MacBooks with touchscreens — what's behind Apple's biggest about-face ever

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 sitting on a patio table

After famously comparing 2-in-1 laptops with touchscreens to combining a refrigerator and toaster, it looks like Tim Cook and Apple could be about to do the very thing the company has criticized for years.

According to a new report in Bloomberg by the reliable Mark Gurman, Apple is working on adding touch screens to Mac computers. This would be a huge about-face for the company. The late Steve Jobs also disliked the ideas of touchscreen Macs, once calling them "ergonomically terrible."

This was Tim Cook's take back in 2018, as reported by Laptop Mag:

"We don't believe in sort of watering down one for the other," Cook said. "Both [The Mac and iPad] are incredible. One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two ... you begin to make trade offs and compromises...So this merger thing that some folks are fixated on, I don't think that's what users want."

Well, apparently users' wants have changed.

The first touchscreen Mac will supposedly be a MacBook Pro that would hit the market by 2025, which is a long way away. The system would feature a touch OLED display but it would otherwise have a "traditional laptop design."

So why make the change now? Apple is reportedly feeling the heat from other laptop makers, including Dell, HP and Lenovo, who have been offering touch screen laptops for years. Some of these designs are traditional clamshells with touchscreens, while others are convertible devices that double as tablets. 

In fact, a number of Windows laptop makers are moving forward with laptop designs that are all screen, whether it's a foldable screen laptop like the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold OLED or the new dual-screen Lenovo Yoga Book 9i

The other reason to adopt touchscreen Macs is that Apple's Mac platform is now more amenable to touch thanks to the ability of macOS to run iPad and iPhone apps. So adding touch support seems like a no-brainer at this point. The first touch-screen Macs will likely run macOS, so iPads will continue to be separate devices.

On the surface, this development seems like a surprise, but it's inevitable as consumers who grow up with touchscreens assume everything they use will have one. Plus, as Bloomberg points out, the Mac now accounts for more revenue than the iPad, so Apple may not have as much fear now when it comes to potential cannibalization.

For now, Apple seems focused on simply updating its existing lineup. The latest rumors point to a MacBook Pro 2023 refresh for both the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro with powerful new M2 Pro chips. 

And that brings us back to a potential advantage Apple may have despite being very late to the touchscreen laptop gaming. With its own Apple silicon, the company may be able to deliver touchscreen Macs that offer considerably longer battery life than Intel-powered machines. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.