Report: Apple Testing Touchscreen iMacs

| Rumor

Apple has been sent test samples of a 20” touchscreen that could be used in an iMac by a Taiwan-based manufacturer called Sintek Photronics. Taiwanese newspaper DigiTimes reported that the firm had sent the displays to Apple, and that Apple is working on incorporating them into a new version of the iMac.

The report said that the displays have an integrated cover glass and touch sensor system, and that this has resulted in a “good vertical and horizontal viewing angle.” This solution contrasts with traditional solutions that have touch sensors that are placed on top of the glass, which DigiTimes’ sources characterized as “costly and complex, [and negatively] affects display brightness.”

As we usually note in these kind of stories, DigiTimes is often the source of leaked reports that come from some of the many Taiwanese vendors Apple works with in its outsourced manufacturing operations. Such reports have a mixed track record, but the newspaper has been right about many details of the iPad and iPhone product lines in recent years.

That said, we should also point out that even if Apple is testing a product, it doesn’t mean it will be brought to market soon, if ever. Apple executives have repeatedly commented that they were just as proud of the products they have not brought to market as they were of the fabulously successful products they have.

At the same time, of course, rumors began circulating in January of this year that Apple was working on such a device, and AppleInsider noted that the company has patents and patent applications (see image below) that cover the various aspects of a touchscreen iMac. With both of those points in mind, it is very plausible that Apple is at least testing something relating to a touchscreen desktop computer.

Which brings us to the crux of the situation: Would a touchscreen iMac be an iMac running Mac OS X or some kind of new iOS-based device?

Apple is known to obsess over getting interface issues just right before releasing them to the general public, and with such an enormously big paradigm shift as a touchscreen, general purpose desktop computer — remember that Apple never caters to vertical markets — it would be impossible for those of us on the outside to even guess at how much testing would go into a such a product before even Apple could make that determination.

Touchscreen iMac Figure in Apple Patent

A figure from an Apple patent governing switching modes of operation for a desktop computer

(Patent link via PatentlyApple)

Comments

stens

I already get mad when my family touches my iMac’s screen…..and now Apple is thinking of encouraging them??!! I sincerely hope not, unless they plan to send around someone to my house with a microfiber cloth every couple of days…

Bryan Chaffin

Stens, I agree with you, but with a giant caveat. I don’t think a touchscreen iMac would see the light of day unless Apple figured out a way unless Apple figured out the issue of fingerprints.

vasic

I work in an office of some 250 people. About two of them have issues with people touching their display.

There are currently over 100 million iOS devices. Every single owner touches those screens every day, and many let others touch them as well.

I don’t think for a moment that finger prints will ever be a meaningful issue.

vasic

In fact, I believe this clearly indicates Apple’s future path of mouse-less, keyboardless multi-touch computing. I believe in two years, Mac OS X will be reaching end-of-life status, and soon thereafter, it will be retired (like System 9). Adobe, Microsoft, Avid and others will have already ported their flagship offerings to iOS, by which time iOS will have grown its feature set to support full desktop.

I think Apple has finally figured out the most intuitive, efficient and effective UI, and they’re slowly training masses for imminent migration to full desktop. It is just a matter of time, and I believe two years is the time line.

Lee Dronick

I suppose that if the screen is made of a material that can be easily cleaned without damaging it then fingerprints would not be much a problem. Also just because it has a touch screen doesn’t mean that more traditional input devices can not also be used. If you are using a finger painting app then by all means touch the screen, if you are using a vector art app then use the mouse.

geoduck

I believe this clearly indicates Apple?s future path of mouse-less, keyboardless multi-touch computing.

Mouseless - Quite Possibly.
Keyboardless - Not Likely.

Touch keyboards work fine for short things but there’s no way in heck I’d want to write my next book on one.

Intruder

Next stop: LCARS.

vasic

if you are using a vector art app then use the mouse.

I don’t think there would be any possible way to use a mouse. Since the OS is built to be driven by touch, it simply does NOT support (nor it would need to support) a mouse pointer indicator (an arrow). However, for precision control, most logical solution is a stylus (for those who need it), just like for those who type text a lot, an optional keyboard solves the problem.

The rest of us will navigate with fingers and type on the touch screen.

Lee Dronick

I don?t think there would be any possible way to use a mouse. Since the OS is built to be driven by touch

Why can’t it support both?

vasic

It just doesn’t seem Apple-like. The touch UI is consistent, and introducing a mouse pointer would likely introduce inconsistency. SDK would have to allow for both types of control/navigation, and besides, there is really no need to support a mouse, when you have an UI that offers far superior method of navigation and control (touch). A stylus would likely be a much better solution than a mouse. Keep in mind, professional artists don’t use mouse for their work; most of them use those Wacom tablets with a stylus.

Lee Dronick

Well Vasic it is a not even a problem yet, so I will cross that bridge when or if it happens. Even if this iMac goes on the market Apple may still have Mac Pros that are not touch screen. Time will tell.

I have tried Wacom tablets way back when and preferred the mouse, but I could learn to use one.

ctopher

Tablets STILL show a cursor, and if I’m using a stylus to select a line or a point, I want to know that I’m on it before I commit the click, thus, I’d like a cursor please. With a cursor you can support a mouse!

I don’t see the cursor going away on a machine where real work is accomplished.

BTW, I can’t stand the lack of arrow-keys on iOS devices. I want to click at the beginning of a word, but I only get it about 20% of the time. If I had an arrow key, It wouldn’t bother me as much since I could move the insertion point to where I really wanted it. Instead, I just keep punching until I get it!

Yes a stylus would help here, but why not give me a way to move the damn insertion point! (I only have this problem on borrowed iPads and iPod Touches, I have not iOS device myself, so perhaps if I did I’d learn the secret to editing.)

vasic

ctopher:

Tablets HAVE to show cursor, since they aren’t touchscreen devices. In other words, in order to know where exactly your pointer is before actually doing something (clicking, dragging, etc), cursor has to exist, to show you the relation between the display and your input device.

Touchscreen displays have no use for cursor. When you touch a spot on the screen, that is EXACTLY where you’ll execute the function. If your finger is not precise enough, you’ll be able to use a stylus of some sort.

When you work with hi-res Photoshop files, your mouse isn’t nearly precise enough to work in pixel-size resolution. That is why, for precise work, you zoom in to make pixels 2x, 4x or 8x larger, so you can see them individually, if necessary. Same as with all other existing software; whenever our mouse (or trackpad, or trackball, or tablet) controller isn’t precise enough, we just zoom in on the object we’re working on. No change in approach there; instead of mousing around, you’ll just be drawing/writing with a stylus—just like humans have been doing for centuries.

other side

I call bogus on this (or at least a far-out prototype that’ll never ship).

Why?  Simple.  Look at the design.  How do you make something fingertip-adjustable, yet have it strong enough to hold up said fingertips?  Plus springs/clutches/whatever in the pedestal would get tired over time, and the device would have a tendency to fold onto itself.

Also, Steve abhors the stylus far more than he abhors buttons (if that’s possible to imagine).

VaughnSC

I call bogus on this (or at least a far-out prototype that?ll never ship). Why?? Simple. Look at the design.

You do realize that illustrations in patents/applications have nothing to do with industrial design and Apple in particular would draw a big, square generic box (or a loaf of bread) if the item in question was a future product or needed to be purposefully vague as to not limit the scope.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Stens, I agree with you, but with a giant caveat. I don?t think a touchscreen iMac would see the light of day unless Apple figured out a way unless Apple figured out the issue of fingerprints.

Doesn’t Apple have a patent for a variable rate intermittent motor which could be used with a wiper arm and blade from any late model Chevy?

KitsuneStudios

Why?  Simple.  Look at the design.  How do you make something fingertip-adjustable, yet have it strong enough to hold up said fingertips?  Plus springs/clutches/whatever in the pedestal would get tired over time, and the device would have a tendency to fold onto itself.

Again, this is a patent application, not final specs. The actual mechanism almost certainly won’t look like the drawing.

The technology for adjustable/stable already exists with The 21” Wacom Cintiqs, which needs to stand up to pressure sensitive stylus work, I lean on mine regularly with far more than fingertip pressure, and it remains stable on its tripod.

As for iOS and the stylus, if Apple includes the _option_ for a pressure sensitive stylus and sticks with a touch-sensitive variation of MacOS X instead of iOS, then this computer would be ENORMOUSLY popular in the graphic arts, competing directly with the Wacom Cintiq. Lack of a digitizing stylus would make this irrelevant to the graphic market, as they’d still need a tablet to do precision artwork, and uyse of the iOS would eliminate a lot of the current market for iMacs.

geoduck

I’m actually surprised that nobody has produced an aftermarket stylus for iOS devices. It’s certainly possible. Might not be pressure sensitive but I’m sure it would sell.

Mikuro

Sometimes you really want pixel-perfect precision. This is not realistically possible without a cursor, since any input device, even stylus, will be bigger than one pixel (and obviously it will be covering what your working on, so it would be hard to tell if you hit the mark). Having to zoom constantly would have a huge negative effect on workflows. And sometimes it wouldn’t be possible anyway.

I see no technical reason why a cursor would be hard to implement or create inconsistency. The only cursor function that is incompatible with the iOS as it stands is hovering. If Apple doesn’t like that, then they don’t need to allow hovering. Just move and click. Just like a finger, only precise.

Touchscreen displays have no use for cursor. When you touch a spot on the screen, that is EXACTLY where you?ll execute the function. If your finger is not precise enough, you?ll be able to use a stylus of some sort.

When you work with hi-res Photoshop files, your mouse isn?t nearly precise enough to work in pixel-size resolution. That is why, for precise work, you zoom in to make pixels 2x, 4x or 8x larger, so you can see them individually, if necessary. Same as with all other existing software; whenever our mouse (or trackpad, or trackball, or tablet) controller isn?t precise enough, we just zoom in on the object we?re working on. No change in approach there; instead of mousing around, you?ll just be drawing/writing with a stylus?just like humans have been doing for centuries.

VaughnSC

Um, I hadnt thought all that much about this thread until Mikuro replied.

I hasten to point out that iOS already supports the notion of cursors. To wit, the I-beam in conjunction with the magnifying glass for text selection/editing. Having magnification pop up with cross-hairs for pixel-precise positioning isn’t a huge leap.

I’m not saying this is a solution, only that there exists a precedent in iOS.

vasic

That is precisely what I’m talking about. You touch/press with your stylus and you get a magnifying glass with a cross-hair. The solution is consistent with the touch UI, doesn’t require a mouse (and won’t actually work with it), and allows graphic professionals the level of pixel-perfect accuracy that they need and are used to.

Zooming in and out by pinching/stretching (in order to get precision input) is certainly faster than mousing around and trying to hit the right spot.

Anyway; we can surely argue on this, but I’m confident that we’ll see Apple’s solution fairly soon, and majority of core Mac users will like that solution.

VaughnSC

I wont tarry with the details, but it shouldn’t be too hard for the device to distinguish between a finger and a ‘capacitive stylus’ (whose ‘footprint’ would be a) much smaller and b) almost nearly, if not exactly, circular) and as a result, behave accordingly.

So, adding this shouldn’t require a hardware mod unless someone wanted to throw pressure-sensitivity data into the mix, but I can see a few ways to skin that cat, too. raspberry

Johannes

The thing is that the people are expecting a device such as this. However with apples stand to it it will run a iOS on it.
I would be said to see iOS taking over on Macs… but it is the logical step for apple to take. It is even easier to use then OSX and securer due to the online App store.

Lee Dronick

The thing is that the people are expecting a device such as this. However with apples stand to it it will run a iOS on it.
I would be said to see iOS taking over on Macs? but it is the logical step for apple to take. It is even easier to use then OSX and securer due to the online App store.

We could see one more new operating systems from Apple before this thing is available.

VaughnSC

iOS and Mac OS share the same BSD underpinnings: merging the two doesn’t mean the desktop version would share the lockdown approach (oh, it could, mind you, but doesn’t guarantee it one way or the other)

The most salient difference is that one is compiled for intel/mouse, the other for ARM/touch. I dont see Apple abandoning desktop-class processors or suggesting you ditch your investment in Intel software apps anytime soon. It just wouldnt fly, safety of walled-garden notwithstanding.

The touch frameworks can and should be added to Mac OS X so a whole new class of apps can be written for touch-ready Mac models. An ARM emulator on Intel should easily run ‘store’ apps alongside your normal apps. Apple has followed this approach time after time (68K->PPC->Intel & Toolbox->Carbon->Cocoa)

vasic

That is correct. Your last sentence touched on what I believe Apple will do. Following the same playbook (68k to PPC, PPC to Intel, System 9 to OS X), Apple will embark on transition from OS X to iOS. As you said, the underpinnings of the two are identical. The development kits for the two aren’t much different either. In fact, for Mac OS X application developers, this transition may even be less painful than from System 9 to OS X. There was a marked change in UI between the two, and more importantly, significant change in the development tools.

Apple has already taken their developers through these radical traditions several times in the last 15 years. And even during very bad times, when Mac share was low, and mindshare even lower, big names (Adobe, MS, Quark, Avid/Digidesign, etc) went along.

I have no doubt, within next three years, we will have Adobe CS, Microsoft Office, Digidesign Pro Tools (and most lesser names) porting their flagship offerings over to iOS, keeping full feature set, redesigning UI and taking advantage of (multi)touch. By then, 21.5” multi-touch computing devices from Apple (future iMacs?) will already have been available for quite some time.

bweels

A few thoughts:

geoduck: There are a number of iOS stylus products available. I have this one: http://www.tenonedesign.com/sketch.php

ctopher:  I agree about the arrow keys. I’ve gotten in the habit of using the arrow keys a lot when typing and I with they’d show up on the virtual keyboard.

vasic: It appears you might not be aware of all that a Wacom tablet and stylus does for the artist. Artists would need full-featured stylus capability. Kitsune is right about pressure-sensitive stylus support (and drawing programs also support stylus tilt angle and rotation for various effects - all simultaneously). Without that, graphic artists would stick with their Wacom products. The pressure sensitive hardware is in the stylus, not the tablet surface, and the ability of the screen to communicate with the stylus about its position, pressure, angle and rotation would have to be built into the screen hardware. Certainly doable, but not a trivial proposition (I’m guessing). Also, it’s not something needed for the masses, so I could see a need for a separate and expensive “Touch Screen Pro” Mac that would include the capability. I do some sketching on my iPad, and the lack of pressure sensitivity is a severe limitation.

Along with doing a lot of pixel/raster work (Photoshop, Painter, Sketchbook Pro) I do a lot of CAD work also. I would love a touch screen (with stylus) for my artistic and sketch work. I would hate it for CAD work. I have a custom-programmed 7-button mouse and I can make my workflow fly - one-handed and not even moving my arm. My arms get tired just thinking about the process of making all that happen on a 30” touch screen. And CAD work REQUIRES a large screen. 24” is a bare minimum.

Being a pro user of both artistic and technical applications, I tend to find this talk of OSX going away tomorrow a bit premature. There will be increasing convergence and overlap, but those of us needing a robust OS day in and day out don’t see OSX going away anytime soon. Convergence and/or replacement will happen, I’m sure, but two years seems like a short timeframe.

VaughnSC

but two years seems like a short timeframe

I dont think vasic said a touch-based Mac OS would drop support for the mouse, pucks, Wacoms or arrow keys for that matter.

Its not an either-or thing. Multi-touch touch support will be added to the OS, entirely new apps will be written to support it, some ARM apps will run fine in emulation (most will just require a few (IPad/Retina style) tweaks in Xcode and a fresh build to run Intel-native.

Touch could be added tomorrow and it wont affect your workflow one iota.

Your Adobe CS will still run just fine, and knowing Adobe, we wouldn’t see a ‘Touch-enabled suite’ within two years, anyways.

vasic

I have played with those Wacom tablet/stylus devices and as you said, the features are in the stylus, not the pad. Thus, nothing prevents Apple from supporting pressure/twist/squeeze on such stylus.

As for 7-button mouse, I have a feeling Apple (and/or 3rd party software makers) will figure out a way to make that available/possible for those who need that.

bweels

I dont think vasic said a touch-based Mac OS would drop support for the mouse, pucks, Wacoms or arrow keys for that matter.

It’s really not my intent to be argumentative here at all, but just to clarify my own post, yes, vasic did seem to be saying that. At least in regards to the mouse and cursor:

I don?t think there would be any possible way to use a mouse. Since the OS is built to be driven by touch, it simply does NOT support (nor it would need to support) a mouse pointer indicator (an arrow).

there is really no need to support a mouse, when you have an UI that offers far superior method of navigation and control (touch).

_________

Its not an either-or thing. Multi-touch touch support will be added to the OS, entirely new apps will be written to support it, some ARM apps will run fine in emulation (most will just require a few (IPad/Retina style) tweaks in Xcode and a fresh build to run Intel-native.

Touch could be added tomorrow and it wont affect your workflow one iota.

And I agree. I picture it as a two-way street of overlap and convergence. vasic seemed to be implying that most future development would see iOS gaining features and power, moving to the desktop, etc. until it caught up with OSX, at which point OSX would be EOL’d.

I have played with those Wacom tablet/stylus devices and as you said, the features are in the stylus, not the pad. Thus, nothing prevents Apple from supporting pressure/twist/squeeze on such stylus.

Like I said, though, it’s not just the stylus. The Wacom tablet communicates with the stylus. The tablet surface is mapped to the screen and reads the stylus’ realtime attributes (coordinates, pressure, tilt and rotation). I have no idea how this is actually done, I was just saying that the Mac’s screen would have to be a hardware partner in the process, like Wacom does with its Cintiq tablets.

As for 7-button mouse, I have a feeling Apple (and/or 3rd party software makers) will figure out a way to make that available/possible for those who need that.

I have no doubt that will be the case.

And this will all be moot when computers can read our minds and we can just will them to do as we wish. LOL

vasic

I have to say, with Bosco missing, this has developed into a very civilized discussion. We clearly don’t agree here, but nobody is condescending, arrogant or offensive.

and bweels, yes, you understood me correctly. I do believe OS X is on its way out, and iOS will be replacing it. Time will tell if I’m correct. To me, such a prospect is extremely exciting. Others likely have their trepidations at the possibility.

bweels

I wouldn’t say I’m trepidating (if I may invent a word!). I trust it’ll all progress in a way where neither consumers nor pros will be left hanging. And I LOVE iOS, so don’t get me wrong. For most of what I do on my iPad (I’ve never owned an iPhone), it’s absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to see it all come together.

VaughnSC

I do believe OS X is on its way out, and iOS will be replacing it.

Well, I haven’t disagreed too much yet, but now is as good a time as any to start raspberry

Seeing as both input methods can coexist indefinitely, they probably will until ‘desktops’ lose the USB ports and HID drivers (‘not happening’). A touchscreen will just be an additional input method to justify Apple’s modus operandi of adding features in response to its economies-of-scale, rather than lowering price points.

vasic, you seemed to agree earlier that there is not much more difference between iOS and MacOS than there is between ‘Mac OS X for Intel’ and ‘Mac OS X for PowerPC’ other than the target architecture. We won’t argue that they are identical, because the Intel version includes Rosetta which is not in the PPC builds for obvious reasons. Likewise, iOS includes CocoaTouch and strips out other MacOS frameworks, also for obvious reasons.

What we’re talking about here is recombining two closely-related (if not barely divergent) development forks. Mobile touch devices will always have the ‘lean’ version. What you choose to call the ‘full’ version, whether ‘MacOS XI’ or ‘iOS for Old-School Iron’ is academic. Even today, they’re just variations on a theme.

I can?t wait to see it all come together.

Bingo.

stens

Bosco said: Doesn?t Apple have a patent for a variable rate intermittent motor which could be used with a wiper arm and blade from any late model Chevy?

Two responses come to mind:

1. Brilliant.
2. If they don’t, somebody will be suing them in Texas when they come out with this.

Thanks for the laugh, Bosco, I needed one today.

 

Bryan, thanks for replying. It’s a good point that this is probably a testbed. I’m sure they are testing potential technologies all the time, many or most of which never see the light of day. I guess I don’t see the utility of a touchscreen desktop, but I’ve been wrong about the future most of the time, so take that view with a grain of salt. Somebody must see some utility in this, what with the touchscreen desktops that are in production. I think that there is validity to the view that touchscreen UIs and WIMP UIs don’t mix very well.

Log-in to comment