The form factor would lend itself to books and movies, and would allow for higher resolution games would not fit on the iPhone.

The simpler unified device would not only have fewer parts, but would also be cheaper. This new form factor device, besides getting a futuristic touch interface make-over, might also be able to get positioned as an under $1,000 device. It could even have a slightly smaller form factor, which would not only be cheaper to source touch screens for, but allow for a profitable futuristic product under $1,000. Apple would have profitability, even if at margins slightly less than they’ve been getting recently; ergo the conference call warnings.

You’re smelling out the more interesting technologies; your conclusions might not yet be fully worked through. None of us can be sure which one of us is right, but it’s a bunch of fun trying to analyze the right match of available technologies, Apple’s strengths and the potential markets for the imagined products.

35 Brau { 09.01.08 at 4:38 pm }

Glad to see you noted the need for “differentiation” where sales are concerned as it is a prime factor. If a product doesn’t have clear differentiation, then the only thing any maker can compete with is price. That is exactly the conundrum the Windows assemblers face as they try desperately to create upscale products; the buyer opens an expensive laptop, sees Vista, and questions whether the elevated price tag is really worth more than a cheap-ass Dell when they both run the same OS the anyway. In this situation almost all buyers will opt for the much cheaper Dell.

Conversely, with any Mac, a buyer can justify a slightly higher price because they know the Mac OS has some distinct advantages/differences, plus it can run all OSes natively or simultaneously via Parallels. As long as the sticker price is within industry norms, Apple does not have to lower its price to entice buyers.

36 stefn { 09.01.08 at 4:48 pm }

“To expunge this matter fully though, Leopard does not have support for these features as yet. We can easily predict that it will not magically show up this close to Snow Leopard as well.”

Love to know how you know these things.

37 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 4:53 pm }

@ stefn,
I’m curious how he knows the interworkings of Cupertino, too. The MBA’s trackpad is a prime example of Apple releasing new HW to go along with new software.

38 designguy { 09.01.08 at 5:31 pm }

Thanks you for the forum Daniel, we really have an excellent space in witch to exchange ideas and information.

@ stefn

After posting I was afraid that someone would say that. LOL.

I was trying to explain that with Apple busily working on Snow Leopard and tweaking the iPhone SDKs, there would be no time for them to push this feature out. Apple historically has not released a new OS software feature prior to an OS upgrade. Surmising, unless Apple has been building support into the OS all along, then the earliest this “touch” feature could materialize, would be Snow Leopard.
Thanks nat, we never know. :)

@ everyone

I have a question though…

Would it seem simpler for Apple to scale an iPhone up to a slate, or shrink a Mac Book Air to a tablet?
I believe the answer to this question also completes the product lineup for Apple, unveiled at the 2009 Mac Expo in January. So if they do we might be able to acquire one around June 09? LOL

At this point it is speculation, but we all know that Apple will eventually create such a device. The marketplace is in need of a true slate that until the iPhone, was not easily conceived of or implemented.

The interesting part of this slate device concept, would it be locked to AT&T (assuming 3G), and will it be subsidized to bring it in below the $1,000 price point?


Happy Labor Day

39 designguy { 09.01.08 at 5:49 pm }

@ solipsism

True, the MBA’s trackpad is a good example.

The problem with this theory is not a simple broadcom chip replacement and software updates though. To support such a screen feature, the OS itself would need an API for this.
Otherwise, only Apple related components would be truly supported by this feature.

I am not saying that I am correct, simply thinking out the capabilities in an intellectual manner. I am using common sense to rule out or at least ground certain ideas.

It seems ridiculous (not impossible), that Apple would commit these resources with impending hardware and software updates.

Somebody help me with this, as the pool gets deep around here.
Is the built in multi-touch Safari support for the MBA’s trackpad, handled by webKit like on the iPhone?
Someone help me shed some light on the back-end of the MBA’s multi-touch application support.

Stating something that exists in part (aka, MBA’s trackpad), does not imply that a full featured advancement can operate on the same underlying chip controller.

All I ask, is that my critics provide some concept of how Apple would support such a feature.

@ Daniel

Maybe you can help with the gaps on this?

40 nat { 09.01.08 at 7:04 pm }

@ designguy

Well, earlier I suggested that such a MultiTouch display might provide more universal abilities, rather than such specific (and kind of predictable) uses like Dan’s maps, calculator and Widgets integration.

Examining the MacBook Air’s current MultiTouch static trackpad, why makes it useful? It enables intuitive MultiTouch gestures within some applications (only Apple-designed apps like iTunes, iPhoto, Preview, Safari, Finder, right?). So at the very least, a MultiTouch screen would provide the same basic funtionality. They sure as heck ain’t dropping MultiTouch support after implementing it in the Air and Pro. :D

So, what additional functionality would a MultiTouch screen in place of a static trackpad offer? Before you think about that, remember, at its core, this little MultiTouch screen must retain its trackpad functionality. An always-on control panel won’t be acceptable or practical because you still have to be able to single-click to close windows, to start applications, to click on links on a web page, a ton of things. If there were a little launch pad, comparable to the iPhone’s Home screen, it would have to turn on when useful and turn off when not. That’s the problem I have with the concept, it’s just like the Dashboard: you only see it when you click on its icon in the Dock, hit a hot key, press a physical button on the keyboard, etc. Would Apple implement such a unique input device that might only be used on occasion, like the Dashboard? I kind of doubt it.

So there have to be more universal uses that would offer more than the current static MultiTouch pad, without getting overly specific or complex. Examples? Ask Apple. :D

41 nat { 09.01.08 at 7:09 pm }

Oops, meant to say “Examining the MacBook Air’s current MultiTouch static trackpad, what makes it useful?”

42 dicklacara { 09.01.08 at 7:16 pm }


This, visual multi-touch, delivered across the product line (computers, iPods, iPhones) may be the reason that the NDA has not, yet, been lifted from the iPhone SDK. Sharing of OS X features between platforms is not a one-way street.

Delivery of “Visual Multi-touch” may take the form that Daniel suggests, may be a separate device (touch display/keypad) or even a new form factor of a computer that consists of two (or more) MT Displays.

A portable with this form factor could have 2 MT displays, hinged like a book. The user could deploy the screens: Both vertical, both horizontal, one horizontal and one vertical– or even back to back.

Apple could reduce the dimensions of computing device while increasing the total display size and data entry surface size.

Think of the applications: A smallish portable could fold out to deploy as a 2-level 8-octave piano keyboard… or a custom equalizer… or a security monitor/control panel… or a light table… or a super gaming console… or a totally new A/V viewer… or… or… or…
I hope that Apple does this– those who want or need a traditional keyboard/mouse can opt for a low-cost option.

43 AlanAudio { 09.01.08 at 7:47 pm }

To those who say that having two screens to look at is an unworkable solution, I would suggest that you take a look at the Nintendo DS lite.

It has two screens, one of which is touch sensitive and millions of people appear to be able to use them perfectly sensibly.

44 danieleran { 09.01.08 at 8:13 pm }

I see this idea as so obvious that it’s simply mind blowing to consider that people might be opposed to it. So I have to stretch my brain to understand some of the criticisms. If I get your take wrong, be sure to correct me.

A number of people have commented that this would require lots of extra effort and new APIs. No, MacBooks already have a USB multitouch trackpad input; this one would be no different. Macs also have a way to manage multiple displays, right? That’s been around since the late 80s. You plug in a monitor and it maps out a display for it. There is NOTHING NEW HERE. :P

So now, instead of having a trackpad that allows you to only enter touch/click/drag gestures while looking at the screen, you can also have a display below your fingertips that (get this) works just like the iPhone.

This isn’t embedding a separate CPU and/or subsystem into the laptop; it’s only enhancing the trackpad with immediate visual feedback. There is really zero Apple has to do here apart from plugging the display into the system. An additional small display would have zero impact on performance.

As for presenting a user interface, again Apple already has an outrageously simply way to develop interactive, visual interface widgets. Dashboard widgets are little web pages made from HTML and given behaviors via JavaScript and appearance via CSS.

You don’t have to write an API or a fancy app or a new development framework to build calculators, configurable input devices, or access a mini view of your Address Book or Calendar, or remotely control iTunes, or anything else that Dashboard widgets can already do.

You could assign behaviors to the touch screen display so that it simply allows you to start up Dashboard widgets independent of the main display (a secondary Dashboard rather than a Dashboard overlay on the main display).

There’s also plenty of room for getting fancier. You can add a Menu Bar-like series of controls as I illustrated, to give you fast access to things like volume settings or whatever else you might want to do. Perhaps kick off Sync or change your iChat status without navigating the mouse pointer to the top of the screen.

And menus: you could drill through menus instantly just by doing a (say) fancy three fingered tap, which would pull up the pie menus I described earlier, allowing you to navigate the menu bar with your fingers rapidly, rather than coaxing the mouse pointer to the top edge of the screen and pulling down menus while holding down the mouse button. That’s an incredibly slow and precise effort.

Think about how much faster it is to launch icons from the iPhone than from the “Apple Menu > Recent Items > Pick your app.” The menu bar needs to go away soon anyway, because displays are getting so big (and numerous) that it’s getting silly to have to search them out with the mouse pointer.

And as for the complaints that this is a gimmick, well, it’s obviously a lot more practical than keys that light up, or a screen the SMSensor “SmackBook” that captured people’s attentions. The difference is that having an infinitely configurable, visual touch panel would solve a lot of problems for a lot of different users.

Limited motion ability? Limited capacity to carry a Waccom tablet around with you? Want flexible touch control of sliders and knobs for whatever app you use? Playback controls for audio? Gestures for fancy shortcuts on text entry, or app launching, pinch/flick actions, etc.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t hold my iPhone up to my nose to use it. It’s the same distance from my face as my hands are when I’m typing.

Going any further to replace the entire keyboard with a touch panel starts to make less sense because: 1) people like mechanical keys. It is not very satisfying to touch type on a hard surface for long periods of time. 2) it would be prohibitively expensive.

So this is both economical, obvious, easy to add, hard to copy, and a clear differentiator. And the downside? If you didn’t like having extra functionality at your finger tips, you’d be stuck with a trackpad that looked like a black piece of glass instead of a silver piece of aluminum
(but you don’t ever look at your fingers anyway, right?)

So for example, I could click on an address in a web page with Data Detectors, and send that address to a Maps widget on the trackpad screen so I can zoom around looking at the map with finger control. I then click a button to send the address to my Address Book, save it, and return to my web browser window on the main screen. Not having a touch screen means I’d have to spawn a new browser window at Google.com/maps, which doesn’t know how to send data to my Address Book, and doesn’t support rapid zooming around via touch. I have to pan around with my multitouch screen, and frequently the “scroll down” swipe is interpreted as “zoom in,” which I don’t want. Staying in the desktop is clumsy and stupid.

Now I’m in iPhoto. If I have an Air, i can twirl the pic around from the multitouch trackpad. With an LCD touchscreen, I can pick a photo, sent it to the trackpad display, zoom in via touch, paint on it with my fingers, dodge/burn with my fingers, correct blemishes with my fingers, and then send it back to iPhoto. With a mouse or standard trackpad that’s clumsy. With a Waccom, I have a Waccom to carry around, and no immediate feedback.

Now think about dialogs. I can optionally send dialogs to my touch screen window instead of popping up on my main display. So I can poke the Save button. Or the Proceed button. Or hit cancel. No mousing around. I can also rapidly transverse the file system by touch ; much faster than poking around with a mouse cursor or using arrow keys.

Now I’m in a document, say in Keynote. The Inspector is in my trackpad window. I can be typing, select some text, and pick color and font right from my trackpad view based on smart contextual controls. Because it’s just another display, there’s no special support required to drag in your inspectors, so it works with any app. However, apps could also create specialized Widget-like controls optimized to input touch, such as a touch optimized Font panel.

Now Spaces/Expose/Dashboard. I don’t use these much because it requires too much thinking about which keys to hit (and Apple keeps changing them). But if I could do a special gesture, say a two finger double tap, and get a visual menu of options that made it more initiative, I’d use them more.

And if I’m in some special mode and want to quickly jump back into “move the mouse around mode,” it should be easy to escape back by hitting maybe a three fingered tap. These kind of gestures are far easier to remember than having to stop what you’re doing, focus on the keyboard, and recall which of the 100 keys does what you want to do. Quick, is Dashboard F12 or F11? I always have to hit each key till I hit the right one. And its such a visual break that I forget why I’m going there. I don’t think I’m the only person who is over 25 using Macs.

45 gus2000 { 09.01.08 at 9:21 pm }

If you’re not supposed to look at your input device, why are the letters printed on the keyboard keys?

Granted, there are no labels on the mouse buttons. But the ViewPad (or whatever they call it) only needs to be looked at when it needs to be looked at.

The cell phone camera was a silly, superfluous addon until it wasn’t. Now it’s a requirement for a phone to even be taken seriously.

46 nat { 09.01.08 at 9:37 pm }


Your examples are much appreciated. I get it now and it made me think more about gestures. I’m sure you’re aware of hot corners (though hearing your comments about Expose and such makes me question that; I just swipe my finger diagonally right upward and poof, all windows are visible, swipe right downward and woosh, my windows are pushed to the sides, Expose-ing my desktop), perhaps another more basic function, while in “standard mouse” mode, could be hot corners on the MultiTouch display itself (instead of having to oddly swipe the mouse to one of the primary display’s corners), or on a visual level, offering alt-tab fast app switching, with a little X on each one, like in Dashboard, for easy application quitting.

47 solipsism { 09.01.08 at 10:45 pm }

This patent I found from 2006 isn’t touch interface, it’s a clumsy mechanical overly, but it does show that Apple was at least partially concerned with the some of the limitations of the mouse as a pointer on the screen. It also shows that Apple was thinking about direct controls right where the trackpad is placed.


48 dicklacara { 09.01.08 at 11:04 pm }


I think your analysis is right on!

But your prediction is too conservative!

It is about time for SJ to do something really ballsy… time to outrage the world!

Hell, I;m prolly too conservative too!

49 labrats5 { 09.01.08 at 11:46 pm }

Yeah, I don’t believe it for a second. Not necessarily because I disagree with any one of your arguments for why it would be good, but because I can think of one really big reason for why it would be bad: a glass trackpad would simply work BAD as a trackpad. Way to much friction on glass for the pointer movement to be fluid enough to be pleasant and usable.

I am almost 100 percent sure Apple won’t do this. However, if I’m wrong and you’re right (and as much as I hate to admit it, you are often right) I will send an email to you with a link of me eating my hat.

50 PerGrenerfors { 09.02.08 at 1:29 am }


You still did not address ergonomics in your respone to the comments. “Hey! It’s Apple! If they can’t think of a way, who can?” is not a valid argument.

Wouldn’t you agree that a matte surface is better as a trackpad than a shiny? Try and put your iphone on the trackpad of your MacBook Pro when you’re working. Reflections are bad.

51 harrywolf { 09.02.08 at 1:36 am }

GewGaw? Read more Dickens, Hardy, maybe Conan Doyle, and the word wont be a stranger to you.

How about we have the touch screen display ON the screen? The trackpad has the touch screen control, but the actual touch screen appears on the desktop so you DONT have to look up and then down constantly.

There is a finger-like cursor (or two of them) and the gestures occur on the trackpad and the feedback and cursor(s) appear on the display in a separate box.

That just might work, IMHO.

52 JamesK { 09.02.08 at 2:16 am }


It’s an interesting analysis and I’m sure that we will see something like this eventually. The best thing about it is the flexibility it offers from being a screen. I’m completely skeptical of popular notions of touch screens on laptops and desktops; greasy finger prints, unergonomic, and the annoy fact of having your hands in the way of your eyes. This works with the iPhone, however, due to the space limitations. With a laptop as you described, where the primary screen remains visible, it’s a good idea.

But I really don’t see this just yet, I do not see it as you’ve described it as a strategic priority for Apple, and I seriously question some of your numbers. As cool as this may be, this, and this alone will not cause everyone to buy a Macbook who has up till now held out. It will not make for a large expansion of the OS X user base.

Right now, I see Apple’s priority in the expansion of the iPod Touch/iPhone userbase. That is the quickest and easiest way to increase the OS X userbase, all without necessitating anyone switching to an entirely new OS and buying new applications for whatever they do. Buying a cheap iPod Touch costs much less, introduces people to OS X user conventions, and provides few other disruptions.

Also, the whole idea of a laptop computer is really a dinosaur. Once touted as the future of the personal computer, it is on its way out. The “personal computer” will be a device which is truly personal, it will fit in your pocket, carry the information you need, and offer you access to the internet. As this concept grows in power, the need for a laptop will diminish to only those who have a compelling need for full power portability.

Apple’s push this holiday season will be to get an iPod Touch device to market at a substantially lower cost. They need to do this to keep any other upstart media players from getting a foothold and they need to continue to aggressively increase the userbase and encourage developers. This is much, much more critical to Apple’s long-term strategy than a slightly more capable laptop.

But you are in the right direction, I believe. Something like what you’re describing will come along. I have no doubt that the newer, flatter keyboards for the iMacs has foreshadowed something, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sport touch screens of their own soon enough. The mouse and traditional keyboard are archaic technologies and we must move on.

But right now the important thing isn’t laptops or desktops. Bill Gates founded Microsoft with the idea that there would be a computer on every desktop. Steve Jobs is moving to put a computer in everyone’s pocket. The iPhone is the first move in that direction, the affordable iPod Touch will seal the deal.

53 designguy { 09.02.08 at 2:28 am }

@ Daniel

Correction for your wrongness….

Macs may have a way to handle multiple displays, but just plugging in a multi-touch is not just another display. There are controllers and chips, that handle visuals or gestures. There is a lot “new here,” or Apple would have handled this in the past rather than just multi-touch on a premium Mac Book Air.

Further more! Touch screen supply checks indicate no increased levels of inventory. All of the ordered touch-screens correlate to iPhone production ramps. Even if Apple can get these screens cheaply, they have not ordered them for the Mac Book Touch. Check with iSupply!

I will be the first to admit my wrongdoings, but in this case Daniel, you have overstepped your boundaries.

So Daniel, you say that Apple has nothing more to do than “plugging the display into the system,” but there is really so much more. If you look at the iPhone breakdown, one can see that there are a few chipsets that handle both touch or visualization feedback. How will these systems integrate into both the hardware and software systems and subsystems of Leopard. I know, lets add support for them in the OS…….
Reading over the comments, no one ever said anything about “embedding a separate CPU and/or subsystem.” I did mention the required support for a chip controller on the touch-screen. Such a controller would have to be able to access specific features though. When someone pinches in Safari, all that happens is that the broadcom chipset tells the OS to increase the text size (Command +//-). Beyond these already built in features, a LCD touch screen would need to handle more advanced features, and there is not support for them yet, period.

I will give you the widget issue, as they are written in HTML and visualized in CSS, WebKit should be able to handle them for the screen.

No one ever said that you couldn’t get “fancier,” but how will the OS handle this? I really want to believe that Apple will do this with their new Mac Books, but I see no evidence that supports this claim.

By the way, the API reference I mentioned would be allowing third party software developers a chance at customized interfaces. I already stated that without it, only Apple features would be supported, and I doubt that they would allow only themselves in such a developers marketplace. We can not have Windows doing it better, now can we….?

By the way Daniel, Apple already markets the multi-touch on the Mac Book Air as, “like the iPhone.”

As far as your “three finger tap,” Apple already handled this in a patent filling for customized gesture interfaces…


So it is a little obvious, but none the less, not supported as yet!

I am surprised by you Daniel, this editorial is more unfounded than you usually go, might we consider you the next Kevin Rose? LOL

I sincerely apologize for the insult, and I truly hope I am wrong, but I can not see this working from a technological standpoint.

Otherwise I agree whole heartedly with your analysis on replacing the entire keyboard with a touch panel. Not feasible, what-so-ever at this point.

Addressing your specific application uses………
While I see these as potential and helpful uses, they are unfounded.
I just don’t have time to critique every one of them.

Address and data detection with map features. Wrong

iPhoto. Wrong

Dialogs. Who uses the mouse, it is called “Command, S.” Although your other ideas, cancel and proceed, have merit. Kudos!

Keynote, Global inspectors! Now you are thinking, but still, unsupported!

Spaces / Expose / Dashboard
Not to be rude, but duh, hot corners……
I use them constantly, many people seeing me work say that I look like I am in the movie “Minority Report.” If these require too much thinking, then get a PC.

100 Key Recall
Only people that are untrained or unintelligent, can not figure out key commands. Go up to the menus and learn them……..
Complexity with physical keyboards, seriously?
I would spend more time looking down at a special touch-keypad, than pressing the short-cut keys.

I hope I bring a “touch” of reality to this fantasy world. Daniel, time to weigh some serious anchor…..


No, you are no where near conservative, but thanks for playing. If you want conservative, look at Apple’s predicted iPhone sales for 2008.

@ labrats5

Interesting point on the glass, you made me go pet my iPhones for a minute. Then I went and played with my Waccom and MacBook Pro for good measure. As long as feedback as smooth and agile, there should be no problem, well as a graphics designer anyways. LOL
It does feel strange though, almost unrealistic.


I am glad to see someone thinking about the “hot corners,” included with the conceptualized MacBook Touch trackpad. One of the best ideas as of yet, considering that it actually increases my production speed.

Thanks all, and as always, thank you Daniel for your efforts.

54 danieleran { 09.02.08 at 3:13 am }

“Way to much friction on glass for the pointer movement to be fluid enough to be pleasant and usable.”

Put your finger on an iPhone, and compare it to an existing trackpad. There’s less friction, not more.

“Macs may have a way to handle multiple displays, but just plugging in a multi-touch is not just another display. There are controllers and chips, that handle visuals or gestures. There is a lot “new here,” or Apple would have handled this in the past rather than just multi-touch on a premium Mac Book Air.”

That’s actually not right. The iPhone display and touch screen are separate elements. One is a display, the other is a sensor. Yes, the sensor needs a chip to interpret input, but so does a trackpad. In fact, there isn’t a lot of difference between the multitouch trackpad and the multitouch sensor of the iPhone.

And so, it wouldn’t even be difficult to drag a window down into the trackpad, let alone use it as a specialized display area for launching Widgets, etc. And given that Cocoa Touch and Core Animation both deliver an easy way to create animated UIs, there isn’t lots of work to do here.

I find it interesting to present this idea to people (including other in person) and find many people don’t see any potential. It’s like looking at the iPhone and saying, “well it looks nice, but what would I do with it?” ha

55 JamesK { 09.02.08 at 3:42 am }

“I find it interesting to present this idea to people (including other in person) and find many people don’t see any potential.”

Oh, I see the potential. And in particular I see the potential on both laptops and particularly desktops for a touch screen that is the size of the current keyboards, resting just where the trackpad now is. That has astonishing potential to be a game changer when it arrives, and I’m sure it will.

But I don’t see something as small as the iPhone’s screen being overwhelmingly convincing or causing a dramatic increase in the sales of Mac laptops. At that size, it’s not a game changer.

A larger iPod Touch tablet kind of device (but still smaller than the smallest Macbook) would be a game changer . A Mac laptop with a large touch screen where you’d place the small screen would be a game changer. An iMac with a large touchscreen/keyboard combo would be a game changer. But a Macbook with a tiny little touch-screen would merely be a prelude, and a not particularly impressive one at that.

56 danieleran { 09.02.08 at 7:02 am }

A touchscreen iMac, 15″ MacBook or a “Touch” would be expensive and whizzy, but quite impractical. Nobody would want to type on a glass surface. But having a small multifunction screen that was big enough to handle useful touch manipulation, but small enough to be fairly cheap would be ideal. You could go between typing and touch as easy (easier) than between typing and mousing.

There is already a touch screen MacBook – they were showing it off at Macworld. It’s silly and impractical. You have a huge exposed screen, perhaps with a crank swivel hinge like the stupid tablet PCs. Nobody wants those. Nobody wants to interface with a glossy screen. I don’t see that changing soon.

Having a trackpad that lights up is such an obvious draw. It would suck people across the store just to play with it. I find myself wanting to do “iPhone things” all the time at my puter. Being able to sample things, pull them down into the trackpad for visual touch manipulation, and then throw them back into a conventional desktop is the next thing. You don’t need or want a huge surface to do that.

57 LuisDias { 09.02.08 at 9:11 am }

Well, Daniel, I admire you for putting your hand on the fire, but boy I do believe it will burn badly!

If nothing more than aesthetics, look at the photoshops you made up here. Is that beautiful? No. It’s ugly. The little screen is in complete disharmony with the entire layout of the laptop. It will help if it’s black, but that would be an anti-climax change of aesthetics, after the change to aluminum, which is beautiful.

Can Apple do it? Of course it can and I also don’t get much of the fire you get on this issue. Apps are there (widgets), it’s only a second screen, etc. Very easy. Ergonomically and functionally? A disaster. You’ll have two screens to look at, and you’ll be confused as to what screen “controls” what. You’ll have multiple ways to do things, and that’s not exactly the Apple way (think about two buttons in your mouse and you’ll get it. It’s the LESS IS MORE mantra, not otherwise, Daniel. Apple is about beauty, simplicity, harmony, not gimmicks). The iPhone is brilliant, but it is ONE screen that grabs your entire attention. There’s no confusion there.

Simply put, when I was waiting for MBA, it crossed my mind that they could have put the iPhone in there somewhere. But it didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t.

Will they surprise us? Well, don’t they ever? That’s the main reason we are speculating. There’s no fun speculating at what Windows PCs might do, because more often than not, it will be dumb. And it seems there are few other ideas than what you presented that somehow connects their current path of developing, usability, ease to make, and be considered “innovation”.

But as Apple also didn’t marketed the PDA they did built in their R&D labs, they will also not market this MB you define here, Daniel, but which is probably lurking in the Apple’s labs, of that I’m completely sure!

58 dicklacara { 09.02.08 at 9:11 am }

I’ve been doing some google research to see what is possible (if not yet practical).

Here’s a concept computer that suggests that OLED technology has advanced to the point where it matches LCD density, but provides a brighter display at much less power. Cost is, likely, an issue.


Then, I began thinking about keyboard use– piano keyboards, in particular.

1) One productive use of the piano KB is to tap out a simple melody with a single finger.

2) A slightly more productive use is to tap out the melody using several fingers, alternately, one after the other.

3) With, a bit of piano lessons, you can use both hands, together, as above, to increase your note output.

4) We could stop here, and we would be pretty productive (note output) and probably produce some acceptable music.

5) But, to take it to the next level, we can press several fingers at once to produce chords with one or both hands

6) Depending on how quickly we attack, how hard we press, and how long we hold (keep pressed) we can produce subtle or noticeable effects.

7) We are producing a musical composition as opposed to a simple jingo/tune or melody and accompaniment.

OK, bring it all together–

We most would agree that typing on a qwerty kb hasn’t changed much over the last 30 (actually 130) years. Technology has advanced, but we are at step 4 above: typing with alternate, single, fingers (try saying that in rapid succession) with both hands. Sure, there is the occasional 2 or three fingers at once, and type-ahead– but it is still, basically, one-finger typing (albeit very fast, for some).

What if we could use the advances in technology to change the way we use a qwerty keyboard?

We could learn to play multi-finger chords as well as (and along with) alternate single fingers. (whew :) We could type WORDS, PHRASES and PICTOGRAMS (or even sheet music) by pressing several keys at once– like a stenotyper.

Apple, or someone, could make a hi-tech qwerty keyboard that allowed this. We’d have all the things (some might say crutches) we are used to: tactical keytops, familiar layout, bumps on the F and J keys to locate the home row, satisfying click/depression of the keys.

Likely, we could increase our production, several-fold, by playing chords on a physical qwerty kb. But, sooner or later, the physical nature of the keyboard will limit our production: the time it takes to press/release a key; the time it takes to move from and return to the home row; etc.

For drill, let’s say we could remove the physical limitations of the qwerty keyboard, by replacing it with a MultiTouch equivalent (screen or pad)
– The “home row” is wherever your hands are currently hovering (no need for key bumps & no need to move from/to the home row)
– The layout and keys are wherever your hands/fingers are in relation to the virtual home row (above)
– The key size and spacing fits your hand/finger size rather than vice versa (no need for tactical keytops)
– The depress/release cycle is limited by your fingers rather than physical movement of a key (less delay)

I truly believe that I (or anybody) could type much faster and much more accurately with a virtual MultiTouch keyboard– once I learn how to use it, and once the MultiTouch software “learns me.”

And that’s just for starters– you could:
– use your thumbs, palms, wrists, sides of hands (or even elbows) for touch entry (think Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano)
– use attack to indicate emphasis (bold or italic)
– you could use gestures to select/copy/paste/split/rearrange text
– you could use pinch to resize text and change font size
– you could angle your finger attack to compensate for long or short fingernails
– you can type/gesture/etc. while wearing surgical gloves
– you can easily clean (remove crumbs & a spilled drink) from the surface.

If you do some research, you will discover that the querty keyboard was designed in the 1870s to prevent clashing and jaming of typebars if the keys were pressed in too-rapid succession. It was designed to slow you down.

Well, this is the 21st century– we no longer have typebars… we no longer need to be slowed down… we no longer need to be limited by that millstone called qwerty keyboard!

Well, you might ask: “How many keys do we need and in what layout?”

The answer is: “It depends on what you want to do!”

A qwerty kb has 100 (or so) keys and maxes out at 80-100 wpm.

A steno kb has 22 keys and maxes out at 240-300 wpm.

The iTunes Equalizer has 11 sliders with about 40 positions each.

The piano kb is a repetition of a 12-key (7 white and 5 black) pattern. Consider the magic that has been created with that simple pattern.

A guitar has a 6×20 kb, a mandilin has an 8×17 kb, a ukulele has a 4x 12 kb.

An adding machine typically has 18-22 keys, a calculator 48+ keys

A phone has a 12-key keypad.

And, so it goes…

Then, ask yourself: “What device can ‘do’ all these keyboards?”

There is only one answer: “A MultiTouch display* pad!”

So, the question is not: “Should we go to MultiTouch Display pads?”-

The question is: “What are you waiting for?”

And, the answer is: “We’re waiting for you, Steve!”

The way to do it is Apple’s way– balls out!

Start with a portable: 2 full size MT Displays the full height & width of the particular computer (so that when the surfaces are deployed in the same plane, they can be used as one continuous surface). Include WiFi, BT & cell. No mouse, traditional kb or keypad, or optical drive– those who need these can dock with optional external devices. The displays can be deployed: horiz-vert, horiz-horiz, vert-vert, or back-back. Both, either or neither can be used as a display and/or a display MultiTouch surface.

… my $1.02

*I believe you need a MultiTouch display pad rather that just a MultiTouch pad. The display allows you to see the layout and customize it as necessary. It also allows you to type/slide/pluck/play/key with one or two fingers as well as by touch. The display allows you to learn at your own pace, refreshes your memory when you haven’t used a layout for a while, or need to do special combinations of strokes.

59 LuisDias { 09.02.08 at 9:33 am }

dicklacara, that’s a hell of a comment! I agree with you somewhat. It’s like Star Trek’s TNG kind of keyboard. Imagine. You touch the keys and they behave as being slightly pressed, and highlight in some subtle way. Then you enter an app and it becomes a full piano keyboard. Or a guitar. Or it becomes a full “wacom” table. You are right in asking the question: Is this the future?

The answer should be obvious, Daniel! And this is not a MB “touch screen”. I agree that solution is crap. I can’t see myself touching the vertical screen, it’s stupid. But that obsession over “physical” keyboards, isn’t that exactly the same idiotic criticism people made to the iphone?

Considering these changes, an iphone-sized little brat screen which is completely in disharmony with the aluminum “1970′s” keyboard is a gimmick.

I still maintain that such a change that I and some people here are proposing is not easy, it is a big change (and people may not like it), and it means a lot of developers’ work (much more than your proposal). So I don’t place my hands on fire for it. But I’m a coward, which I admit that you are surely not ;)

60 dicklacara { 09.02.08 at 10:38 am }


If I recall correctly, the company that Apple bought to get MT technology had already developed (and sold) a customizable MT display surface to be used as a kb, mouse plus gestures.

So, it is not too far a leap to say that Apple could do this, today!

As for reflection/distraction issues, these are easily addressed:
– use a matte surface rather than shiny
– display the virtual kb in darker tones (you could make it look like a picture of an existing aluminum, black or white kb)

I agree in that I don’t want a small “brat” screen, or move things from the display to a touch surface for manipulation (then back, again).

However, there are times when I would like to just reach out and touch the display to rearrange, resize or flip through a stack. I can’t see power typing on a vertical screen.

The device I tried to describe in my last post was a 2-surface device where each surface could be positioned and used for the needs at hand (pun).

If OLEDs are practical from quality and cost standpoints, you could take advantage of the fact that OLEDs are flexible. You could have 1 continuous surface with 1 part deployed vertically (display surface) and 1 part displayed horizontally (keyboard surface).

This would be the typical desktop or laptop deployment where 1 surface (part) used mostly for display and the other surface (part) for data entry. The beauty is that I could use MT gestures or Display information on either surface as needed.

Another deployment would be to deploy the entire surface (both parts) in the vertical plane.

This would be a MT display or a kiosk, etc., likely, with limited data entry. The “display” could be rotated into landscape, portrait or other modes.

A third deployment would be the entire surface (both parts) in the horizontal plane.

This would be a MT light table, AV slider panel, drawing surface, etc.

The back to back deployment could be used (with or without external horizontal key surfaces) as a teaching aid or for collaboration..

Finally, the flexible OLED would all some great opportunities to configure a larger display (part) and a smaller keyboard (part). Theoretically you could have a larger display in a smaller package than the traditional clamshell. For example, the clamshell uses 1 to 1 display to keyboard surface. A flexible OLED would allow a 3 to 1 or other ratio in the same (or smaller) package size.

61 LuisDias { 09.02.08 at 11:15 am }

dick, aren’t you working on some R&D company? You sure have ideas, and good ones at that. Yes, I can imagine that pretty easily. One single OLED screen folding in the middle inside an aluminum case. In the future, we’ll probably even have some kind of those things the greeks had (two tubes unfolding a paper inside), but instead of a paper, you’d had an OLED screen. The problem there would be how would you fixate the “vertical screen” part, among other issues. But that’s a design problem for 2015 at the very least, not 2008 :).

I didn’t say that it was difficult for Apple to do it. It is difficult to market it though. It’s a very different kind of a beast from current MBs, and people are always a bit conservative until you show them how darn useful the new thing is. I think that today it still is a bit over-the-top, not-that-useful, costly kind of a thing. If I was an Apple engineer I wouldn’t go that direction as soon as next month. But then, if I was an Apple engineer I would see first hand how great such stuff really is, and it could change my mind about it :).

62 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 11:20 am }

“I find myself wanting to do “iPhone things” all the time at my puter.”

Since I always have my iPhone on me when using a Mac I find myself already using both together. the iPhone is much simpler and faster device for doing certain tasks.

Examples:doing a quick calculation, reading a calendar entry, finding a name in AddressBook or using Box Office to find a movie or its RT rating.

63 dicklacara { 09.02.08 at 12:11 pm }

Nah! But I bought an Apple ][ in July 1978, Left my 16/12 year Job at IBM in Dec 1978 to open the 5th computer store in Silicon Valley– 7/10 of a mile from Apple HQ. We knew all the guys at Apple… and saw what they could do, what they like to do.

Apple likes to be first, wow you with their products, and set the rules for everyone else to follow. Just when everyone else gets the message and are catching up, Apple does it to ‘em all over again.

Sometimes, Apple hits the jackpot with a real game changer or a new category… something, that when you see it, makes you say “Of course, that’s the way it is supposed to be!”

The iPhone is the most recent jackpot/game changer.

Computers, even Apple’s excellent offerings, are becoming pedestrian– a necessity that we tolerate, rather than a “gotta’ have” that we lust after.

So, you look around and see where the technology state of the art is today, and try to figure out where it will be 2 years from now.

Then you ask yourself: what products and capabilities would I like to have using that technology.

If you are honest, and don’t cloud your judgement with reality, you can, likely, figure out a half-assed version of what Apple is working on.

In fact, SJ/Apple prides itself in knowing what you want better then you do!

So, again, you ask yourself what products/capabilities do I want 2 years from now (regardless of cost, practicality, or difficulty of acceptance by the market place).

Those are the products that Apple will deliver today… and I will lust after them.

Whoever said I wanted or needed:
– a personal computer
– a floppy disk
– a hard disk
– a graphic GUI and a mouse
– an optical drive
– a LAN
– WiFi
– an mp3 player
– a smartphone

Apple didn’t invent any of these things!

But they did make their versions, that made you say: “Of course, that’s the way it is supposed to be!”

And you lusted after them!

And you bought them (at a premium price).

And they delivered on their promises (mostly).

Now, ask yourself: “What do I want in products & capabilities 2 years from now?”

More likely than not, SJ/Apple will deliver that… today!



Maybe you just coined a new verb: to iPhone something.

I am going to iPhone a movie.

He iPhoned her in his address book.

iPhone me the results when you have them ready.

She iPhoned the boys soccer site to get the game schedule.

iPhone the driving directions to the BMW dealer.

And, yeah… I iPhoned you last night, but you didn’t answer!

64 gus2000 { 09.02.08 at 12:56 pm }

harrywolf wrote:
“GewGaw? Read more Dickens, Hardy, maybe Conan Doyle, and the word wont be a stranger to you.”

I Googled these guys but could not find their blogs anywhere.

65 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 12:58 pm }

LOL @ Gus2000

66 Silver_Surfer1931 { 09.02.08 at 1:10 pm }

To All:
I actually find all your comments very interesting. As a non-techie, you have provided insights that I could not have imagined even though they are speculations.

You have provided point and counterpoint without attacking the strawman. This is what I like about this site. Well thought out arguments. Intellectual. Non-condecending. It really makes you think vice rehashing.

As for you Daniel: keep up the good work.

67 daGUY { 09.02.08 at 2:05 pm }

Very interesting article. I’m not 100% convinced yet, but you’ve laid out a pretty good argument.

A couple of points I’m wondering about:

- What happens with the physical trackpad button? Wouldn’t it be easy to accidentally tap something on the trackpad display when you mean to click instead?

- How do you “start up” an app on the trackpad’s display? Do you “send” an app to the trackpad from a control within the app on the main display?

- If you don’t have a mouse plugged in, and you’re using an app on the trackpad, how do you move the cursor?

- What would a trackpad with its own display do to battery life? Would there be a way to turn the display off and use it as a regular trackpad to save power?

The whole idea in general seems like it would involve a lot of looking up at the main display, down at the trackpad, back up at the main display, etc. I think people might find this more distracting than switching between the keyboard and the mouse.

You don’t have to look directly down at the keyboard to type, because all you have to do is start out with your hands in the right position. You’d have to look down at a trackpad with a display, though, because the available controls would change and move depending on what app you were in. In addition, you wouldn’t be able to feel which button you wanted to press, in the way that you can feel your way around the keyboard without having to look directly at it.

I’m not saying it’s not possible, or that it’s a bad idea or anything. I think I would just have to see something like this in person, with all the details of the implementation worked out, before I could render an opinion of it.

68 nat { 09.02.08 at 3:24 pm }

daGUY said:

“- If you don’t have a mouse plugged in, and you’re using an app on the trackpad, how do you move the cursor?”

Perhaps to activate and deactivate the MultiTouch display, there would be a little physical Home button that looked just like the iPhone/iPod touch Home button. It would likely be placed between the MultiTouch display and the physical keyboard, only having one main purpose:
switch the little display from whatever it is doing back to normal “mouse mode.” You’d just hit the Home button with your thumb and the controls would fade to black in an instant, allowing you to mouse around and such. Then when you wanted to do something in the the MT display, like Daniel’s maps and Widgets, you could hit the Home button again, or there could be either an icon in the main display’s Dock, or Data-detectors could appear when mousing over something that works better with the MT display (again, a Map in Google, dials in GarageBand, etc.).

69 nat { 09.02.08 at 3:28 pm }

Ah, daGUY, I was thinking about a trackpad as the pointing device, but plugging in a mouse could either automatically turn off the MultiTouch display or you could use both at the same time, mousing around with the external mouse while doing things with the MultiTouch display. That’d be a nice little bonus feature, no really a selling point. :D

70 nat { 09.02.08 at 3:30 pm }

Meant to say “not really a selling point.”

71 dicklacara { 09.02.08 at 4:03 pm }


Barkus is willin’

72 stefn { 09.02.08 at 4:56 pm }

Daniel: “Nobody would want to type on a glass surface.”

Thanks, Daniel, for all your feedback all the feedback. Here’s the only piece I have a problem with. I’m convinced that a glass surface keyboard is just the thing, given two factors: First, that a dual screen Mac allows for lots of other very cool functions and terrific mobility and, second, that a regular keyboard can be plugged in for heavy keyboard uses.

73 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 5:05 pm }

@ stefn,
How do you define heavy? I use my notebook a solid 12 hours a day, if not more, on average. I’m almost constantly typing something on it, but I’m not willing to cart around or use an external keyboard and a glass surface would mean I’d have to look at the virtual keyboard instead of the screen and it wouldn’t be very comfortable for typing thousands upon thousands of characters a day.

I find it so odd that we have one group here who thinks that a trackpad with true multi-touch capabilities and an optional unlimited visual feedback would make for an uncomfortable trackpad and be distracting, and then another group wanting to get rid of a physical keyboard altogether for an impractical virtual one. Even odder is that some are part of both groups.

74 Realtosh { 09.02.08 at 5:49 pm }

@ Luis Dias

I agree with your first comment about the ergonomics and functionality drawbacks of the visual trackpad. Daniel’s ideas are interesting, but not quite on the mark.

I’m intrigued by the multi-inputs that are capable with visual input. We have it on the iPhone. dicklacara talks about these diverse inputs n his dual screen. John Muir talked up the same diversity of inputs on his quite similar dual screen concept. The dual screen makes more sense to me than a visual track padding.

LuisDias is right in that is seems unApple like. That the solution doesn’t seem elegant. Its’ disharmony is more reminiscent of Windows than anything that would come from Apple.

I like its’ outside the box thinking. But if one stands back and considers whether it is an elegant solution. The answer is most certainly not so elegant. I desired an iPhone input mechanism, ever since the iPhones were first announced. I was even disappointed when Apple delivered the new MacBook Pros with multi-touch trackpads. I considered it a design compromise. I wanted something more iPhone-like, almost what Dan describes to us today. Then I actually bought the MacBook Pro. I writing this comment on it right now.
It works great. I’m not at all disappointed in the trackpad in the least. In fact, when one uses the track pad, one is looking at the screen. Adding visual stimuli to the trackpad, will actually make the interface and therefore the whole experience more confusing.

But the idea of being able to alter the entire input surface, including keyboard allows for all kinds of inputs, not just just qwerty kb inputs. That part seems more exciting than the actual visual trackpad which seems more confusing to the interface. Dan has made his opinion clear that he stands against the ideas of John Muir and dicklacara of the dual screened laptop. I can the value of that dual device more than the visual trackpad. The visual trackpad doesn’t seem practical and elegant. Which screen are you controlling, etc.

If you combine both screens and put them together into just one screen and make the device with a hinge or second half, then the whole visual input interface make more sense. Not only do you get all those crazy diverse inputs that dicklacara and John Muir have gotten us excited about, but the visual input and the visual display would be in unity, just like on the iPhone.

the unity of the visual fields make much sense and works so well on the iPhone. Why do so many want to pull apart the beauty of the visual interface of the iPhone and force fir into yesterday’s form factors.

If you all are going to reinvent the entire interface, and inputs; then why not be open to reinventing the form factor.

I can see single screen devices without kb and trackpad as well as dual screen devices also with the kb and trackpad.

If you’re going to reinvent the interface and input, you can use it with just one unified screen, which not only makes more sense as a whole product, but could also be a practical place to start. The dual screener could be added later on as a premium laptop. Hopefully the component costs will have come down a bit in the meantime.

For most people a glorified iPhone-like tablet would be all the laptop they would need.

The mini MacBook (slate) would be all the laptop most people would need. It’s smaller size would allow for an inexpensive yet profitable futuristic device. It could be put out at a price point under $1,000 that would create yet another mobile market for Apple between the iPhone and the laptops. The product would be sufficiently differentiated from the regular laptops so as not to kill those outright just yet. Those folks are really want physical keyboards or whatever else the full size laptops have would pay more for those.

Everyone else can get the Apple slate and further erode the under $1,000 Windows laptop market without killing Apple’s profitable laptop business.

The technology is there to deliver any of these ideas that have been mentioned. Whether you’re talking about my slate or Dan’s visual trackpad, or John Muir’s or dicklacara’s dual screener, the technology already exists and Apple could put any of them together today, if they don’t all already live in Apple’s labs.

That they can exist is no reason for them to be marketed. Steve Jobs says himself that the projects that Apple doesn’t do are more important than the one they chose to market.

Just because it is technically possible is no reason to make it. Note the extra screen Microsoft tried to add to the outside of laptops or a quick email check. Just added expense and complexity for a solution that was not elegant. It would make more sense to buy an iPhone and check email there.

The same way, consider whether the visual trackpad is elegant enough to be a simple Apple solution. My gut is that it doesn’t quite match up. It’s sexy, but the ergonomics aren’t there, so it would likely not be an Apple solution.

75 dicklacara { 09.02.08 at 6:02 pm }



76 designguy { 09.02.08 at 6:52 pm }

@ Realtosh

I am with you on the slate product completely. After everyone’s input, in addition to common knowledge, it is the simplest product for Apple to sell.
It would not compete with those that truly need a laptop, nor the iPhone.
Too bad that we will not get it this year.

@ Everyone

Let us see what everyone thinks about this…

How far will Apple drop the iPod Touch price point the Sept. 9 event….

At $155 to produce there is some room to drop from the $299.


This would cause some decreases to their profit margins. LOL
Keep in mind that Apple wants to put their iPod Touch in everyone’s hands not holding the iPhone. :)
This would help the App Store, and acceptance of Apple’s platform in the face of Android.

I wonder if this price drop, in combination with dropping the iPod Classic will be the mystery transition.

Will iPod Touch become, THE “iPod?”

Critique Please……

Might open up a naming category for the “Touch.” Perhaps the slate can become the Touch, or Touch Pro….?


77 nat { 09.02.08 at 7:20 pm }

@ designguy,

Yeah, on the naming scheme changes following the classic’s discontinuation, the iPod touch should become the new iPod, the iPod nano will remain largely the same and keep its name, as will the shuffle. That’s a nice and simple product line: iPhone, iPod, iPod nano, iPod shuffle.

Another thing worth adding to the touch: the same camera used in the iPhone. By using the same camera, Apple avoids making the iPod touch more enticing than the iPhone. It’d allow for casual picture taking (and perhaps video capturing if Apple decides to open up that functionality), cost next to nothing to include, and give the iPod another feature most competing mp3 players lack.

Mainly though, a camera could serve as a barcode scanner, turning the iPod touch in a low-cost, slick, near feature complete point-of-service device that Apple could couple with a credit card swipe reader (it would clip onto the bottom, interfacing with the dock connector, rather than having to build a whole new device) and use in their retail stores. These would replace their slow and clunky WinMobile-based point-of-service handhelds, which added to the troubles Apple faced on the iPhone 3G’s launch day. They’d just need to write a simple checkout app using the iPhone/iPod touch SDK and presto, a new, much more capable and elegant PoS device. Then Apple could sell iPod touches bundled with these credit card readers and a basic checkout app to other retail stores, jumping into yet another enterprise and putting mobile OS X in front of hundreds (or thousands) of employees. :D

78 JamesK { 09.02.08 at 7:22 pm }

“Will iPod Touch become, THE “iPod?””

I’m highly convinced that it will, at least eventually. The iPod Touch is not primarily an iPod. And the iPhone is not primarily a Phone, it’s merely coincidentally a phone. Both of these devices are really pocket Macintoshes.

And that is the future of the personal computer.

79 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 7:26 pm }

At least no one here is predicting a 64GB Touch.

I don’t see how the Classic can go away anytime soon. The capacity is enough for those they want to store all )or most) of their iTunes library on it, it has a clickwheel and it’s not meant to do a million other things. It’s just the perfect device for a certain segment of the market, it takes little for Apple to keep it up, and it would throw these people to competing players if they did get rid if it right now. I don’t see the Classic going away until the Touch can hold at least 128GB.

80 JamesK { 09.02.08 at 7:28 pm }

“At least no one here is predicting a 64GB Touch.”

It wouldn’t surprise me. Actually, what wouldn’t surprise me is the possibility of a disk-based iPod Touch. With GPS.

81 Realtosh { 09.02.08 at 7:33 pm }

@ designguy

Yup. I’m not certain we’ll get a slate anytime soon. My guess would be Jan Macworld at the earliest, but this whole margin warning makes me wonder. What I am sure of is that we would get an inexpensive Internet computing device BEFORE we get visual trackpad or a two screener.

I agree that Apple needs to solidify their iPhone iPod Touch OS X platform, before that extend and branch that platform with another device at another size and resolution. But the logical conclusion to everyone’s discussion here would be such a device. So who knows; it may come early than I expect.

$155 component cost for the touch will be closer to $200 by the time you add packaging, included accessories, shipping, distribution, marketing and software development. Unless the price is above that $200 figure, there would be a contribution to overhead, but not much of a profit margin at all, beyond overhead. That would be a difficult sell, even to expand the platform. Apple would practically be giving them away at cost. At $249, you might be able to make it work, especially if they’re trying aggressively to sell them, in order to build a critical mass for the platform. Not my prediction, just a bit of analysis.

82 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 7:33 pm }

@ JamesK,
How much would a 64GB Touch go for?

I’ve heard the GPS thing, but I don’t think it’s possible. A-GPS would only work within WiFi range and GPS would take several minutes to find your location, but the hard part is having internal mapping software. The iPhone’s GPS pulls the maps from Google, they aren’t local. Without maps all you get is the coordinates.

83 Realtosh { 09.02.08 at 7:41 pm }

@ nat

I’ve been saying this for nearly as long as the iPhone’s been announced. The iPhone/iPod touch is an amazing device to build upon for all types of enterprise and vertical market devices.

I like your iPod lineup. Makes sense.

84 Realtosh { 09.02.08 at 9:04 pm }

@ solipsism

There are two groups that are trying to take visual touch input interface and are trying to force fit it onto the traditional laptop.

I proudly stand outside of both groups. I advocate putting the cool technology of both camps into a single device that is consistent with the unified visual interface, of which the iPhone is the best example.

In that device and every device sold by Apple with visual touch, the visual touch interface is part of the main visual field, and not separated from it as both groups advocate.

I have strongly supported this third way, which would keep the visual touch interface on the main screen, consistent with the iPhone or iPod touch. This unified interface would lead us to a slate-type form factor. The device would likely be somewhat smaller than a typical laptop. This would not only make the touch screen more affordable, but also quite portable. A smaller, more economic screen would allow the TouchBook to stay under the important under $1,000 price point. Being able to stay under that magic number would allow the TouchBook to compete with the cheaper Windows laptops without eroding the value proposition of the regular Apple laptops, which are still a major business for Apple.

The iPhone and iPod touch platform will be able to accomplish much in both the consumer and business markets. There will be lots of applications and functions that will be developed for that platform.

Even so, there seems to be a middle market between the iPhone platform and the Mac laptop platform. It is in this middle space that there is room for a number of interesting device that are all based on the same hardware platform. A slate-type device that can be a book reader, portable media consumption device (ie movie/ video player, portable game machine, extensible enterprise device, Internet tablet, flexible input device (keyboards for multiple language, DJ mixing pad, music, art & all kinds of inputs listed here by others, etc, etc, etc.)

This device would extend the market for portable computing for uses for which the iPhone platform might be too small.

The TouchBook is a really big iPod touch, that grown up a bit. It may even be compatible with Mac software, although its’ input would be more consistent with the touch interface on the iPhone.

I don’t know when Apple will deliver a TouchBook. What I can deduce is that the market is there, and will eventually pull one from the fingers of a Cupertino task force at work at Apple.

85 Apple Hosts Special Event on Night Owl’s Birthday | The Mac Night Owl { 09.02.08 at 9:30 pm }

[...] emerges from the fertile imagination of Daniel Eran Dilger of Roughly Drafted Magazine. In a fascinating recent column, he posited a tiny touchscreen in place of the existing trackpad on a new line of Apple notebooks. [...]

86 labrats5 { 09.02.08 at 10:05 pm }

“Put your finger on an iPhone, and compare it to an existing trackpad. There’s less friction, not more. ”

No idea what kind of trackpad you are using, or the state of your iphone, but unless we live in very different universes what you said is either a mistake or a flat out lie.

I don’t even know how to argue you on this. Its obvious to anyone not blinded by dogma. If there is any moisture whatsoever on either you finger or the iphone there is a squeegee effect. I can’t even create a scenario where glass would be offer smoother finger movement than matte. Please don’t post lies.

87 solipsism { 09.02.08 at 10:09 pm }

Synaptic touchpads don’t work with wet fingers. Why does you have wet fingers when using a computer, anyway?

88 labrats5 { 09.02.08 at 10:23 pm }

“Synaptic touchpads don’t work with wet fingers. Why does you have wet fingers when using a computer, anyway?”

Did I ever say wet fingers? No, better question: have you ever used a computer where it is humid? Yes? No? Either way, seems pretty reasonable that someone somewhere uses a computer in a humid environment. Have you ever seen how moisture in the air sticks to glass like a magnet? Simple test: breathe on your window. Lots of moisture. Now breathe on your trackpad. Notice a difference? Probably not.

89 The R.oB. Opinion { 09.02.08 at 11:18 pm }

A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch — RoughlyDrafted Magazine…

A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch — RoughlyDrafted Magazine: “That gives Apple the opportunity to blow away users with a feature that would clearly differentiate its mobile line for years, more closely associate its Macs wit…

90 LuisDias { 09.03.08 at 6:44 am }

labrats5, why the need to vent? You can disagree freely here. And I do see your point, though I don’t think that’s the real party breaker. For me it’s the global unpleasant solution. It’s not worthy .

91 Realtosh { 09.04.08 at 8:58 am }

How know’s when we’ll get the touch books?
Remember that Apple has been stockpiling millions and millions of boxes that have been imported and labeled Internet computers. Some have been wondering if these were in the iPhone 3G. They may also be the TouchBook netbooks that so many are anticipating.

As far as the iPod lineup announcement next week, and MacBook later on this month, Apple’s going to introduce solid state drives across the range. Apple going to buy a lot of solid state drives to bring down the price of the drives, especially for Apple. Apple’s gear is going to have a competitive advantage because Apple will be pushing solid state drives throughout their products.

The use of solid state drives will increase battery life, speed up performance, and allow for nearly instant access to memory and data.

The classic iPods may possibly be dropped for a high-capacity iPod touch. Apple has a winner in its iPhone/ iPod touch interface and will try to push as much of their sales product mix to devices that make use of the new touch interface. Doing so adds support to the App Store and the ecosystem that Apple is building for their new mobile platform.

If we see any of the technologies mentioned by all the posters above, it would likely be in a TouchBook of some kind, although probably not next Tuesday. Next Tuesday will likely focus on iPods, but I am uncertain because, as I’ve said, Apple will try to transition as many of their iPods to the new mobile touch platform as they possibly can.

My 2¢.

92 dicklacara { 09.04.08 at 2:25 pm }


Just thinking out loud here…

What if Apple announced a MT product, slate or portable, that contained WiFi and radio chips that supported any/all of the major cell networks?

This device would be a computer that could be “connected” by some means whether you are in the middle of a park, in an office complex (or commuting between them).

It could be used to make/take phone calls, but that would not be its primary purpose.

The iConnect would let you continue your activities (work or play) seamlessly as you move between the home, office, soccer game, etc.

The iConnect would not be tied to any particular carrier, rather it could use any carrier(s).

In fact, the iConnect could/should look around and see what carriers have the best signal/bandwidth when and where you need it (and seamlessly switch networks when appropriate).

The carriers would need to rethink and creatively repackage their service plans:
1) maybe a fixed fee for unlimited data plus n phone minutes.
2) maybe minimal monthly fee for access, and then tiered charges based on actual usage

Apple is the one company that is in a proven position of strength to pull this off!

The carriers would be fighting to participate and would be compelled to offer competitive price/performance plans.


93 designguy { 09.04.08 at 6:48 pm }

@ dicklacara

Sorry, not enough time but here you go.

Different 3G and corresponding antenna technologies. That is why even a hacked iPhone 3G can not get on Verizon’s 3G network.

I have not read up on the 4G though. Anybody know if that is a worldwide standard or will it be the same problem of different techs?

Otherwise dicklacara, you have explained what we all expect from Apple withe the iSlate or MacTouch. A seamless connection, like the iPhone, but maybe minus the connection issues… :)

By the way, carriers already offer “unlimited data” plans. LOL

Good thinking outside the box though. I recall an older Apple patent along those lines, a phone that could access all the GSM networks and pick the cheapest.
Sound familiar to anyone?


94 HD SCHELLNACK - DAS BLOG » Blog Archive » MICROSOFT GOES GAGA { 09.05.08 at 7:04 am }

[...] MobileFail und iPhoneRückschläge einen Ball nach dem anderen schlägt und mit etwas Mut auch in Zukunft die Nase vorn haben kann – wirkt Microsoft wie gelähmt. Vista ist ein schlechter Nachbau von OS X, [...]

95 Realtosh { 09.05.08 at 2:19 pm }

@ dicklacara


Seems like Apple is tied to ATT and their overwhelmed network for the time being. Plus, Verizon hasn’t sounded too excited about offering Apple products; although that’s likely just been due to sour grapes from ATT having the iPhone exclusive. I think that Verizon has now had plenty of time to see the lines at the Apple and ATT stores, and starting Monday Best Buy stores as well. When the ATT exclusive ends, Verizon will probably be first in line to get Apple product.

There are technical issues as well. Verizon is building out an impressive EVDO network, which is a CDMA broadband network. Up until now, Apple has delivered phones that are compatible with GSM technologies (GSM/EDGE/UMTS/HSDPA). To ship a Verizon capable phone would require adding phone that work only with the competing CDMA technologies or phones that can handle both CDMA & GSM technologies in the same device for maximum roaming options. Having so many different radio technologies to support would also have battery implications as well as the increased component and support cost from the additional complexity. The advantage of an omni-capable phone is that one would never be limited by the capabilities of a single carrier’s single network. By the time Verizon can join all the others in the playground’s Apple sandbox, ATT will have built out their network to provide more capacity and better reception. The quality of ATT’s network, or rather its’ present shortcomings, will be less of an issue then it is now. The benefit of supporting both 3G technology families would mean much better roaming options worldwide.

But adding Verizon support bring up these questions that add complexity to the Apple experience. Does everyone have the extra capability, and its’ extra cost and extra battery drain? If not, then Apple phones will have inconsistent capabilities and inconsistent network support throughout the world, since he two technology families are not compatible. The networks will continue to be incompatible until a unified 4G technology is created to replace both of the current incompatible cell tech families. Then Apple, and everyone else, will be able to support all 4G networks, which would ideally replace both EVDO and HSDPA broadband networks, that are only still now being built out throughout the world.

I would not be surprised if Apple takes over the customer experience, and markets the cell service directly to it’s end customers, buying the network coverage wholesale from the various carriers. That is probably the reason for the patents in the first place, not to add so much extra complexity to the end user; having to chose the best quality connection or the cheapest rate. Apple’s technology would do all that automatically, and market the service as one package with unlimited service on whichever is the best network, almost invisibly to the end user.

Apple wouldn’t make their customers have to figure out which is the best cell coverage and best rate cost on a block by block and town by town basis. Apple would want to deliver a better experience.

Many analysts believe that cell phone network access will become a commodity utility. Cell carriers would be providers of the pipe like today’s electricity, gas, and water utilities and Internet ISPs. Others would provide services on top of that utility service. Yahoo, Google, travelocity.com, contintenal.com, are examples of such services coming from differing directions and working at different layers within a vertical.

Apple would be well positioned to succeed in a changing marketplace.

96 designguy { 09.05.08 at 7:11 pm }

@ Realtosh

Excellent information my friend!

97 dicklacara { 09.05.08 at 11:18 pm }


I agree that Apple is tied to ATT for the iPhone & that built-in battery, size & power considerations preclude using multiple carriers.

However, what I am suggesting is not an iPhone, rather a mobile slate MT computer. Assumably it would be at least 3×5 inches, likely larger.

It would use cell, WiFi , whatever is available.

As a new product [category] it need not be tied to any specific carrier.

It is not a cell phone!

The fact that it can make/receive phone calls is incidental– it is a gp computer that can connect to the internet (and remain connected) anywhere.

The fact that the carriers are not set up to deliver a data-only or data+phone service is also incidental– if we build it they will come.

If the carriers are not prescient enough to realize the potential, Apple could provide the service themselves by contracting access to multiple carriers’ networks.

98 Realtosh { 09.06.08 at 11:06 pm }


You’ve got a great tech history, and you’ve said some really intelligent things.

But why is it so important to you on insisting that a portable slate with a cellular radio built-in is not a cell phone? That the device looks different from typical handheld cell phones is not material.

What matters is the contract that Apple signed with ATT. Does it cover all cell products manufactured by Apple or just the iPhone. It seems that there may have be some ambiguity with the original iPhone contract, but Apple and ATT renegotiated the deal before the iPhone 3G, extendeding the term of their agreement. I get the feeling that ATT made a point to clarify exactly what devices are or are not covered in their agreement with Apple. In exchange for the substantial subsidies on the iPhone 3G, I would imagine that ATT would want some assurance that they wouldn’t get surprised by Apple cellular products on competing networks during the extended term of their agreement; especially after some public Apple comments that the original agreement may have only applied to the original iPhone.

The carriers are setup to deliver voice-only, data-only, and/or data + voice. Voice-only is any simple feature phone. Data-only is any expresscard laptop cellular data card. iPhone is the best example of voice+data.

But any device of any shape or size can accommodate any of the three combinations of cellular service. ATT offers all of these cellular services combinations, as does any other major cellular carrier. To the carriers, these are all cellular receivers that they market in order to sell their cellular network services.

I don’t know the particulars of the ATT-Apple agreement. But since Apple was hinting at wiggle room, it would seem reasonable that ATT would want some certainty in exchange for all those iPhone 3G subsidies, that are so sizable as to affect their short-term cash flow and quarterly earnings reports.

In reality it doesn’t matter, if Apple is stuck with ATT for another year or so or not. If Apple has agreed to stick with ATT, then they can debut whatever product on ATT. The multi-network functions would work in all the territories where their agreements are not exclusive. In the few countries that are still under exclusive contract, such as the US with ATT, then the network options would be restricted to just the exclusive network until such time as the exclusivity expires. After the exclusive contract ends, then Apple is free to add whatever other networks it wishes. My guess is that all cellular networks will offer Apple phones and other devices. As such, when such time as Apple offers Apple-branded cellular service that makes use of the patent mentioned in the above posts, then all cellular networks could potentially work with Apple’s cellular product(s). If the content of Apple’s patent filing are correct, than Apple’s system would automatically favor those networks that offer the best service and that have negotiated the best rates for Apple’s customers.

It will be interesting to see how the cellular industry evolves over the years.

99 Realtosh { 09.06.08 at 11:43 pm }

One more thing. Another use of the multi-network capabilities would be to manage roaming internationally.

The multi-network phone would use ATT in the US, and a local network when traveling abroad. At no time would Apple customers have to pay roaming rates. Apple customers would always use local cellular networks, and pay local cellular rates. The customer would be able to choose either monthly rates or prepaid service.

Another alternative would be the Apple-branded service that we’ve discussed. In each country, Apple would offer a local rate, instead of roaming rates. Since Apple would negotiate wholesale rates within each territory, then Apple could pass on local rates worldwide instead of charging roaming rates. In essence, Apple would be able to market the first worldwide cellular service, where the whole world was included as part of the Apple WorldPlan. This new world roam-free cellular marketing would echo the National Plans that carriers started offering in the United States some years ago, that in essence did away with roaming within the United States for any US subscriber.

I’m shocked that similar no-roaming plans have not been marketed and more widely used in the Common European Market, especially by the larger multi-country carriers. For these large carriers, roaming out of country would often be on a commonly owned subsidiary of the same cellular pone group. I don’t understand why these carriers don’t make more of any effort to eliminate roaming, at least within their own carrier networks, domestically and abroad. It seems like a great marketing tactic to grab a disproportionate amount of traveling power-users.

We’re destined to get some game-changing moves in the cellular industry over the next few years. Bring it on.

100 dicklacara { 09.07.08 at 5:39 am }


The reasons to classify it other than cell phone:

1) the ability to have;
–Internet access to data
–compute power (full OS X capability)
is more important than making/taking phone calls.

This positioning removes many of the size/weight limitations of a cell phone.

If the slate? were 6×9 inches (or larger) it is unlikely you would hold it to your ear for phone calls– rather use a BT headset. A 3×5 inch device could, likely, replace a cell phone.

2) the second reason is as you’ve anticipated– I suspect that Apple could offer such a device independent of their existing exclusive iPhone agreements with carriers: ATT, VodaPhone, etc.

3) The new device would be SIMless or have a SIM tied to the device not the carrier.

Your concept of a world-wide roaming-free network is a natural. Lot’s of advantages for personal and, especially, business use:
– 1 stop shopping for all your network access needs
– same for support
– reduced costs
– ability to predict (budget) and control costs
– eliminate hassle of carrying/switching/losing multiple SIM cards
– aforementioned ability to move seamlessly (or is that SIMlessly) between multiple carriers without interruption.

The ability to budget network costs, alone, makes this a winner for businesses!

101 Realtosh { 09.08.08 at 7:00 pm }

@ dicklacara

#2) It does not matter whether you or I consider your slate product a cell phone. All that matters are the contractual obligations in the written agreement between Apple and ATT. The contract may cover all cellular devices made by Apple, or just a subset of cellular devices. You happen to believe that the agreement only covers a small subset of cellular devices. I t would make sense that ATT would want their agreement to at least cover all iPhones, including all updates to the iPhone and iPhone 3G. Whether the exclusive agreement also covers all cellphones and/or all cell phone devices is unknowable.

The only condition about which I can feel certain, at least since the renegotiation, is that the exclusive agreement covers more than just the iPhone 3G. Whether it covers all cellular devices, no one outside of the involved parties can know or can reliably guess.

Also consider that all of Apples devices so far have been based on GSM technologies. So one can reliably predict that much of Apple’s cellular research has centered on GSM technologies. Apple has the most experience with products that use GSM technologies, although they have most certainly hired some number of engineers that have experience working with CDMA cellular phone technology. It would make sense that Apple would develop products that incorporate cellular technologies with which they are most familiar. For now that means GSM technologies.

lastly consider cross-selling. Apple would want any hypothetical cellular capable computer device to be available wherever the iPhone is available as well next to other Mac products where those are sold. It makes little sense to have an Apple data-capable cellular device with CDMA technology for sale at Verizon, and at the same time having its’ landmark cell phone, the iPhone 3G, for sale at competing cellular carrier ATT.

It makes no sense to have Apple CDMA tablet or netbook for sale at Verizon, where they’ll be encouraged to purchase an iPhone competitor phone.

I understand why people would want to see Apple devices on the major competing network to ATT, especially when ATT is dropping the ball with the reliability of its’ 3G network. The load from all the new iPhone 3G phones sold seems to overwhelm ATT’s 3G in a number of metro areas.

Still, it makes sense for Apple to wait until the iPhone can be opened up from its’ exclusive agreement with ATT before thinking of adding CDMA-based products. If they spend the engineering resources to develop CDMA products, it makes sense to be able to use that engineering investment across their cellular product line. Plus, Apple will want carrier partners who offer Apple products to be able to offer the entire Apple cellular product line.

As much as many would like to see an Apple CDMA data product on Verizon, it won’t happen unless 1) Apple is contractually able to do so, based on their exclusive agreement with ATT and 2) Apple would want to get back at ATT for providing sucky service.

If Apple negotiated a faulty network service opt-out clause with ATT, the clause would almost certainly also apply to the central product of the exclusive agreement, the iPhone. That means that a Verizon netbook would be offered simultaneously with a Verizon iPhone.

But don’t hold your breath. I’m not predicting such a drastic move. It makes more sense for the partners to work together to make the product the best they possible can as fast as humanly possible or faster.

Listen up ATT. Stop antagonizing Apple.

Apple is used to providing the best service to their customers. Having partners ruining Apple’s customers experiences is not something that Apple will tolerate for long. So, I thoroughly expect that ATT is at this moment building additional cells and adding as much capacity as possible to the urban centers that have experienced less than stellar 3G service.

102 Rebrickulous: Cutting Through The MacBook Rumors — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 10.09.08 at 2:01 am }

[...] A Product Transition: Giving MacBooks the iPhone Touch [...]

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