Touchscreen functionality for a Mac has long been a niche item on wishlists of Apple fans, but the increased acceptance of the iPad Pro as a capable portable work machine has further fueled requests for the feature to be implemented into Apple’s proper line of computers.
There’s no indication Apple has considered or will consider the idea of a touchscreen MacBook, but an upcoming gadget from Australian startup Espresso brings us as close to a touchscreen Mac as we can get right now.
The company’s product, Espresso Display, is a portable external monitor. It can connect via USB-C to many devices, ranging from a Nintendo Switch to a smartphone to a Windows PC, but it’s mostly designed for Apple’s line of computers.
Plug it into a MacBook and install Espresso’s custom drivers, and within minutes you’ll have MacOS running on the screen as an extension of whatever is showing on your MacBook, with full touch functionality supported.
Simple single finger gestures such as tapping the screen to simulate a mouse click or dragging finger across the screen to scroll through a website work, of course. But what adds to the experience is that Espresso’s drivers do a good job of simulating Apple’s own multi-finger trackpad shortcut gestures, such as two-finger pinching to zoom or three-finger horizontal swipes to switch between apps/pages.
Latency is virtually unnoticeable for more simple gestures, but there is a slight response delay in the pinching action.
Because MacOS was designed for mouse arrows and not fingers, some items, particularly in the menu bar at the top, are relatively tiny and thus hard to hit accurately. Fortunately, the rest of the OS, such as the dock icons or folder sizes, can be enlarged to better fit finger sizes. For the most part, I had no issue using touchscreen functionality on a MacBook.
But what are the benefits of using a touchscreen on a Mac? Right now, the extra benefits of using your finger to trigger with your finger instead of mouse clicks are minimal, because MacOS isn’t designed for touch. But I have been using touch functionality in the video editing software Final Cut Pro and it makes scrubbing through the timeline easier than using a trackpad. Those who do graphics work will likely also benefit from being able to manipulate graphics (such as resizing and rotating) with their fingers. But for the more basic computer usage, such as sending an email or writing a word document, there isn’t much use to having touch.
Still, even without the touch functionality, the Espresso Display serves real purpose as a thin (5mm) and light (2lbs for the 15-inch model I tested) portable display. It comes in two sizes, 13- or 15-inch, and even the larger one still fits into the laptop sleeve of my backpack without issues. I see people bringing this on trips as a larger screen for their Nintendo Switch, or to do basic computer work off a smartphone (especially since Huaweiand Samsung smartphones can turn into a fully functional desktop software on a larger screen).
Because it can work in both landscape or portrait orientations, it can be used as a second display at offices, particularly the new age ones in which employees work off a laptop and can work remotely regularly.
The screen has built-in speakers, but they are rather weak, so I’d use them only as a last resort. There is a headphone jack for much better audio output. It has no battery, instead it draws power from whatever device it’s plugged into. This sucks quite a bit of juice, however, so I’d recommend plugging in another USB-C cable to charge either the display or the device. Fortunately, Espresso provides enough ports: you have two USB-Cs (one for plugging to another device, one for charging), a headphone jack, and a micro-HDMI to connect to non-USB-C devices like cameras and TV boxes.
The Espresso Display is priced at $250 (for the 13-inch) or $280 for the 15-inch. There are certainly cheaper monitors one can purchase, but this is the only one offering full touchscreen functionality for a Mac right now.