Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro upgrades introduced the Touch Bar – an interesting piece of hardware that didn't quite catch on in the world. In fact, it was so unpopular with power users that the company removed the Touch Bar from its latest 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models and brought back the traditional function keys.
The Touch Bar is still available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (for now), but the biggest question still arises: can the Touch Bar improve productivity, or is it just a gimmick as some users portray it?
What is the touch bar?
Microsoft and Google have long been convinced of the idea of installing touchscreens on laptops. Microsoft's own Surface Laptop has it, and so has Google's Chromebook Pixel. Aside from these two, several laptops running Windows 10 or Chrome OS have displays that also accept touch input.
On the other hand, Apple has long been against the idea of installing a touchscreen on computers. During the 2010 iPad announcement, Steve Jobs talked about how vertical touchscreens can be painful and "make your arm fall off" after a while.
Lately Apple has been warming up to the idea of touchscreen computers, like the iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard Cover, which requires you to interact with a vertically mounted touchscreen.
MAKEUSEOF VIDEO OF THE DAY
Nonetheless, Apple stuck to its beliefs with the Mac, building on an idea Lenovo toyed with years ago. By putting a tiny strip of touchscreen just above the keyboard, Apple believes that this is a better implementation of touch input on a computer than making the entire display touchable.
How does the touchbar work?
The Touch Bar changes the functions dynamically depending on the app in the foreground. For example, when a Safari browser window is open, you'll see shortcuts for Back, Forward, New Tab, and more. Put the focus on finder (the file explorer) shows shortcuts for Quick Look, Tags, Share Sheet, etc.
Because of its position on top of the keyboard, it is technically easier to reach the Touch Bar than having to raise your hand and touch the computer display.
A control strip is permanently displayed in the right corner of the Touch Bar. By default, this includes the Siri, Brightness, Volume, and Mute controls, but they can instead be swapped with the controls you prefer. I'm using play / pause, screen lock, brightness and volume controls.
Tapping the arrow key to the left of the control strip reveals the rest of the features you'd normally find on other Macs (like keyboard backlight and Mission Control). If you want to use real function keys, you can also hold down the Fn key to display the F1 through F12 keys on the Touch Bar.
In System Preferences> Keyboard, there are a few settings you can use to tweak the Touch Bar's behavior, including keeping a fixed set of toggle keys (see screenshot above) instead of dynamic ones.
The good parts of the touch bar
Because it's a capacitive touchscreen that runs Apple software, you can be confident that the Touch Bar will respond precisely to your taps. I rarely press the wrong button and for the most part the animations and controls are fluid enough.
Improved media control
I especially like the improved media playback controls on the Touch Bar. For example, when I'm playing a song in a music app, I can scroll to any part of the song without bringing the app to the front. When a YouTube video is playing in full screen mode, you can see an elapsed time on either side of the timeline and a counter for the time remaining.
And here's the most interesting part: if you're playing media in a browser tab and Safari isn't even in the foreground, you can still click the media control button to play, pause, or clean.
Specific app functionality
In the Safari web browser, you'll see tiny thumbnails of the webpage in the middle. However, often times they are indistinguishable so you can't really tell which tab is which. You can quickly switch between tabs by sliding your finger over these tiny thumbnails.
For people using Apple's Photos app, I imagine flipping through photos with a similar finger slide could be useful.
When you open the calculator, commonly used arithmetic symbols (such as addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, and percent) occupy the Touch Bar. I've gotten used to tapping the Touch Bar for long calculations.
And there are a few tips worth making the MacBook Pro Touch Bar more useful.
The bad parts of the touch bar
The first criticism I have about the Touch Bar is the standard brightness – it feels low when you're sitting under a bright source of light. To make matters worse, the matte surface makes the visibility of content even more difficult in such light conditions. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it was released a few years ago, there is still no way to change the brightness of the Touch Bar.
The next problem is that the Touch Bar goes to sleep if you don't use the trackpad or keyboard for about a minute. This means that the computer display timeout and the Touch Bar display timeout will not sync.
Do you remember how much I loved seeing the elapsed time or time remaining counters while playing video in full screen mode? Well, if you're watching a video after a minute, the Touch Bar is of no use in showing you that information unless you touch the trackpad. As of today, there is also no way to change the Touch Bar screen timeout.
Most importantly, aside from the niche use cases I talked about above, the The Touch Bar in its current form does not dramatically improve the usability of a Mac. For example, if you're using the Finder, you'll see a quick view shortcut. The problem is, you can access Quick Look faster by simply pressing the space bar instead of lifting your index finger towards the Touch Bar. When Safari is open there is a "New Tab" shortcut, but my brain is set to use that Command + T already abbreviate.
With Apple's own apps, the Touch Bar only shows elements that either remove a known key combination or are easily visible on the computer display. For example, when you're previewing images, you'll see the keyboard shortcuts Rotate Left and Rotate Right, among other things. Again with the Command + R Keyboard shortcut just felt easier.
The automatic keyboard correction suggestions are probably the Touch Bar's most pointless feature. When you type, you're usually looking at the screen, not below it. It almost never happens that you understand these autocorrect suggestions in order to use them. The only silver lining? One-click access to your frequently used emojis, which is certainly nicer than using the complicated ones Ctrl + Command + Spacebar Keyboard shortcuts.
Finally, depending on the version of MacBook you are using, retraining may be required if you do the Esc Key. On the current 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Esc key is a dedicated key, while the Esc key on previous models is a virtual key in the left corner of the Touch Bar.
Even with repetitive tasks like changing the screen brightness or volume, you need to look at the virtual buttons before using them – something you have not had to do with the tactile nature of physical buttons in the past.
The ugly parts of the Touch Bar
The Touch Bar experience wasn't entirely flawless for me. And while I've only seen a few freezes so far, others have reported buggy behavior more frequently.
Since the Touch Bar is software-based and used to control useful functions such as volume, brightness, and media playback, a crash of the Touch Bar can put certain aspects of macOS completely out of reach.
Should You Buy or Avoid the Touch Bar?
Apple currently sells three models of the MacBook Pro. Only one of them (the 13-inch model) contains the Touch Bar, while the 14- and 16-inch models have the familiar physical function buttons instead. I can confidently say that the Touch Bar is no reason to avoid the 13-inch model, it looks cool and can be customized as you wish. You will find out in due course.
However, if you were hoping that the Touch Bar would dramatically improve your workflow, then unfortunately you will be disappointed. In its current form, it's a cool, experimental feature at best. If you want to use the traditional button functionality instead of the Touch Bar functionality that adapts to each app, you can use the standard button setup. It has the same functionality as the traditional physical keyboard row on a MacBook.
For some, the learning curve to use the Touch Bar instead of keyboard shortcuts or the mouse pointer is unfortunately too steep.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
Whether or not you should buy the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar ultimately depends on your personal preferences. If you're buying direct from Apple, your only current way to avoid the Touch Bar is to upgrade to a 14-inch MacBook Pro (which costs about $ 600 more) or downgrade to an M1 MacBook Air (the $ 200 cheaper, but missing). Energy).
However, if you do choose to buy a used MacBook Pro, I wouldn't be without a MacBook because of the Touch Bar. You will most likely be using it with traditional button functionality, which isn't a bad thing after all.
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About the author
(19 articles published)
Rohan Naravane holds a bachelor's degree in computer science. He has been writing on technology for various digital and print publications since 2007. He also worked in retail for Apple and was also Head of Product and UX for a shopping guide website through 2016. He is often torn between Apple and Google products. You can find him on Twitter @ r0han
By Rohan Naravane
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