Apple’s MacBook Pro Touch Bar is slowly becoming more useful

TouchBar

To the disagreement of many, I still contend that Apple’s Touch Bar is a compelling concept that holds a significant amount of untapped potential.

While at first I rarely ran my fingers across the 13-inch USB-C MacBook Pro’s secondary screen, I’ve found myself using it more frequently over the last few months, though I admittedly only reach for the Touch Bar with specific apps where its functionality feels seamless. This is because of one main reason: app support for the Touch Bar has improved significantly over roughly the last five months.

The inherent concept of the Touch Bar remains a worthwhile endeavour for Apple. On a basic level, the Touch Bar is a display that constantly shifts and changes in the same way the screen of a smartphone or tablet does. It shifts in a dynamic manner, changing to suit whatever app is currently being used. In the context of a desktop environment, this gives users quick access to often-utilized functionality, coupled with the ability to constantly shift inputs, unlike the function keys featured in older MacBooks and other laptops.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar Adobe Premiere

Unfortunately at launch, Apple’s Touch Bar was more of a hindrance than a sleek new addition to the company’s pricey Pro laptop line, a point most critics who reviewed the long-awaited laptop placed emphasis on. While some of the Touch Bar’s issues still remain when it comes to stability, with its screen crashing and locking up on rare occasions, it is slowly but steadily becoming more useful — though it’s still far from the necessary feature Apple likely envisions it becoming.

So lets take a look at what has changed with the Touch Bar since the initial launch of Apple’s 13-inch and 15-inch USB-C MacBook Pro.

One of my major gripes about the Touch Bar when it was initially announced related to its lack of Spotify integration. Roughly a month ago, however, Spotify finally added Touch Bar support to its Mac app, giving users quick access to skipping songs, as well as a time stamp scroll bar similar to Quick Time’s integration.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar apps

Prior to the app’s release, changing songs was a chore via Spotify and required users to expand the standard tool bar each time they wanted to change a song, even with the app open. While that’s still the case when using an app that isn’t Spotify, in-app integration is a welcome and much-needed addition.

Evernote has also entered the Touch Bar fray and though I’ve slowly stopped using the platform in favour of Google Keep, the app’s new integration is one of the most recent and arguably best examples of how developers can use the Touch Bar properly.

With Evernote, the Touch Bar allows you to start a search, begin a new note and access tags, all simple actions that make sense in the context of a simple tap.

MacBook Pro Logic apps

The bar also turns into a slider when selecting colours (which could be confusing for some). The platform says the goal of its recently launched Touch Bar integration is to ensure the controls fall somewhere between traditional touchscreen controls you may expect on a smartphone, and keyboard shortcuts.

The above examples are two relatively niche apps finally adding Touch Bar functionality, but there are other more substantial instances out there as well, including Microsoft updating its entire Office suite with support back in February. While much of the integration isn’t particularly useful, I’m fond of Office’s new Focus Mode that removes the standard navigation ribbon and drops it on the Touch Bar, resulting in less on-screen distractions while writing. Other simple shortcuts like text format changes and font styles, are included in the Touch Bar functionality.

While Apple-developed apps like Final Cut and Logic should have launched with Touch Bar integration, Apple is only rolling out the functionality now. Touch Bar integration is mostly limited to shortcuts and basic volume controls, but in the crowded UI — especially if you’re using just one screen — the Touch Bar gives users quick access to controls that are typically buried, or at the very least cumbersome to find with multiple windows open. Apple’s iMovie and GarageBand also have similar, quick-access Touch Bar shortcuts available.

MacBook Pro keyboard with touch bar

While somewhat unrelated, the ability to record in both Logic and the mobile version of GarageBand and share content between both apps via iCloud, is also extremely useful.

Other apps like Toronto-developed 1Password, Adobe’s entire Creative Cloud suite, Pixelmator and Sketch, have also added Touch Bar functionality. Some holdouts still remain unfortunately, with Google’s Chrome browser being unsurprisingly one of the many major apps that have yet to integrate Touch Bar functionality, though rumours indicate it could be coming soon.

Apple doesn’t admit mistakes — unless you count the company’s uncharacteristic recent press briefing about the Mac Pro — and I don’t see the company admitting the Touch Bar was a side step anytime soon, though it certainly hasn’t lived up to the company’s lofty claims.

As more app support arrives, Apple’s Touch Bar is set to continue becoming increasingly useful, though it’s unlikely it will ever become as integral to most user’s day-to-day activities as a traditional keyboard. Still, I commend Apple for trying something different in the typically stagnant laptop industry.

If you temper your expectations, there’s actually lot to like about the Touch Bar now.

Comments

  • thereasoner

    That’s funny, it’s just like iPhones, the more they copy from Android the more useful they are!

    • I’d argue that most of iOS’ more recent new features share more in common with the Jailbreak community than Android.

    • makeittalk

      Yep! Apple hates them but loves them at the same time. Pretty much all really good features appeared first as Jailbreaks. Droid…not so much.

    • southerndinner

      It’s pleasantly surprising to me how you respond to so many comments – even borderline trolling ones

    • I do what I can for the people of earth.

    • ciderrules

      Ever the useless troll. My kids can come up with more intelligent comments than you.

    • Brad Fortin

      Android phones have touch bars?

  • Brad Fortin

    It’s almost as if new features become useful once you give developers time to use them. I don’t know why some people expect immediate widespread adoption for each and every new feature Apple announces.

    • Guillaume Simard

      While I understand what you’re saying, I think Apple could have seen this coming. They could have given devs a heads up, collaborate with some development teams to create more release-day integrations.

  • poangielsku

    “If you temper your expectations” = if you have REALLY low expectations, then it *might* surprise you.

    What strikes me as bizarre is on the 4th pic, despite the obvious extra space to the right, the buttons aren’t large enough to accommodate the full words.

    • That’s because you can customize the layout and add more buttons. The way I have it set up, I’m only using those specific shortcuts.

    • poangielsku

      Ok, but do you choose to have the buttons that size (e.g. for comfort’s sake) and not fit the full word in the button, or are you restricted? I hope it doesn’t sound like a dumb or patronising question, I’m genuinely interested. It would annoy me to not have the full word on something that is not a physical key when the button could be made a little larger to accommodate the word. But it’s just me.

  • Smanny

    I think he was referring to others in general. For instance the touch bar is new to Apple and their MacBooks. However if you actually looked at other laptops that are on the market or the laptops that were out before the new MacBooks, then some other laptops had something similar or actually better in other other ways when it comes to the touch bar. Lenovo had a laptop with a keyboard board that transforms into a touch pad and pen input. Others use an add on keyboard as a track pad with their touch screen.

    Honestly the current MacBook pros could have used the 6th gen Intel processors. Now there is 7th gen Intel processors. Considering the current MacBooks use the 5th gen Intel processors. Plus this time around the ram you get is exactly that. There is no upgradable option later down the road. There is always room for improvement. The touch bar is truly a solution to a problem that no one was looking for, especially when many non Apple laptops have touch screens to begin with. So you can use a track pad, mouse, or the touch screen. Apples solution requires developers to make specific apps to take advantage of the touch bar.

    • Beautiful Blessings

      Thank you and blessings be upon you and yours.

  • Russ

    The nice thing about physical keys (relative to capacitive or on-screen keys) is that you can find them by touch and put your finger on them without triggering them.

    I would rather program my F4 key to do what I want and be able to tap it without looking, instead of having to constantly look down to see what and where I’m pressing before I press it.

    We think that virtual keys are better because they’re new technology, and because that’s how they’re always portrayed in science fiction. Star Trek TNG is a great example, because everything on the ship was controlled by light-up touch panels. You know why they could tap a bunch of keys and get exactly what they wanted to show up on the screen? Because they were actors and it didn’t really matter which keys they pressed.