The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is well implemented, but serves no useful purpose

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in macOS
With the 2016 MacBook Pro came polarization of the user base. It wasn't just over USB-C, but also Apple's new Touch Bar as well.


The TouchBar's debut

The Touch Bar was intended to appear and function as a dynamic OLED strip of virtual keyboard keys, unconfined by the physical structure of mechanical keys. Optimally, all the keys are context-sensitive, changing not just appearance but size based on what app the user is in, and what the user is doing.




The old key functions aren't quite gone. If you hold down the FN key, the Touch Bar reverts to a standard strip of 12 function keys and the ESC key. If you boot into Windows, the Touch Bar reverts to displaying virtual FN keys.

After nearly 21 months of use, the verdict is still out on the Touch Bar here at AppleInsider. It's not a universal tool, and we don't use it for everything. Mileage may vary, user to user.

We said once that the the Touch Bar will take some time to mature and find its best uses. Out of the box, it hasn't really fulfilled its promise, but still has potential.

More on that potential in a bit.

Lacking as a video or audio editing tool

We do a lot of video work, as you can probably tell. The idea of a digital, customizable control panel that gives quick access to shortcuts was, and is, intriguing.

Anything that can speed up workflow is a welcome addition. We gave Apple the benefit of the doubt and tried our best to incorporate the Touch Bar -- but it just didn't' stick.




Touch Bar use is literally limited to display brightness and volume adjustments. In Final Cut Pro, you have buttons to use as shortcut but none of them are new or innovative and each one of them can be accessed faster by using the keyboard. We did learn a few more shortcuts that we didn't know about previously, but we just looked up the keyboard commands for them.

The best video editing feature of the Touch Bar is seeing the video timeline and being able to scroll. But, for maximum efficiency and speed, you're better off sticking with the keyboard plus mouse or trackpad.

In general use

We don't have any complaints about the hardware at all. It is quick, and updates rapidly. The images are crisp and clear, and the touch sensitivity is second to none. It's just not that good in actual use.

The Touch Bar has its uses for non-editors, but they are few and far between. Safari has a few niceties in Safari with open tabs, but given that you're looking at the screen to surf, this isn't the most convenient thing.

As we said talking about the 2017 MacBook Pro as a whole a year later, our Touch Bar use is generally limited to display brightness and volume adjustments. With some options, Touch Bar forces users navigate an extra menu to find certain settings, like adjusting the keyboard backlight and skipping audio tracks, tasks that take one simple keypress on standard function keys.

Some of these are Apple's user interface choices. Apple itself doesn't give users that much in the way of configuration options in this regard, but there is a way forward.

Third parties to the rescue!

Regarding potential, a third party app called Better Touch Tool allows users to completely customize the Touch Bar. In short, the bar can become a custom keyboard extension, with just about every parameter configurable for any given app.

At a touch, Better Touch Tool can also run Apple Scripts, and return a value to the Touch Bar. So, there are already info-dense tools available for it, including weather and stock tools.




So, all those things that Apple didn't include for customization, Better Touch Tool can do.

There's a lot more that it can do, even for trackpad users. It's free to try out for 45 days, or it's included in a Setapp subscription.

There is another one we like called called 2Touch which isn't quite as robust, but leverages Apple's accessibility options to give the user a few more choices for the bar.

Probably not going away

We can't imagine a scenario where Apple decides to pull the Touch Bar. In all likelihood it will continue to offer a lower-end MacBook Pro with function keys, but won't make it optional across the line.

The Touch Bar could be great. It's got the ability to be great, as we've demonstrated. And, as we've said before, it has more to do with making the Mac easier for iOS users, than helping existing Mac users.

We can't help but feel that the Touch Bar is a transition to something else. While we'd prefer that tactile keys don't go away, between the short travel on Apple's Butterfly keyboard and the Touch Bar, we're starting to wonder if Apple wants to build a machine without a physical keyboard, and one with all virtual keys.

We'll see in the fullness of time, of course. But, like many other courses Apple has set, there's likely a destination on the horizon -- we just can't see what it is yet.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 189
    Sorin AstroSorin Astro Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    The touch bar is worse than useless - it took away the real functionality and feedback of physical keys. I hit that stupid Siri button by accident all the time, and what I wouldn't give for a proper escape key! The whole keyboard on the 2016 and newer Macbooks was a huge step backward from the feel and function of the previous generation. After living with it for 8 months, I still hate typing on my 15" 2016 Macbook Pro compared to my 2011 MacBook Air. The feedback was so much better on the older keyboard.
    MplsPargonautavon b7kirkgrayirelandwilliamlondonpentaeAvieshekhcrefugeekestral
  • Reply 2 of 189
    To be honest, I missed the physical esc button. This is real handy rather than digital button
    croprRealZoeSummersargonautkirkgrayirelandnumenoreanAvieshekkestraljcallows
  • Reply 3 of 189
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 256member
    As long as the TouchBar is limited to a couple models of laptop, it's use will be limited. Until we get a keyboard with a TouchBar with every desktop Mac, and it expands to all laptop Macs, developers will be hesitant to spent the time and money to make full use of it. I agree theTouchBar may be a transition to something. They'd better get on with it because as of right now users and developers are staying away from using it.
    edited July 7 tmaybloggerblogbigpicschasmargonautanantksundarambackstabnumenoreanlamboaudi4lmac
  • Reply 4 of 189
    Yes, I also learned after a year of use it’s a pretty useless tool. I hope they’ll offer a high end one without Touch Bar to save some money.
    anantksundaramfidelisimoirelandnumenoreanaylkAvieshekhcrefugeeols
  • Reply 5 of 189
    simply258simply258 Posts: 86member
    The touch bar is worse than useless - it took away the real functionality and feedback of physical keys. I hit that stupid Siri button by accident all the time, and what I wouldn't give for a proper escape key! The whole keyboard on the 2016 and newer Macbooks was a huge step backward from the feel and function of the previous generation. After living with it for 8 months, I still hate typing on my 15" 2016 Macbook Pro compared to my 2011 MacBook Air. The feedback was so much better on the older keyboard.
    In keyboard settings you can customize the control strip and remove the Siri button. Once in that setting move the cursor down past the screen and you'll be able to select things in the strip and drag them up and out of the strip.
    emoellerchasmtdknoxargonautnumenoreanfastasleeprandominternetperson
  • Reply 6 of 189
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,775member
    DAalseth said:
    As long as the TouchBar is limited to a couple models of laptop, it's use will be limited. Until we get a keyboard with a TouchBar with every desktop Mac, and it expands to all laptop Macs, developers will be hesitant to spent the time and money to make full use of it. I agree theTouchBar may be a transition to something. They'd better get on with it because as of right now users and developers are staying away from using it.
    This ^
    bigpicsanantksundaramnumenoreanlmacAvieshekols
  • Reply 7 of 189
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,172member
    The Touch Bar is great compared to the old ‘fn’ keys, but I wonder if it would be better if we could get programmable OLED/microLED keys in its place.

    The only downside is you lose the benefit of sliders, but that could be addressed by making the buttons longer than the old ‘fn’ keys.

    Additionally, the trackpad has the potential of being its own display.
    edited July 7 emoelleraylk
  • Reply 8 of 189
    maccadmaccad Posts: 67member
    I hardly ever used the function keys. Yes, the biggest thing I use the Touch Bar for is volume and braightness, but I do use it for other tasks in various programs. The strength of Touch Bar is that it changes to fit the app that's running, much like the virtual key strip at the bottom of an iPad Pro. I don't understand the complaints about the Esc key. You can even tap the Touch Bar at the end, to the left of the Esc key, and it will trigger Esc. Dead simple. The MacBook Pro keyboard is one of the best I've ever used. After almost a year of use, I haven't had any problems with the keys. I would hate to have to go back to my previous MacBook Pros. In addition to my MBP, I have an iMac and an iPad Pro. I also have a Surface Book and Surface Studio, mostly out of curiosity. Windows still sucks, but the the Surface devices have convinced me that Apple needs to merge macOS and iOS. I'm tired of crippled iOS versions of apps on my iPad. Apple also needs to put touch screens on all devices. "People don't want that. That's not how they use their computers." I look at my MBP sitting beside my iPad with its Smart Keyboard. They're both laptops. A touch screen is so wrong for the MBP, but it's great for the iPad. Really Apple? Really? Functionally, the Surface line, especially the Studio, is eating Apple's lunch. But, like I said, Windows sucks. I hope Apple takes a few clues from Redmond. No matter how good you are--and Apple is good--you can still learn from others.
    gatorguymagman1979cornchipfastasleeprandominternetpersonmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 9 of 189
    normmnormm Posts: 519member
    I removed the Siri button and remapped the Caps Lock key to be Esc.  My four general touchbar keys (on the right) are brightness, volume, mute, and play/pause.  These are all pretty useful.  Brightness and Volume are much nicer than real keys, since you can slide continuously to get exactly the value you want in a single motion---you just slide on the buttons themselves, without moving to the slider.  TouchID is also useful, but should work in more situations---I still have to type my password too much.  In general, I think more slider buttons will be the killer app for the touchbar, at least for me.
    bigpicsemoellerbonobobcornchipfastasleeprandominternetpersongreg uvan
  • Reply 10 of 189
    webraiderwebraider Posts: 156member
    The touch bar is a gimmick to try to appease/fool those who want a Mac version of a Surface or Surface Pro combing of an iPad/Touch Screen Mac.  I was surprised they didn't bring it to the wireless keyboard and until it's function is seen on a all Macs it's just a gimmick.  I will agree it is well implemented. 
    bigpicsargonautttollertonwilliamlondonaylkAvieshekhcrefugee
  • Reply 11 of 189
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,172member
    DAalseth said:
    As long as the TouchBar is limited to a couple models of laptop, it's use will be limited. Until we get a keyboard with a TouchBar with every desktop Mac, and it expands to all laptop Macs, developers will be hesitant to spent the time and money to make full use of it. I agree theTouchBar may be a transition to something. They'd better get on with it because as of right now users and developers are staying away from using it.
    1) Most Mac sales are laptops so I don’t think that’s a major financial obstacle for developers. I think gettin Touch Bar on all Mac laptops would be more viable.

    2) I assume Apple wants/wanted to get Touch Bar on wireless Apple keyaboards, but that may prove to be difficult since it runs off the T-series chip which I’ve read uses a fork of OS X built up from watchOS.

    Then you have Apple Pay and Touch ID tied to it (which don’t have to carry over) but that do pose complexities in security.

    Then you have power and bandwidth issues with having a wireless display in a keyboard. All of this is doable, but at what cost? Are users willing to pay, say, $250 for a wireless keyboard to get the Touch Bar when so many Apple userson this forum complain constantly about its existence?
  • Reply 12 of 189
    bigpicsbigpics Posts: 1,340member
    It's the keys below the keyboard that vex me.  I can't type well on it and don't want to type louder and I eat at my Mac (with no problems in the last 15 years), so no way crumbs aren't going to get in.

    But I'm nursing my 2013 MBA waiting for a MBP I could love, not one crippled by marketing decisions (Thin! Thin! Thin! No Touchscreen Ever! No matter what! Don't you really want an iPad Pro instead? [NO!] ).  And so this sentence near the end crushed me:

    "...we're starting to wonder if Apple wants to build a machine without a physical keyboard, and one with all virtual keys."

    I really, really don't want to go back to Windows and its learning curve and replacing Mac only ways of doing things.  But I feel I'm being pushed in that direction hard.

    I think it's not us in the reality distortion field, rather, Apple management themselves.  In so many ways they're killing the Mac line via the few design parameters they're allowing to rule.


    edited July 7 tokyojimuanonconformistaylkAvieshek
  • Reply 13 of 189
    croprcropr Posts: 826member
    To be honest, I missed the physical esc button. This is real handy rather than digital button
    For me it is the most important reason I stopped to buy the 15" MBP for my company.  Too many programs make use of an escape key.  On a normal keyboard you can blindly type the esc key, on a TouchBar model you cannot do that, which means a decrease of productivity
    anantksundaramviclauyyckirkgrayjeffharrisanonconformistwilliamlondonaylkAvieshekmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 189
    georgie01georgie01 Posts: 167member
    maccad said:
    ... the the Surface devices have convinced me that Apple needs to merge macOS and iOS. I'm tired of crippled iOS versions of apps on my iPad. Apple also needs to put touch screens on all devices. "People don't want that. That's not how they use their computers." I look at my MBP sitting beside my iPad with its Smart Keyboard. They're both laptops. A touch screen is so wrong for the MBP, but it's great for the iPad. Really Apple? Really? Functionally, the Surface line, especially the Studio, is eating Apple's lunch. 
    I’d suggest that your perception above may be due in part to a resistance to moving away from what you perceive as ‘real’ computing. Operating systems like macOS and Windows were developed with a keyboard/mouse in mind. A touch-based UI has to be re-envisioned. Microsoft with the Surface didn’t re-envisioned the Windows UI, they adapted it.

    To move forward with computing we need to move past the notion that productivity and power comes from the traditional desktop operating system UI.

    I’ve done serious work on the iPad since the first version. For instance, using Pages on iOS for 95% of my post-graduate thesis (which, by the way, received a special mention for the quality of its presentation). Obviously you can’t do everything on the iPad, but you also can’t do everything on macOS that you can do on iOS—it simply depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
    magman1979JWSCwilliamlondonAvieshek
  • Reply 15 of 189
    emoelleremoeller Posts: 376member
    normm said:
    I removed the Siri button and remapped the Caps Lock key to be Esc.  My four general touchbar keys (on the right) are brightness, volume, mute, and play/pause.  These are all pretty useful.  Brightness and Volume are much nicer than real keys, since you can slide continuously to get exactly the value you want in a single motion---you just slide on the buttons themselves, without moving to the slider.  TouchID is also useful, but should work in more situations---I still have to type my password too much.  In general, I think more slider buttons will be the killer app for the touchbar, at least for me.
    Thanks for this.  I've wanted the touch bar when it first came out, unfortunately I've been waiting patiently to replace my 2013 MBP to get an update with more than 16GB RAM.   The wait continues.  But I have used friends TouchBar units and I loved it - especially the ability to remap keys, functions and scripts.  Hoping this fall will bring me some good news.  But I very much favor the TouchBar. 
  • Reply 16 of 189
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,047member
    I feel the same way about the function keys. They get used, at most, once every 3 months.
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 17 of 189
    I hope for the next one they get rid of the mandatory touch bar. I just want FN keys since I touch type. There's no point in putting. a screen where I'm not looking. (Also I don't want to pay for the price of an Apple Watch for something I'm not gonna use) I'd be much happier if they put FaceID on the Mac, though I'd be fine with just having touch ID by itself. Also if you want to experiment with allowing direct input to a screen on a Mac, let's nuke the touch ID and instead let's let the display flip all the way back (like the windows 2 in 1s and let me draw on the screen with the Apple Pencil! You get rid of all the complaints about how macOS isn't designed for fingers by not allowing fingers. And you allow professionals to get work done with a stylus!
    avon b7anantksundaramwilliamlondonAvieshek
  • Reply 18 of 189
    chasmchasm Posts: 769member
    I don't regularly use a machine that has a touchbar, but when I do having the emojis right there when messaging is very handy (waits for old people to get cranky about emoji use). I've found it handy for scrubbing through Photos, but I will certainly agree that the touchbar is of limited value until more third party apps implement it. I think it could really be a great tool for audio editing, and I find it useful for texting with the predictive suggestions being where my hands can reach them.

    The truth about the touchbar though is that it was designed with the assumption that most people are touch-typists ... and that is SO not the case. :(
    edited July 7 anantksundaramlamboaudi4
  • Reply 19 of 189
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 571member
    The touch bar would have been more useful if they had made it into 12 individual keys with OLED screens. The one nice thing about it is it lets you do emojis without pulling up another keyboard and it will give you autofill choices, kind of like the iPad does, but put me in the group that misses physical keys, especially the escape key. I have programs that use the function keys and the lack of a physical key and tactical feedback is persistently annoying.

    It's not that there's no useful features of the Touch Bar, it's just that most of the features are more gimmicks than anything else. 
    cropraylk
  • Reply 20 of 189
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,207member
    It is like many innovations introduced by Apple in recent years, a potentially great idea that is not properly cultivated and the sum is not demonstrably better than its parts, or a huge step up on what it replaces. This isn’t the eighties with Apple introducing macs with the laser printer alongside Microsoft office and pagemaker. The MBP was introduced with the touchbar and...crickets.

    Sure, introduce a new feature like the touchbar, and then fully integrate it through the OS and Apple apps to show its potential power. that is what Apple is famous for. Before release, work closely with major developers so at launch, you can show its power. And I don’t just mean substitute, customisable keys. A capability that wows everyone and makes competitors want to copy it.  

    Because at the moment, the biggest add ons it really does is make an MBP more expensive with a shorter battery life. There needs to be something amazing for the touchbar to do to justify its existence.

    Edit: Back in the day I suspect at the Board presentation of the new machine Steve Jobs would have done what he famously did when the soon to be released Segway was shown off to him. Rip it to shreds and told them to think about the real world use case.
    edited July 7 aylk
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