Apple has a huge war chest of patents; ideas for processes and methods for current and future products. Nicholas Carlson thinks Apple might be working on a desktop touchscreen. This is a bad idea.
Touchscreen: Finger or Arm?
Touch screen computers have been around for a few decades but as desktop PCs have never caught on or been big sellers. Why not?
The problem is quite simple. It’s effort.
Using a touch screen desktop Windows PC requires a lot of motion—fingers, hand, arm, shoulder. Imagine the effort required to use your finger to touch a Mac screen where you use the mouse now.
That effort is substantial and would grow tiresome in a matter of minutes.
Compare the finger-hand-arm-shoulder effort with using the keyboard or mouse. In both instances, the fingers, hands, arms and shoulders are at rest—the former resting on top of either the keyboard or the mouse.
Despite the popularity of Apple’s iPhone multi-touch screen, and the advent of multi-touch capability in notebook trackpads and Apple’s new Magic Mouse, the physical effort to control those devices is similar and almost effortless.
Not so with a desktop touch screen. Substantial physical effort is required to control the computer.
Apple’s Desktop Touchscreen Plans
Only Apple knows specifically what interface changes are planned for future devices, and those are subject to change, despite patents to the contrary. MacRumors uncovered an Apple patent for a Shape Detecting Input Device dating back to 2004.
The image used in the patent is an early century gooseneck iMac (sometimes known as the sunflower iMac) so we know Apple has been studying various input methods for many years.
Patents are created for a variety of reasons. One is to protect designs in current products. Another is to protect designs in future products which may or may not ever see the light of day. A large patent portfolio protects a company’s products and intellectual capital, but also serves as a revenue generating source via royalties.
In this case, Apple is simply going through the process of obtaining a patent on an idea, not an actual product of the future. Why not?
Apple And Niche Products
Simply put, Apple doesn’t do niche products; certainly not the sliver of a niche for touch screen desktop computers. Why haven’t touch screen PCs sold?
For most of us they’re physically painful to use.
Touch screens have a place, though. They’re perfect for kiosks, those stand-alone-screens in shopping centers or institutions which provide users with information or access. No keyboard or mouse is needed. The kiosk touch screen can be interactive and useful.
But the touch screen market is small, even by Apple standards. And Apple likes to sell products in large volume. Even the modest AppleTV is reported to have sold over 6-million units.
Another litmus test is simple to conduct. Look around. Do you know of five people who have a desktop PC with a touch screen?
What about a multi-touch Mac notebook? The same fingers-hand-arm-shoulder problems occur with a notebook as with a desktop. Apple’s iPad is a touch screen and requires more physical motion to use than a notebook or desktop with mouse, keyboard, trackpad, so what’s the difference?
The effort required to use a tablet device is far less than with a touch screen desktop. One hand to hold the iPad, one finger (hand, arm, but not necessarily shoulder) to navigate.
Despite the patents on touch screen and multi-touch technology, we are not going to see a touch screen iMac any time soon.