We saw a prototype of the AirBar,an odd but useful device that sits below your MacBook Air’s screen and turn it into a touchscreen, back at CES. But here at SXSW 2017, the company is back with a new model that’s almost ready for production. The big difference between the product we saw at CES and this latest one is that it supports some of the most important things you need to make a touchscreen work: multitouch.
You can now pinch to zoom on the MacBook Air screen to zoom in and out — the Maps app provides a particularly good demo of this feature. You can also place two fingers on the screen to rotate things (again something that works well in maps). Another much-needed addition is the ability to flick your finger up and down the screen to scroll in websites and documents. Before, running your finger up or down the screen would just highlight text. That wasn’t by design, but getting proper scrolling goes a long way to making the touchscreen experience feel a lot more natural.
If you tap and hold icons in the MacOS Launchpad, you can rearrange and add things to folders, just like on your iPhone. And the product still lets you use your finger to draw things in painting apps, although you’re not going to get a high degree of precision. Using a stylus might be better, but we weren’t able to try that in this demo.
This device isn’t being marketed as something you’ll want to use for extreme precision, though, so that’s OK. Part of that is the limitations of essentially hacking a touchscreen into MacOS — there’s only so much fine tuning that can be done here, so selecting tiny screen targets isn’t possible, for example. But if you want some basic touchscreen controls or are just interested in trying an interesting piece of hardware that lets you control your Mac in a new way, the Airbar might be worth its $99 asking price. We’ll have to wait until it launches to judge for sure, but it’ll be out on Amazon, Best Buy and Walmart (as well as a few other retailers) by the middle of April.