The Touch Bar makes the Mac more accessible to me

Steven Aquino, responding to Marco Arment’s fixing the MacBook Pro post, specifically this point Marco made about the Touch Bar:

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

From Steven’s response:

Arment’s recommendation that Apple “back away from the Touch Bar” reiterates a popular sentiment in the Apple community: in blunt terms, the Touch Bar sucks. I’ve read many articles and heard many podcasts where prominent members of the community deride the feature and question its future. These criticisms, while legitimate, sting me personally because I like the Touch Bar.

Read on for the details, but I agree. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Touch Bar is an important concept. Let it evolve into the thing it was born to be.

  • john doofus

    It looks cool, but it doesn’t solve any problems for me. The esc key is worse and I occasionally trigger Siri by accident. And stuff like changing the system volume isn’t as fast. I’d rather just have the old function keys back.

  • Janak Parekh

    No link to Steven Aquino’s post here, so I can’t read the entirety of it. Please fix.

    I really, really wanted to like it, and I admire the tech, but a year in, I’m ignoring it completely.

    The problem is, Apple themselves aren’t doing anything with it. Where’s the Touch Bar for other devices? Where are all the new use cases people have for it? The Touch Bar MacBook Pro was announced in October, 2016 and here we are a year later and nothing. Not in the 12″ MacBook, not in the iMac, not on the Mac Pro.

    Even Touch ID isn’t broadly used enough on the MBP. 1Password is my main use case (I use Watch for unlock, because again, no Touch ID unlock on iMac or Mac Pro!) and it’s OK there, but honestly, the sensor without the ridges is nowhere near as comfortable to use as Touch ID on iPhones and iPads.

    This means that developers don’t have an incentive to build it out, and users don’t have an incentive to develop muscle memory. This is not a way to launch a platform successfully.

    • Dave Mark

      The link is there, just click on the headline. To get to the comments page, click/tap the infinity logo to the right of the headline.

      • Janak Parekh

        D’oh! Sorry, it’s still early. I swear, I know how to use The Loop 🙂

  • Brisance

    The Touchbar is useful to me.

    I highlight sentences in Preview and tap on the color I want.

    I don’t have to remember what keyboard combos to press when capturing screenshots to the clipboard.

    I use my Apple Watch to unlock my MBP but use the Touchbar to lock my screen, an action that I perform at least 5 times a day.

    I’m in the “give it some time” camp. The mouse was met with similar derision when it was first shown to the mass market.

    • I can only imagine the whining Marco would have put up over the mouse’s invention.

    • Janak Parekh

      The Preview coloring is neat.

      Do you find the Touch Bar lock action a lot more convenient than hot corners?

      I tried the former, but since I have a Mac Pro at work and an iMac at home, found that my muscle memory still goes back to the hot corner, and so I stopped using it (even though it’s still on my Touch Bar).

      • Brisance

        I don’t use hot corners so I can’t comment on that. In the distant past when screensavers where an actual thing I tended to avoided them as well as they were frequently triggered by accident.

  • JimCracky

    Marco Arment has his own uses cases to consider. They are not universal.

    I do agree that my 2015 macbook Pro is the finest portable Apple has ever made.

    The only problem with the touch bar is that Apple didn’t make it universal, choosing instead tomato it a premium feature without a solid use case. My FCP friends love the shortcuts.

    • rick gregory

      “Marco Arment has his own uses cases to consider. They are not universal.”

      …which is true for everyone here saying “I don’t use it!”.

      I see this over and over and over when talking software design – “I don’t need X, why bother with X!?” This is a short-sighted, incredibly limited perspective that has no real value when talking about how to design things. No single one of us needs or uses or even likes every feature and very few new features nail their best, highest use the first time.

      Hell, I don’t need any of the Accessibility stuff in iOS or macOS. None. But I respect the hell out of Apple for doing those features and refining them over time.

      • Janak Parekh

        The key difference, though, is the Accessibility features in iOS and macOS, or other software features in general, are broadly available, both to users and developers in terms of APIs.

        As Jim says, the Touch Bar isn’t. That really hurts. It makes me reluctant to invest in it, and I find that software developers, after their initial interest, have stopped adding Touch Bar functionality. I also worry, having seen the iMac Pro and its lack of Touch Bar support, that Apple themselves have lost interest.

        So, I use it for the volume slider, and the scrubber in iTunes, and that’s mostly it.

        • rick gregory

          /headdesk…. The point is that criticizing something by whether or not it answers any one person’s personal needs is utterly useless when talking about product design. That’s all. My use of Accessibility was simply an illustration that features can be a great thing for a software platform to provide even though they may be utterly useless for vast swaths of the userbase.

          Touch Bar is, what, a year old? For the first year the iPhone had no SDK and thus was unavailable to developers for the most part. QUICK! It must be a failure because of that!!! Oh wait, things can be added and refined as time moves on… Maybe it’s silly to declare them useless because the first iteration isn’t fully fleshed out.

          Should Touch Bar get more accessible to developers? Sure. Should Apple invest in it more? Again, yes. THOSE are discussions we can have about the feature. Whether or not it’s personally useful to any one of us is irrelevant though

          • Janak Parekh

            Except… the iPhone sold a huge amount and so we knew if and when the SDK came, there’d be immediate demand and uptake. The iPhone OS platform, on which the SDK was built and made available, was already established.

            If I knew Apple would roll out the Touch Bar in substantial numbers, and across their platform, I would put in the time and effort. But what if you invest in it, and then want a new Mac, only to see it not have it? What do you do when the iMac Pro, which is still upcoming, prominently features a keyboard without the Touch Bar? When two refreshes of the MacBook have gone by without it?

            These arguments are not tied to personal utility or anecdata. I agree using that as the argument isn’t useful, and Marco writes from his own perspective which is often limited.

          • rick gregory

            I should know better than to try to illustrate with examples. People invariably pick them apart in the most pedantic of manners.

            That’s right, let’s never try anything new because it might not be a hit right off. That’s DEFINITELY going to lead to innovation. As will pointing to features that fail because we all know that failure is utter death to innovation. Gotta nail it perfectly the first time and cover all use cases. Yep.

          • Janak Parekh

            I’m not at all decrying that Apple is trying the Touch Bar. I think it’s amazing hardware and some clever software.

            However, it is still useful to take a look back, one year later, and see if it is working and if Apple is committed to it.

            I feel like we’re arguing over an argument we’re not actually having…?

          • Meaux

            “The point is that criticizing something by whether or not it answers any one person’s personal needs is utterly useless when talking about product design. That’s all. My use of Accessibility was simply an illustration that features can be a great thing for a software platform to provide even though they may be utterly useless for vast swaths of the userbase.”

            If something takes up ~20% of the input area, it had better be pretty useful to basically everyone right out of the box. There’s limited keyboard real estate, so the default should be useful to everyone, customizable to niches. Not broadly useless and customizable to niches. Brightness, volume, media keys, etc. have useful use cases to the vast majority of people right out of the box.

    • Billy Razzle


  • Craig Reidel

    The Touch Bar is terrible, it pulls my attention away from the UI of the app i’m using down to the keyboard. And most times, all it does is replicate functions easily accessible in the UI. Also, it takes away key OS functions and replaces them with those replicated app actions. It’s not just useless, it actively gets in the way.

  • sleepcountry

    I think if anything, Touch Bar should be in the non-pro Macs. It’s almost ideal for the definition of non-power users: – They don’t touch type, so they’re looking at the keyboard already. – They don’t remember keyboard shortcuts, so they can just press the big heavy B in the Touch Bar to style their text bold.

    Touch Bar would be fantastic for my parents.

    The problem is Apple has established that they can charge extra for pro features, but how can they charge more for “amateur” features?

    (Interesting also that the upcoming iMac Pro doesn’t come with a Touch Bar keyboard or something…)

    • Janak Parekh

      This is EXACTLY right. The 12″ MacBook and the iMac should have it if they really want to push it as a platform.

    • Brisance

      That would be like Apple selling the iPhone 8 as the iPhone X because the 8 still has TouchID. Will such a product be able to attract buyers?

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      • sleepcountry

        That’s exactly my point. Apple made a feature that really should be targeted at casual users, but is positioning it as a professional feature, even though it mostly just adds friction for power users.

        That said, the sales numbers of the new MacBooks Pro seem to indicate I’m wrong and Apple knows what they’re doing. (Hint: MacBooks Pro are not just for power users any more. The iMac Pro actually will be though.)

    • i’m a software dev and i touch type, but anytime i use the function keys i have to stop and look at them, i don’t know which do which otherwise. so moot point there.

      • sleepcountry

        I certainly don’t presume to speak for every user, power or otherwise!

  • davekaplan

    I agreed with Steve on Twitter. I think the Touch Bar is great and in many instances is helpful!

  • Herding_sheep

    At the very least, its ADDITIVE to what came before. That in itself, I don’t see how it could be considered an abject failued, and the hate from people like Marco who jump to conclusions and are proven wrong 9/10 times later on. I would agree that it is a concept not fully realized or underutilized, but hard to say that its a failure.

    It replicates the function keys it replaces, in addition to offering additional functionality. That was the whole idea, rather than having buttons fixed in hardware, let them be customizable through software.

    So I fail to see how it can be a failure. The only difference is touch vs. buttons. And we all know who won the touch vs. buttons debate in mobile.

    • john doofus

      It isn’t purely additive. It’s a step forward in some ways, but a step back in others. The problem is that it seems that most users don’t think the progress outweighs the regressions, at least so far. The esc key is notably worse. Unlike with function keys, there’s no tactile feedback and consequently touch typing is difficult/impossible.

    • Janak Parekh

      It’s supposed to be a platform, not just a hardware feature. As such, it needs to be broadly available so that developers adopt it. It’s not, so many apps’ implementations are very simplistic. In many cases, those additions are limited at best, offset against the loss of tactile feedback.

  • If anyone has a MacBook Pro with TouchBar that they absolutely can’t stand because of that, feel free to ship it to me. I’d get some major use out of that thing — I have despised trying to memorize function keys since my Atari 800XL days. I wish they would have done a context-sensitive function bar decades ago.