MacBook Pro Touch Bar could be revived as a strip that supports Apple Pencil

in Future Apple Hardware edited June 2022
Apple is continuing to research how to have the iPad-centric Apple Pencil do the work of the old Touch Bar on the surface of a future MacBook Pro.

It's just a patent application, and Apple gets thousands of these granted every year, it does not mean any actual product will appear. But sometimes you can tell that Apple is serious by how it applies for a patent, gets it -- and then applies again for the smallest variation on the idea.

That's what happened here with a patent application whose drawings show a MacBook Pro with a holder for an Apple Pencil.

It's a Mac with a place to pop your Apple Pencil. But you can't use an Apple Pencil with a Mac, or not yet.

Unless Apple is thinking of a MacBook Pro for very tidy people, both the newly-revealed patent application, "Mountable tool computer input," and its identically-named granted patent from March 2022, give some hints about Apple's thinking.

It doesn't appear likely that the patent's inventors expect people to draw and write on the MacBook Pro screen, but rather that they sometimes use an Apple Pencil.

Specifically, that they use the Pencil in at least roughly the area where Apple used to include a Touch Bar.

"[Some] computing devices, such as laptop computers, can have a touch screen positioned in or adjacent to a keyboard of the device that can be configured to provide many more functions than a set of traditional keys," begins the patent.

"However, an ancillary touch screen can be difficult to use in some cases," it continues. "Touch typists may dislike using the touch screen because it lacks tactile feedback as compared to a set of mechanical, moving keys."

The patent doesn't appear to rule out a touch screen Mac, but it's focused on the Touch Bar-like strip
The patent doesn't appear to rule out a touch screen Mac, but it's focused on the Touch Bar-like strip

"The touch screen is also generally positioned near the user's hands and therefore may be prone to being obscured from the user's vision by their own hands," says the patent. "Also, even when the user looks at the touch screen, it is positioned at a different focal distance from the user as compared to the main display, so the user must readjust their head or eyes to effectively read and interact with the touch screen..."

It's a wonder Apple ever bothered with a Touch Bar. Yet the company wants to do something with that space, and it persists. The Bar may be replaced by a touch panel.

"The touch panel may include a touch-sensitive surface that, in response to detecting a touch event, generates a signal that can be processed and used by other components of the electronic device," continues Apple. "A display component of the electronic device may display textual and/or graphical display elements representing selectable virtual buttons or icons, and the touch sensitive surface may allow a user to navigate and change the content displayed on the display screen."

None of this would immediately seem to fix Apple's criticisms of the Touch Bar. A user would have to break off typing, look for the Pencil to pick it up out of the holder, then write or tap with it on the touch sensitive strip.

A stylus may be more natural than a Touch Bar

Yet that is more natural than the Touch Bar. While it stops the user typing, it feels more natural to look away from the screen to find the Pencil.

And rather than trying to remember a control that is a small spot on the Touch Bar -- which also moves -- then picking up a Pencil is a lot easier.

Detail from the patent showing a housed Apple Pencil being swiped across
Detail from the patent showing a housed Apple Pencil being swiped across

There is one more thing, though. In a few patent drawings, a user is shown tapping on the Pencil, or touching it, or swiping across it.

The Apple Pencil could then show Touch Bar-like controls while it's in the holder.

This patent application, like its previous granted version, is credited to Paul X. Wang, Dinesh C. Mathew, and John S. Camp. Wang is listed on many previous patents for Apple, including more on user input devices.

Read on AppleInsider


  • Reply 1 of 10
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 418member
    I never liked the Touch Bar but this seems to throw away its better bit (you could see what it was supposed to do as it changed). Now, we swap the extra tap to wake it up before it will do anything for extracting an Apple Pencil from that awkward corner between keyboard and display. Then we tap/draw in an unlabelled space?

    I'm not convinced. Part of the Touch Bar's downfall was that it didn't do anything that standard macOS features ('cos not everyone has a Touch Bar) didn't do at least as well: I can't see this being any different.
  • Reply 2 of 10
    If Apple wanted to include the touchbar AND the physical row of keys on the new m1 macbook pro models, there was room to do it.  There is certainly ample space on the 16" model.  I don't think many would object to having the touchbar in addition to physical F keys - it was the substitution that was divisive.  

    Alternatively...and most obviously...Apple could have given the MacBook Pros a touch capable display.  Before MacOS users lose their $h1t about it not being a touch OS and should never be (until Apple does it and you love it) - I'm not talking about making the OS touch capable.  I'm talking about giving developers touch capabilities within their Mac apps.  

    For example...

    One of the best features of the touch bar is that it becomes a play scrub bar in Final Cut, iMovie or Quicktime.  If the screen has touch capability, the timeline in FCP could simply be scrubbable via touch.  Before some lose their $h1t about finger prints on your laptop screen...well - you touch your iphone & ipad right?  Also, whoever wants to happily ignore it could do so.
  • Reply 3 of 10
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,783member
    OR this is for the next generation Magic Keyboard for the iPad. 
  • Reply 4 of 10
    omasouomasou Posts: 548member
    I really liked the touch bar, especially the sliders for adjusting volume and brightness.

    For me function keys are completely useless and never used.

    Like the control key; function keys are only necessary for Windows compatibility.
    edited June 2022 jib
  • Reply 5 of 10
    dewmedewme Posts: 5,280member
    I think the main issue with the Touch Bar was its location. Apple’s insistence that Macs never have touch screens ties their hands behind their back when it comes to finding UI real estate to incorporate new interactive controls. Using the Touch Bar required taking your eyes off the screen and looking down, which breaks some people’s workflow. Since Apple wasn’t opposed to this disruption they could have simply incorporated smart controls into a glass trackpad in some manner. 

    Apple’s trackpads are unusually large. It’s conceivable that certain regions of their massive trackpad could be used on-demand and in an app-centric context to place additional controls directly on the trackpad, e.g., a vertical or horizontal slider/fader along an edge of the trackpad that would pop up when the user selects an on-screen control that requires a variable value. Using the trackpad as both a control and display surface may make sense, or it might be a complete disaster, i.e., Touch Bar Fail v2.0. 

    I’m actually not trying to suggest any kind of UI concept, all I’m saying is that Apple has painted themselves in a corner by insisting “fingers off” when it comes to the primary display surface. Adding a secondary display surface with touch by eliminating the function keys didn’t work out so well in the long run. Doing something similar with the trackpad may be a repeat of that previous failure.

    Popping up touch controls, fully in-context with an app’s workflow, directly on the screen and within the un-averted sight lines of the user, is an obvious solution to the problems the Touch Bar was trying to solve. I hate fingerprint smudges as much as anyone does, and I’ll never like typing on glass, but how many more crazy ways of dancing around the “no fingers on the screen” edict will Apple have to come up with before they finally admit that the obvious solution is probably the right solution? 
  • Reply 6 of 10
    ravnorodomravnorodom Posts: 690member
    I can't live without Function Keys because many of my Photoshop shortcuts assigned to Function Keys. Touch Bar is useless for me because when I am on desktop, I use "fn" key combo all the time to control volume and others. So it's natural thing for me to do the same on MacBook Pro. For Apple to have Touch Bar on MacBook Pro only doesn't help me who use desktop and laptop frequently.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    jibjib Posts: 56member
    I really liked the Touch Bar and although it was never implemented to its full potential, I would be very happy to see it come back on both MacBook and desktop Macs.  One of the options of a new Touch Bar might be an option to temporarily blank (a portion of it) an allow the Apple Pencil to be used. 
    To avoid some of the complaints to the previous Touch Bar, it need not replace the top row of control keys, and it could be located elsewhere, for example by (or on) the touchpad on a MacBook, on on a bezel below the actual screen.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 6,397member
    What’s with all the recycled old articles getting pushed to the home page again?
  • Reply 9 of 10
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member
    If you need to look away from the screen then it’s a dead end.  Touch Bar was a dumb idea from the start.
  • Reply 10 of 10
    jcallowsjcallows Posts: 150member
    I just love the Touch Bar!  I hardly use it but it's just so cool to look at!  I especially love how it flickers, flashes lights and changes colors whenever you switch apps.  It's not distracting-- it's just exciting!  Why let all those cheap laptop makers like Dell, HP and Samsung have all the fun and be the only ones that have these colorful flashing lights? Nothing says refined and class more than a lit-up, candied-color strip staring at your face from the keyboard.  Moreover, the added level of complexity and increased cost for something that's rarely, if ever, used, just adds more spice to life by making the MacBooks more challenging to fix and to afford.  Kudos, Apple, on your new direction!  But if you do decide to remove the beloved Touch Bar, please replace it with something equally as annoying, like say, oh, a big ugly notch!

    An Anonymous Member of Apple's Post-Jony Ive Design Team
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