Every new Apple product, feature, or functionality is met with a storm of criticism from critics, often before said component or product ships. In the case the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, the only ones who love it are those who use it.
Touch Bar? Yeah, a bar across the top of the MacBook Pro’s keyboard which you can, well, touch. It takes the place of the old Mac function keys which hardly anyone used, but they are not really gone because they’re available along with hundreds of other function keys that are app specific.
Say what? Here’s the skinny.
Some Apple MacBook Pro models, released in fall of 2016 contains a Touch Bar instead of a function key row. The bar is a colour OLED touch screen. According to Apple, the screen was engineered to be watched at a 45° angle. At least 63% of the middle of the bar is available for the current app. So far, different buttons and horizontal sliders have been shown. At most 28% of the right of the bar can contain a set of permanent, supposedly configurable controls, such as for media keys.
There’s plenty of geek in that description but suffice it to say Touch Bar adds functionality above and beyond the old function keys, yet retains access to said keys, and brings in personal configuration of the bar on a per app basis.
Plus, there’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor security built-in. What’s not to like? After a year of use and millions of customers (Apple says over 80-percent of all Macs sold are Mac notebooks), it looks as if the two schools of love and hate are at it again. Steven Aquino uses Touch Bar.
I find the Touch Bar to be an invaluable tool when I’m using macOS. Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji. In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.
Complaints from others aside, there you. That’s Touch Bar in a nutshell; better than the old function keys, context sensitive, application specific, customizable. Yes, we live in a world where not everyone agrees with one another on anything so let’s just agree to disagree about whether Touch Bar is good for you. Rob Griffiths:
You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it
Uh, OK. One cannot appreciate the beauty of Emilia Clarke without looking at her. One cannot activate iPhone X’s Face ID without looking at it. Hell, I even have to look at the keyboard now and again.
The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.
Uh, OK. I think I get the point here. I don’t understand it. Maybe I’m missing something.
I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea…was incredibly disruptive. To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.
Oh, I got it. You see, you need to spend more than 30-minutes using new technology to make a determination as to whether you can fit it into your routine, or whether adjusting your routine brings about benefits.
With Touch Bar, applications determine the function keys. Function keys on previous Macs and non-Touch Bar Macs didn’t get used much because they were generalized and customization required geek-like effort. Touch Bar takes away the geek factor, improves usability and functionality, and, yes– you have to look at it, unless you can remember all the Touch Bar settings for various apps, otherwise hunt and peck rules.
Oh, and there’s Touch ID. I bring that up last because as much as I enjoy using Touch ID on my MBP for authentication and an occasional online purchase, we all know it’s a Dodo Bird and technological evolution says Face ID sits higher on the food chain.
If you used the Mac’s function keys or configured them to do your bidding, now you have more options with Touch Bar. If you never used function keys and don’t care about them, nothing has changed.