MacBook Pro 2021 could be perfect with a touchscreen — here’s why Apple says no

MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 sitting on a coffee table
(Image credit: Future)

The MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch) and MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) are marvellous laptops, but despite their premium price, they’re both missing something that Windows portables have had for a long time: touchscreens. 

The big question is why, and that’s something that Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal was able to put to Apple directly. 

“We make the world’s best touch computer on an iPad,” replied John Ternus, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering. “It’s totally optimized for that. And the Mac is totally optimized for indirect input. We haven’t really felt a reason to change that.”

At a glance, that feels like an unsatisfying answer: just because you can have a better touchscreen experience elsewhere, doesn’t mean you can’t have any touchscreen experience on a laptop. 

But then again, would Apple really want every MacBook Pro 14-inch review to focus on how ineffective a theoretical touchscreen is, when there are so many positives to cover? Plus, without needing to touch the screen, there’s less reason to buy that $19 cleaning cloth

Personally, as the generally happy owner of a Surface Laptop 2, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve used the touchscreen — and most of those have been by accident when I’ve forgotten it’s there. So I have a reasonable amount of sympathy for the argument that says “we don’t have a touch screen on the laptop because it’s unnecessary.”

While she had Apple on hand to answer design questions, Stern also asked about the lack of Face ID, and here the response was considerably less convincing, given the notch is right there already. 

“Touch ID is more convenient on a laptop since your hands are already on the keyboard,” said Tom Boger, Apple VP of Mac and iPad product marketing. It doesn’t take a great leap of logic to point out that if you’ve just switched on your MacBook, then you’re also right in front of the camera.

And anybody disappointed at the lack of waterproofing on the new MacBook Pro shouldn’t expect that oversight to be rectified any time soon, either. “Both of them stared at me blankly on Zoom when I asked about a water-resistant laptop,” Stern writes. “That hasn’t been on many people’s lists,” Boger eventually responded.

Despite these oversights, the new MacBook Pros sit proudly on our list of the best laptops you can buy right now. They’re expensive, yes, but they are beautifully designed and a thoroughly recommended purchase if money is no object.     

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.

  • bthathaway
    The last sentence of the article begins, "They're expensive, yes, but..." And looking up from the entry level price of computing, a $3,499.00 standard spec M1 Max may look like a lot of money.

    However, compared with last year's i9 Macbook Pro with 32GB of RAM and the best possible graphics, the new M1 Max comes in about $600.00 LESS than the prior model--and in some real world tests can out compute the more expensive unit by 200% and in compiling Xcode and a few other tasks, more like 700%, AND use HALF the battery power at the same time. Seems to me this is an unprecedented capacity leap at this price point.

    In fact, many tasks which before now required a $15k to $20k MacPro tower, and a $5,000.00 Apple monitor to accomplish in any reasonable amount of time; can now be finished in your lap, on battery power for less than 20% of the cost of those bigger machines. These laptops completely blow up the previous processor/value equation for those who need to complete CPU and GPU intensive tasks.

    So from a top-down perspective, these laptops are cheap and will in many cases pay for themselves in a single creative project. The time savings in turning around complex video timelines, or code compiling, or 3D modeling, or what have you, while on the road will (for many professionals) add up very quickly.

    Nothing comes close at this price point. I will say it one more time. These laptops are cheap given their category of computing.

    P.S. In regard to touchscreens on a MacBook, who cares at this point? It's one of those click-baity headlines which adds up to nothing. I will trade the shoulder and neck strain, and the gross motor clumsiness of manipulating my work on a touchscreen laptop; for keyboard shortcuts and an excellent trackpad any day of the week.