Mac Hardware Predictions – Death to the Mouse

As most of you will know, I recently wrote an article on this blog listing my Final Cut Studio 3 Predictions. It has gotten a really great response so far, and has helped generate a lot of incredibly interesting discussions. Regardless of whether my predictions come true or not, I think the article has really helped throw some new ideas and concepts into the public domain and has sparked a lot of imagination in some extremely talented people, which is fantastic. I’ve gotten lots of messages, e-mails and comments recently with cool technology and features which should be added into Final Cut Pro – some of which I really hope make it into the next version. Personally I think the more people talk about these kinds of things in a public forum, the more chance Apple developers will get ideas from these discussions, and the more chance they will actually think about implementing them.

But today I’m not going to talk about software. I’m going to talk about the other end of the spectrum… hardware.

Even since people started discovering that Apple has been applying for various touch-screen patients the Internet community has been going wild. The funny this is that most people think that they’re working on a Kindle Killer. Alex Lindsay from This Week In Media has been predicting a Kindle-like device that supports video and has a colour screen for months now. Geeks on Twitter, various Mac blogs, and all the Apple rumour sites have been going crazy in recent months predicting Apple Tablets.

Steve Jobs has explicitly said he doesn’t want to make a netbook and that “there are no plans to make a tablet” – so why is everyone so convinced that Apple is working on something that will go head-to-head with the popular, but hardly world changing, Kindle?

Personally, I don’t think Apple is working on a “bigger version of the iPhone”. What’s the point? If you want to read something on the train, you can use your iPhone or iPod Touch. If that’s not big enough, then get a laptop. If neither work for you, then just get a Kindle. That’s what they’re designed for. I don’t think there is a big enough need for Apple to create a tablet just to tackle the “digital book” market. I know it sounds silly – but I think Apple regard traditional books (you know, the paper variety) as dead. Text mixed with video and interactive multimedia is the new black.

Ok, lets be harsh for a minute. Kindle’s are geared towards older people. They’ve been developed as a “book replacement”. Older people love them because they are easy to read. You can change the text size. They’re simple to operate, buying digital books is fairly easy, and you can carry the Kindle around in your giant handbag. Lots of people over 40 really love their Kindle. They’re a great mothers and fathers day gift. That said of course, lots of younger people love them (a.k.a the amazingly talented, intelligent and witty Daisy Whitney), but most of them are “books nerds” from way back. I don’t think Apple wants to make a leap into the “book nerd” territory. Apple is all about being cool and innovative. As I said, I think Apple thinks print media is dead. I love books personally – you have no idea how many film books I have lying around in my house, or how much money I spent of film related books of all varieties! However, the though of buying digital books doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Just like I love having a whole pile of physical DVDs – I love having a book shelf full of books. I think that Apple has realised that people who just love books like I do, will never accept a digital equivalent. I think that Apple has realised that most young people who can be bothered reading, will be happy to read on their iPhone or iPod Touch. And I think that Apple has decided that although there is a market for digital books on a nice and simple digital book reader (like the Kindle) – it’s a market that they’re not particularly interested in.

OK… so the tablet idea is out… what about the netbook? Well I think that’s out too. As others have clearly said:

“One of the key selling points of a Mac lies in its usability, and a Netbook will not be able to deliver the full Mac experience with its small screen and slow single-core processor. Moreover, an Apple minilaptop will be unlikely to compete in price cuts and may cost as much as another premium Atom machine, the Sony Vaio P.”

I tend to agree. Apple isn’t going to make a laptop unless it can easily run the power-hungry applications in it’s iLife suite with ease. iPhone as they currently stand are basically just a more compact version of a netbook anyway. As cloud computing becomes more the norm, and as more people jump on board Mobile Me I think more and more people will start their job on their MacBook and automatically sync everything up to their iPhone. They’ll be able to put together their presentation in KeyNote on the MacBook, but then make changes before they step onto the stage on their iPhone. I don’t see the need for a netbook (after all who wants to cart around yet ANOTHER piece of technology), and I don’t think Apple does either.

So where does that leave us? Tablets are out. Netbooks are out. So what is Apple planning to do exactly?

Well… you’re going to call me crazy. You’re going to think that I’m out of my mind. But my prediction is that by the end of next year, every Mac will be touchable. That’s right. I think that every MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Apple Cinema Display and iMac will have a touch screen. I also predict that the MacBook and MacBook Pro will replace the Multi-Touch Trackpad with a fully functional multi-touch tablet.

Why you may ask? Because it will not only be really cool – but also speed things up dramatically. For instance, right now I have two screens sitting in front of me. I’m typing something in a web browser. But say I want to quickly open a document that’s sitting on my desktop which contains a whole lot of notes. To do that I’ll have to lift my hands of the keyboard, grab the mouse, move it over to the icon and click. How much easier would it be if I could just reach for the screen and double tap directly.

This is my crazy prediction… Apple is planning to kill the mouse. I think that when Apple releases it’s new Operating System (which already supports touch and some pretty cool character recognition), it will also update all it’s hardware to include touch screens, remove mice from the inventory list, but include a new “multi-touch keyboard” with each MacPro tower and Mac mini. The keyboard will basically be exactly the same as you’ll find on a 17″ MacBook Pro – touchpad included.

With Windows 7 coming out, which surprisingly actually works, and works quite well, and with PC hardware prices coming down, Apple needs more things to separate Mac hardware from PC hardware. The super slick operating system is not enough any more. Despite what Mac enthusiast may tell you, Microsoft is catching up again (admittedly by stealing most of Apple’s ideas and concepts!). Apple needs to push the boundaries once more, and having “touchable computers” seems like the logical step forward. They have the cool factor, but they also will help speed up everyday tasks. In the pro world of video and stills photography, I think it will be even more ground breaking. Most visual effects artists love their tablet, but imagine if they could combine their traditional Wacom tablet with two nice and big 24″ touchable LED Cinema Displays!

This changeover to touchable screens will bring the whole Apple product line, into, well, line! Everything from a MacPro to a MacBook to an iPhone and iPod Touch will be running MacOS and have a touch screen. It’s an advertising agency’s dream! Imagine the Mac vs PC ads now…

Will it happen? Yes it will. When, well that’s a bit more tricky. It all comes down to money and technology. I have a sneaky suspicion that we’ll see this kind of thing much sooner than anyone could possibly predict. I have a feeling Apple has been working on this for a while. Although I have no facts, or no evidence what-so-ever to base this on, hell, it’s just a good old fashion guess, but I can imagine that Apple might announce something at the same time as it’s Snow Leopard unveiling.

So that’s my prediction as of today. No Kindle Killer. No bigger-version-of-the-iPhone tablet. No less-powerful-than-a-MacBook netbook. I think Apple will just introduce “touch” to the whole product range. However, leaving the best till last, I also predict that on the MacBook Air, you’ll be able to “slide” the screen around, essentially turning it into a tablet. It won’t be called a tablet, it’ll just be a MacBook Air Touch (or something like that).

Will I be right? As always, only time will tell… I think we’ll find out if I’m crazy slightly before we find out if my FCX predictions are on track… Fingers crossed!

5 Responses

  1. Jon Chappell
    Jun 22, 2009 - 05:27 PM

    I don’t think touch will come quickly. Apple has a lot of multi-touch patents and they’ve got a mass-market multi-touch product out there – they could easily make a touch-screen Mac today if they wanted to.

    The problem is – how long can you sit there with your arms stretched out before you get tired? I can’t imagine using it all day without serious RSI.

    Also, how convenient will it be to switch between keyboard and touchscreen? I’m not sure.

  2. Chris Hocking
    Jun 22, 2009 - 09:17 PM

    Thanks for your fast reply Jon! I really appreciate it!

    It’s important to note that I’m not saying that a touch screen will replace the KEYBOARD – I think it’s going to replace the MOUSE. But more importantly… I think that Apple will introduce a new keyboard on the MacPro towers, Mac mini and iMac’s that will have a multi-touch panel built in (just like in their MacBook range), so you’ll be able to use that as a mouse replacement as well.

    So I’m CERTAINLY NOT saying that you’re going to have to keep your arms stretched the whole time. Most of the time you’ll be using a keyboard as per normal, plus your normal “laptop style” mouse. But, when you do need to do something quickly – like drag a file from one screen to the other, or flip a photo, pan through masses of video footage, label Faces on iPhoto – then all you’ll need to do is touch the screen.

    Personally, I think switching between the keyboard and mouse will be easy. Most of the time, the keyboard will be fine. The fact that you’ll be able to use the touch panel on the keyboard as well will also speed things up. Really the touchable screen is just a bonus. But a big bonus. And incredibly handy for a lot of different tasks.

    Apple is all about making life easier – making simple jobs quicker and more effective. It’s also about making things “cool”. Having a touch screen will speed up a lot of things – but will also encourage thinking outside the box and trying new things. People might start putting device-less iMac’s in their kitchen to replace their little TVs. If you want to search the web, you just tap the screen and away you go. Easy as an iPhone!

    I can understand your point of view Jon – but I think you’re almost missing the point. I DON’T think the touch screens are a keyboard replacement by any stretch of the imagination – however I do think that for some uses, a keyboard won’t be needed. I do however think the days of the mighty mouse are numbered.

    Finally, your comment about Apple being able to “easily make a touch-screen Mac” – technically, maybe yes. However, even if they’ve got the technology to do it, they need to be able to make it affordable. In fact, they almost need to make it irrelevant – a iMac Touch should cost the same as an equivalent standard iMac. This is the tricky part. Developing a product that is easily mass produced, and ensuring that there’s an actual market out there that wants the product. I think with a boost to the graphics card, a processor bump, and some other nifty little updates – plus the inclusion of a touch-screen, I think Apple will be able to charge a fraction more for each of it’s new products and people will still buy them.

    As always, only time will tell!

    Thanks for ready Jon! And please, keep the comments coming!

  3. Chris Hocking
    Jun 23, 2009 - 10:12 PM

    If you’ve had a look at the recently released REDCINE-X introduction video, I think it’s safe to say that REDCINE-X would certainly fit in well with a touch-screen work-flow.

    Imagine having a iMac Touch with REDCINE-X on set. The DOP could quickly zip through clips with the touch of his finger. In fact, you could go one better… Imagine having a MacPro + Apple Touch Cinema Display on set running REDCINE-X and accelerated by a RED ROCKET. Now that would be cool!

    Mac’s would suddenly become, well, just big, powerful iPhones…

  4. Chris Hocking
    Sep 28, 2010 - 11:51 PM

    Boy I was wrong on this account! However, in retrospect, personally I think the iPad makes a whole lot of sense! That said though, I still think Apple is planning to “kill the mouse” and introduce “touch” to the whole Mac platform. They started with the Magic Trackpad, but I still think they’ve got a long way to go…



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