With Apple’s new MacBooks, the company’s notebooks and cell phone share more in common than ever. The iPhone already had the same core operating system as the MacBook. And now the two share more of a black and silver design motif as well as more multitouch support than ever via the MacBook’s big glass trackpad.
As leaks about the trackpad’s surface preceded the MacBook unveiling, there was speculation that the trackpad might act as second screen (because, you know, SideShow has been such a smashing success for Vista), but I was always skeptical. Sure, a creative pro might throw a few palette buttons on such a screen or perhaps it could accommodate a few Dashboard widgets, but how useful is a screen your hands are constantly hovering over? Besides, it would add significant cost with marginal benefit and just felt too gimmicky for Apple. If you need more screen real estate, buy a notebook that has a bigger screen.
But Apple did make a significant change by making the trackpad pressable and obscuring button separation, two ideas borrowed from its Mighty Mouse. In fact, the new trackpad looks like such a strong input device, there’s a case to be made for Apple offering it as a desktop peripheral. Ironically, in moving from one button to no buttons, the MacBook has become more neutral to Windows users more accustomed to two buttons as these can be designated by zones on the trackpad. I’d also like to see the capability for a third zone for power users or Unix converts.
But an even bigger win could come from moving the technology beyond the Mac. Adding some key travel to a glass surface is essentially the trick that RIM has used to make its imminent Blackberry Storm screen feel more like a physical keyboard, and early feedback toward its tactile feedback has been very positive. If Apple is willing and able to make the iPhone surface go down, the device’s appeal could go up.