Apple has a new touchscreen Mac patent — but don't get too excited just yet

Several MacBook Air 2022 models on display
(Image credit: Future)

Another day, another Apple patent. But this one might be interesting, because it suggests that Apple continues to work on something a lot of people seem to want — whether they should or not.

The patent points to the use of piezoelectric structures to provide haptic feedback for future Macs. The idea is that we could have things vibrate, basically, and while we already have a trackpad that doesn't move but vibrates to simulate a click, this patent appears to show a new way of making that happen.

But what makes this more interesting than that is the other potential use for the technology — in a touchscreen display.

Getting touchy

First spotted by the patent watchers over at Patently Apple, this particular patent has just been published by the US Patent & Trademark Office. And while it does suggest that the new haptics could be used in the palm rest area of a laptop as well as its trackpad, it's the display situation we're most interested in here.

Apple has so far refused to put a touchscreen into something like the MacBook Air because it says it's a bad idea. The reasoning is that people would just get sore arms from lifting their fingers up every few seconds to tap on the screen and that, ultimately, Apple knows best.

That might well be the case, too. Touching a tablet like the iPad is one thing because it's normally flat on a table or in your hands, but a laptop? That's a different matter entirely, not least because it's further away from you thanks to its keyboard and trackpad. 

After all, people with iPads attached to keyboards spent years wishing they had a mouse or trackpad that they could use — because poking at the thing with a finger was no fun. Perhaps a touchscreen Mac would only serve to be the best Mac for making your wrist hurt.

Would things be any better with a Mac? Probably not, no.

But at this point, it's vitally important to remember that not all patents turn into products. Apple patents a lot of things each and every year because if it didn't, someone else would. And who knows when one of those patents could come in handy?

Taking this patent as an example, it's entirely possible that Apple wants to use this new technology to generate vibrations around a Mac's trackpad. It came up with the tech, so it patented it. But if you're already patenting something like this, it would be foolish not to suggest that it could be used in a touchscreen because, again, if you don't someone else will. Apple's covering the bases and as much as some might wish otherwise, this patent doesn't mean a touchscreen Mac is around the corner.

But if Apple announces a touchscreen Mac at WWDC23 can we all just pretend this post never existed? Never say never and all that.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back.