Jony Ive speaks on MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, touchscreen Macs & more

By , Oct 31, 2016

Charlie Rose Jony Ive interview image 002

Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, sat for a Q&A with CNET’s News Editor in Chief Connie Guglielmo following last week’s “Hello again” Mac event. Ive talked about various topics, including design considerations behind the creation of the Touch Bar, a marquee new feature of the new notebook, saying it’s “just the beginning of a very interesting direction”. He explained why Apple’d rejected a touchscreen iMac “many, many years ago” and more.

On Touch Bar

Speaking of the contextual Touch Bar feature on the new MacBook Pro, Ive said that the team was exploring a bunch of designs that “conceptually make sense” for two years before ultimately rejecting them all.

He said of these early designs:

When we lived on them for a while, sort of pragmatically and day to day, they are sometimes less compelling. This is something we lived on for quite a while before we did any of the prototypes. You really notice or become aware of something’s value when you switch back to a more traditional keyboard.

One of the things that remains quite a big challenge for us is that you have to prototype to a sufficiently sophisticated level to really figure out whether you’re considering the idea, or whether what you’re really doing is evaluating how effective a prototype is.

Their main goal revolved around creating a feature that would replace the mostly unused row of function keys above the keyboard.

You sort of change your hat, because you have to figure out how do you then productize it, and develop the idea, and resolve and refine to make it applicable to a specific product. To do that in the context of the MacBook Pro—while at the same time you’re trying to make it thinner, lighter and more powerful—the last thing you want to do is burden it with an input direction that now has a whole bunch of challenges specific to something like touch.

Apple is a company that certainly has plenty of resources so why hasn’t it created a touchscreen Mac already, especially now that Microsoft’s 28-inch Surface Studio with a touchscreen and its unique dial has received so much positive press?

Ive provided a cryptical explanation:

When we were exploring multitouch many, many years ago, we were trying to understand the appropriate application and opportunities for [it]. We just didn’t feel that [the Mac] was the right place for that…. It wasn’t particularly useful or an appropriate application of multitouch.

For a bunch of practical reasons. It’s difficult to talk [laughs] without going into a lot of details that puts me starting to talk about things that we are working on. I don’t really want to talk much more about it.

The explanation seems a little unconvincing to me, and I don’t buy it.

I think Apple could contribute a lot to the industry by bringing some of its Multi-Touch expertise from iOS devices to the Mac. A touchscreen iMac may not make much sense due to a Gorilla arm syndrome, but there are certain types of people—mostly creative—who would kill for a Microsoft Surface Studio-like all-in-one desktop from Apple.

“Doing something that’s different is actually relatively easy and relatively fast, and that’s tempting,” said Ive. “We don’t limit ourselves in how we will push—if it’s to a better place. What we won’t do is just do something different that’s no better.”

Source: CNET

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  • Merman123

    Mark my words, Apple will eventually release a touchscreen Macbook/iMac. It’s ineviteble.

    • bigkool2

      don’t you mean “Magical”….

    • That’s not very likely actually unless Apple redesigns its hardware. Apple spent lots of money back in the day trying to figure out if touch screens were good methods of input. Their conclusion was that if a user had to reach over a keyboard to touch the screen it was one of the worst ergonomic experiences possible.

      Second is that MacOS is not optimized for touch. Simply allowing touch might have conveniences, but it wouldn’t be a great experience by Apple’s standards and Apple HATES doing things just because it’s different or possible.

      One thing that I could see them doing is bringing the Apple Pencil to the iMac assuming they allowed future designs to fold flat (similar to the new surface studio).

      • rockdude094

        Just how they said that any phone with a bigger screen than 3.5 inches would prove to worsen the ergonomic experience ? Look at them now rocking a 5.5 inch screen on the iPhone

      • Icisz

        Things are always in a state of change. The way we use our computers has been constantly changing since the 70s. At first phones with a larger screen absolutely did look silly. When featuritis set in and the menus expanded and the need to consume web content became more and more of a priority… when we decided communicating in social media was fun for example. Many many people still love devices that can be used with one hand. I think that is something I personally miss the most, however the screen real estate out ranks the one handed comfort just enough that it is a sacrifice most of us are clearly willing to make. Depending on how you use your device will dictate that preference. If you “look at them now”, you will notice 3 sizes of phone not just one. Rock the size and brand that works for you. People want options, they got options. Pretty simple really.

      • Technically, in the keynote Phill said that they designed a 4″ screen because, “the design center for the phone is the hand … and should be easy to use”. Jonny Ive said that shortly after the release of the iPhone 2G they actually created a 7″ prototype and started working on making it smaller and smaller to find the optimum size and discovered that to make the phone larger it had to become thinner or it wasn’t “a great experience” was too top heavy etc. Apparently immediately after the original iPhone Apple decided that 5.5 inches was the goal to work towards.

        So yeah, Apple didn’t go back on their word or change what they were saying. That also explains why every single year the iPhone got thinner and thinner and lighter and lighter until the iPhone 6 came out. Notice that they aren’t getting thinner and lighter now?

      • Merman123

        I stand by what I said. Apple has gone back on their words many times. You already have to reach over the keyboard and squint at the skinny touch bar.

      • No more than you would have to reach over the keyboard to squint at the esc key… Perhaps you didn’t know this, but the touch bar is designed to be about the same size as the buttons that we currently have up there and the button size is about the same too.

        So if you have to squint to see the volume up and down buttons and find it a hassle to press them… then… don’t upgrade? Either way, there is a difference from extending a finger an extra quarter inch and raising your whole arm 6″ or more off the table to tap something several inches beyond your keyboard.

      • Merman123

        I already know where those keys are though. I don’t have to look at them just as much as I don’t have to look at the alphabetic keys. The touch bar is continuously changing.

      • My point is that if you can’t see that last row of keys without squinting… How on earth do you read the content on your display? Not only is it farther away, unless you have some accessibility settings turned on, the text there is also smaller than the iconography on the touchBar.

        True it changes, but it only changes between apps. Eventually you’ll get used to where shortcuts are for the apps that you use all the time. Also, do you use keyboard shortcuts in your apps now? Those also change all the time as you switch between programs… Did you give up learning them when you found that out? Keyboard shortcuts are even worse as there is 0 indication on the keyboard as to what they are either.

  • It only makes sense now to release a Standalone TouchBar Keyboard for older iMacs.

    • Since the Touch Bar has its own hardware and OS that may be feasible. However I wonder if something like that could be driven / powered effectively over a USB 2 or 3 port considering you’re now powering a multitouch screen, a mini computer, keyboard, and handling all the data transfer both directions.

      One thing is for sure… If Apple makes such a thing I’ll buy it immediately!

  • SJM32

    Just read the Ive bits in his voice!!! Hahaha!!

  • noracuts

    Before there are touch screen Macs, there needs to be a touch screen UI.

    Maybe there is finally a macOS 11 in the near future.

    • That’s actually very unlikely. MacOS is highly optimized for a keyboard & trackpad input setup and iOS is highly optimized for a multitouch input setup. The problem is that if you try to make one OS that allows for every input method you have to start making compromises. Rather than try to be a “jack of all trades and a master of none” Apple wants their devices to be masters of their respective areas.

      • cdlenfert

        You really seem to defend Apple to your core… But I would disagree that iOS is “highly optimized” for multitouch. I can only think of a few regular cases where I’m using 2 fingers and the OS can recognize at least 4. I’d say it’s less than 50% optimized. The main factor is the end user not wanting to learn 1,000 new ways to interact with their tech.

      • Haha, well overall I’d say I’m quite satisfied with the direction that Apple is going. But there are some products that I do/have criticized. I mocked the original MacBook Air quite a bit back in the day, I have never seen an Apple mouse that I have loved, and I hate the new iOS 10 health app just to name a few things that I think Apple messed up royally on (and believe me there is plenty more).

        When I say that it’s optimized for touch however what I mean to say is that the interface itself is. For instance, MacOS is designed to work with a precise cursor. Navigating through multiple levels of a drop down menu is easy on a Mac, tools like right click are also further optimized for a cursor based interface that wouldn’t translate well into touch. MacOS expects you to be able to hover or make selections with some level of precision. Or to click an item in a crowded screen without fear of picking the wrong thing.

        When you go to iOS, you’ll notice immediately that icons are in grids, and are large and easy to tap, menus and form controls are designed to be navigated with a finger and so on. The whole interface is designed around an imprecise input device and uses machine learning to try and learn as best as possible how you tap the screen and to try to figure out what you meant to select. Hover and right click are gone, but force touch and gestures are even more important than on the Mac.

        Remember the problems Windows had? Their initial Phone OS was too much like the desktop and people complained that you had to use a stylus to do anything on it. Later they made both OSs optimized for touch and people complained about the “modern” interface being too “phone like” for their desktops. Later they changed it again and now people complain that the apps are all over the place in UI standards and quality because some are designed to for tablets and phones and others aren’t. The point is Apple does have an advantage by keeping them separate. Who knows though? Maybe Apple is working on a new UI entirely that brilliantly overcomes all these challenges and allows a truly innovative single device experience, but until that point. I think keeping them separate is best.

  • rockdude094

    Imagine if they turned the trackpad into a multitouch display that is both a mouse and a trackpad

  • Bhandaaro

    Ive’s put on a few elbows hasn’t he…. the good life of creative freedom and extraordinary pay is showing itself.