Apple Planning Touchscreen Macs – Are You Ready For A Multitouch DAW?

Apple is quietly perfecting the technology for large touchscreen iMacs, with the hope of ‘revolutionizing’ desktop computing, according to technology law analysts Patently Apple.

And images from recent Apple patent filings, like the one above, reveal that the company clearly has music applications in mind for its ‘iMac touch‘. The image shows what appears to be wireframe outlines of touchscreen compressor controls that would offer visual feedback on their current state.

Touchscreen computing is cool, but bringing it to the desktop (and laptops) is not as simple as tacking a touchscreen on a desktop OS or making a giant iPad. There are unique usability challenged posed by both the physical constraints of desktop computing and the types of work many users do on desktop computers.

So, while an app like Garageband on the iPad may be a useful tool for mobile music making, users would have different expectations for working with an app like Logic Pro. Apple’s recent patent filings show that the company is working on addressing these challenges, and doing it specifically with music making in mind.

There are many companies that are already exploring the area of multitouch computing.

Smithson Martin, for example, has done some very interesting work applying this technology to DJing and, more recently, general music making. Here’s an overview of their multi-touch Emulator technology from the 2012 NAMM Show:

It’s not much of a leap to imagine how a more generalized solution might be very useful for musicians. For example, you could have a two monitor setup, with a multi-touch tablet screen paired with a larger standard display. The tablet interface could be used for things like virtual mixing desks and software synthesizers. It could also be used for creating unique new approaches to music making, as has happened already on the iPad.

What do you think of the idea of incorporating touchscreens into digital audio workstations? Are you interested in a multitouch DAW?

45 thoughts on “Apple Planning Touchscreen Macs – Are You Ready For A Multitouch DAW?

  1. If I had the Smithson and Martin as my controller for my comp and a normal screen in front of me, I’d be set. No keyboard and no mouse. Just one big multitouch surface that can be programmed would be great. It’s going to make video editing a whole lot better.

  2. Meh. I mean it’s cool technology but I hate finger smudges on my screens so I won’t be using this. Not to mention all kinds of ergonomic problems, you think typing on a keyboard for 8 hours can give you carpal tunnel? Just wait to see what poking a screen in front of you will do to your wrists and fingers, ugh…but you say what if you put it at an angle…well, ok but do you really want your screen angled like that working on graphics or video? Apple will probably come up with a way to make it workable but right now the thought of people smudging their greasy hands across my screen when they check out my mac sends chills down my spine, and not good chills.

  3. Heh, this makes me feel all Luddite again. Well, I went from cassettes to a Korg workstation and finally on to a Mac and flash drives over floppies. I expect to have to weather another paradigm shift. Logic has basically liberated me. Whatever Apple decides is the standard, I’ll resignedly follow. I would do a few things differently; don’t we all put things through a personal filter? However, the main point for me is simply one of being able to compose freely without the tools getting in the way. At this point, even a leap to touch screens seems minor. It’ll have its own issues, but so what? I have 6 pipe organs, a full orchestra and eleventy-thousand synths in a 15-pound box on a desk. What could possibly matter more than being that empowered?

    1. I guess the only thing that matters even more than powerful tools is the question, if using them is still intuitive and fun. And more possibilities do not necessarily lead to a better workflow…after all, that’s the main reason why people still buy dedicated music hardware 😉

      But of course you are right – touch controls are just a minor change compared to the technological progresses that have already happened to computers.

  4. I just hope they won’t start suing every existing multitouch screen manufacturers like they did with tablets after they launch theirs.

      1. I’ve been holding on to these babies for longer than the iphone/ipad has been existing (and I still use them). Its funny because a lot of people believes Apple invented tablets, pocket computers, and mp3 players but its the other way around. and (both were released ~5 years before the ipad/iphone) (released 4 years before the ipod)

        This one is also a pretty old design :

        anyway, I could go on. But I’m going to end with this one

        1. Nice try – but there’s a reason nobody wanted to buy those products you mention – they were lame.

          Back to multitouch computers, Microsoft Surface – Microsoft’s big multitouch computer system – has been demonstrated for 4 or 5 years. But Microsoft still hasn’t figured out how to actually make it useful.

          Apple’s going to invest the time and the resources to actually do it right. Then they’ll eat Microsoft’s lunch.

          And then you’ll probably be telling everybody about how awesome Microsoft Surface was.

          1. You don’t get my point at all, what I’m saying is that there was a lot of ipad looking devices before Apple created the ipad. There is no reasons for them to endlessly sue every companies that makes a rounded rectangle tablet like they are doing right now.

            And for the record, I use both an ipad and a windows tablet. The ipad has really nice instruments like Geosynth, but it can’t run DAWs like Cubase or Protools, and IOS can’t load plugins like Kontakt or Massive, but I have my windows tablet and workstation for that.

            “there’s a reason nobody wanted to buy those products you mention – they were lame”

            Yeah, its probably why all those companies kept making more and more of them for the last 15 years.. Actually they were widely used by architects, artists, doctors, people who work in the field, technicians and professionals, so much that even Apple ended up releasing theirs. There’s even a guy who builds great OSX tablets called Modbooks, because there’s a demand for true OSX tablets and Apple hasn’t released one (yet).

            “still hasn’t figured out how to actually make it useful.”

            Yeah tell that to the head of security at the Superbowl who are using one. Surface was never intended as a consumer product but I wonder if you can understand that.

            “Then they’ll eat Microsoft’s lunch.”
            “then you’ll probably be telling everybody about how awesome Microsoft Surface was.”

            You are really passionate about this. I have a feeling that someday some people will believe that Surface is a copy of Apple’s touchscreen Mac’s, and they will be just as passionate as you are.

        2. Showing pictures of PDAs made by other manufacturers as prior art to the iPad is specious. The PDA “revolution” was highly derivative of Apple’s Newton, which was ridiculously ahead of it’s time in ’96-’98. There are a lot of instances of the Newton tech and design that have informed like products (including the iPad) since the Newton was first introduced.

          1. Yes its true the Newton was ahead of its time, but it was not the first pocket computer nor tablet device, Have you ever used one? It was neat, but Palm or Windows Mobile were very different. The Newton might have had some influence over these products, but not as much as you believe. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine a tablet computer, its been in science-fiction for 100 years.

            But I wish Apple hadn’t left the mobile computing business for over a decade before the iphone, it would’ve been great. And I also with they would include a handwriting interface in IOS, that also would be really nice, especially if you need to annotate documents.

      2. iman is absolutely right. considering whole of the tech industry is emulating what apple has done in one way or the other – wonder who wouldn´t be litigious.

  5. Touch is here to stay, but it’s a whole different class of tasks that touch is good for. For example, trying to use an application like Maya would be futile via touch. Touch is here to stay, but there will always be hardware controllers as well, because we need them and they are easier and better for many tasks (like typing!).

    So don’t freak out that everything is going touch!

        1. I can easily envision integration of something like Apple’s magic trackpad with a touchscreen. (I bet they have too!) That would give you an option of either touching the screen itself or having a dedicated touch surface. Perhaps with some visual feedback, maybe a small flash spot or multiple mouse pointers I bet it would be fairly easy to make the hand-eye connection.

          1. I’m not so sure. Apple didn’t invent graphical tablets, nor did they invent ‘magic’ trackpads as you call them, yet they have not been adopted in the 3D industry for the years and years they have been here. Why? Because they are less precise, and nobody in business will ditch the less precise for the easier. At the most they will have both.

            Another thing, if you can envision it right now, its probably already been done by somebody else. I know for a fact that Cycling ’74 and Ableton have had software that does what this patent does in house for since Ableton Live 7 (I’ve seen it with my own eyes in their offices) but they, like the majority of software companies, see patents as a money drain down an aisle they would rather not walk. Doies that mean Apple robbed them, no. Does that mean Ableton robbed them? No, but bring it to a lawsuit in California and Apple will most certainly win.

  6. I thought The idea of touchscreen iMacs had been shelved a couple of years ago for ergonomic reasons? I can’t imagine using an almost horizontal surface as a touchscreen comfortably for more than a few minutes at a time.

    Unless the poise can be moved dramatically (a bit like the old “lamp” style G3 iMacs) so an almost vertical surface is possible on a desktop monitor, I can’t imagine this idea getting beyond beta testing before people have to start phoning the osteopaths to help with the pain.

    1. One advantage, however, is that by being able to move the work surface around you change the range of motion you’re using, which would tend to alleviate repetitive motion. Like you said, something similar to the original iMac design would be good. As the parts are now all internal, it is not dependent on connection to the base. You could put it up like a regular iMac, or tilt it down like a drafting table – if it were removable, you could lay it flat on the desk or in your lap. I think there are actually good possibilities here!

      1. Apple already patented soft keyboards. God knows how seeing as they have been in use by businesses for decades, but yeah think of a iPad in the shape of a keyboard with your keyboard buttons on a screen. Now imagine it was longer, and dual screened to an iMac display, configured much like a Nintendo DS is. Now add Apples brand new Haptic feedback so that the keyboard feels like a real one when you aren’t looking.

        That’s the idea I think they have, and if its not. I’ve already copyrighted it. 😀

  7. The function of the display (output) and the multi-touch (input) have several competing goals. I can’t see the display with my fingers in the way. And the screen loses it’s nice look once my greasy hands have made their mark. The screen has only one kind of tactile feedback (just sliding along smooth glass).

    Still, a touch screen COULD be better than a track pad, mouse or track ball.

    I think an interesting compromise would be a larger multi-touch track pad with optical sensors that would have the option (depending on the function) of displaying the cursor(s) in a myriad of ways– including showing an image of your hand on the screen. That way you would have some of the functionality of the touch-screen, but no smudges and no blocking the display. You wouldn’t have the same “reach for the slider” response, but with the projection of your hand on the display, it would take long to adapt. More musings:

    A rear-projection pico projector for laptops
    A virtual track pad that would exist in 3D space just above the keyboard, but out of the
    way of the screen.
    HD glasses with optical-blink cursor control (quick blinks moisturize your eyes) longer blinks click, double-blick to drag.

    Too much coffee.

  8. I’ve already been doing this with a win 7 tablet. Ableton and reason work great and
    the ability to draw in notes and automations with the wacom pen cannot be overstated and works flawlessly. Here are some issues:
    1. Multitouch support has to be done by the daw maker not hardware/os maker as neither reason or ableton allow for multitouch (my tab allows 8 touch input)

    2. The sample size for the touch control has to be much smaller than what’s currently on the ipad. When making precise changes a large square sample size like those on an ipad are not good enough. This is where the wacom pen technology really excels. Your finger alone will not be good enough for final mix downs and the screen real estate it would take to make it workable is unnacceptable in a pro daw setting.

    1. Sounds like you’ve got a workable solution, even with the lack of multitouch support.

      I hope somebody (Apple, Microsoft, Google or whoever) gets the software caught up with current hardware can do, though. It’s lame that multitouch hardware is readily available but our OS’s are still ‘monotouch’.

  9. Morpion makes an excellent point in that touch desktops would he horrendous to work on. You have to be able to lay your monitor down flat and use it like paper to be productive. Maybe apple makes a new stand that can adjust from right up to lay down, that would be pretty cool.

  10. It’s Apple, they’ll figure it out and make it awesome. I think I would still use my hardware midi controllers in conjunction with a touchscreen. I feel like that would make for an amazing workflow. I would love multitouch Logic, just for controlling the mixer view alone would make it worth it for me. I also think this would be great for drawing in automation.

    1. Nice setup!

      But don’t confuse tacking a touchscreen onto Windows (or OS X) with creating a real multitouch computer.

      There have been touchscreen PCs and Macs for years and none have been mainstream successes, because the touchscreens are acting as expensive replacements for your mouse.

      To move beyond that requires updating the OS and your apps to take advantage of things that current hardware is capable of.

      1. thanks — i am using programs — the os and computer are less and less important —
        once you get past 4 cores and 16 gig of ram mac or pc does it really matter

      1. – i have used touch screens for over 18 years
        on mac /pc/ atari and Linux

        i don’t hate apple products or the company
        i prefer to mix and match from a wide range of solutions

        if you think apple is cutting edge technology… your probably under 30 years old.

        i feel most people commenting here don’t even have a touch screen on their DAW

  11. Have you seen Nintendo’s nextgen Wii? Instead of a standard gamepad it has a tablet as the controller which of course can display all kinds of different controls custom for each game…well suppose Apple does this with the iPad3 and Logic X. Like whatever plugin you have loaded opens on the iPad and you can use it multitouch but if you don’t like touch just use it on the monitor like usual. I’m a bit of an iPad skeptic but that would be pretty hard to resist.

  12. i could never work with touching a screen at eye level all the time, and also not with a screen on a table, even if its tilted, i want the visual output on eye level, and the input othe table, thats simply the best solution, also tactile feedback from the keys.

    iam using ian ipad2 for three month now and for mobile, its definitely the best solution, simply because of the formfactor , and the ability to generate various input surfaces without having this gear with you, like controllers etc but on a desktop ? no way ^^

    1. I’ve got a ‘show me’ attitude about the idea of big multitouch computers.

      On the other hand, there are definitely iPad apps that would benefit from a larger screen and more horsepower.

  13. We are already doing that with the ipad… Apple itself put a hurdle on that by not making a native ios app to link as a usb screen… Add a touchscreen keyboard amd magicpad and happy days!! Also logic is being too slow implementing osc….

  14. I’ve heard that touch screen computers are a ‘terrible idea’ because you have to constantly be holding your arm up to touch the screen in order to interact w/ the computer, as apposed to a traditional computer where you can rest your arms on a keyboard and/or a desk as you type/use a mouse. you could rest your elbows on the table, but that too would get uncomfortable because you’d still need to hold up the rest of your arm. Tablets and spart phones don’t have this problem obviously because you’re already holding them in your hand.

    Any thoughts? Like, am i missing something here?….


    1. Think about a multitouch mixing desk. Screens don’t have to go in the traditional places and there’s no reason not to have special screens for special urposes.

      Don’t think of this as an either/or thing. I’d love to see a horizontal multitouch widescreen monitor with a slide out keyboard. Slide it out when you want to do email, slide it away for doing other stuff. How awesome would that be?

  15. Good thing, but i have allready said 2 years ago that sequencer software also have to support .

    so studio one, cubase, ableton…and plugins need updates to make it real multitouch with better easier workflows than now with mouse

  16. ..yawn…. I’m typing this on myW8 touch screen Dell laptop i7…for less money than a i5 MacBook!!!
    Just fired up Sonar and busy recording… whilst touching the screen for mixing, editing, tweaking…

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