Thoughts on the Touch Bar (cost and function keys)

I just replaced my 2015 MacBook Pro with a brand new 2018 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Lots has been written about Touch Bar over the last few years, so I’m going to focus on two things.

First, there seems to be a commonly held belief that the cost of the Touch Bar is $300. The logic is that the base cost of a 13″ 256GB MacBook Pro is $1499 and the base cost of the next model up is $1799.

Faulty logic. That $300 buys you a Touch Bar, sure, but you also get a faster processor (Dual core 3.6GHz bumped to quad core 3.8GHz), two extra Thunderbolt ports, better graphics, a True Tone display, and, biggest gain of all, a secure enclave and Touch ID. That’s a lot.

Better to think of Touch Bar as the new MacBook Pro default. Like it or not, Touch Bar is the new normal. Though you can buy a 15″ MacBook Pro without Touch Bar at your local Apple Store (old stock, clarify the model year before you buy one), you can’t buy one from Apple’s on-line store.

The second half of my Touch Bar ramblings concern the function keys replaced by the Touch Bar. I have long relied on the function keys, every one of which is tied to a KeyBoard Maestro macro. Those macros still work, but there are two problems I’ve not yet found a way to overcome.

The loss of a physical key means I can’t feel my way to, say, F2, without looking down at my keyboard. That breaks flow. There’s no way around it. I can tap the left most Touch Bar button (the escape key, in most cases) by feel, but my error rate soars the further from the left I go without looking down. It’d be like typing on my iPhone without looking at the keyboard. Maybe some people can do that, but I can’t, even after years of practice.

That aside, there’s a second problem. I can’t find a way to create a one-handed Touch Bar function key tap. To reveal the function keys, I need to touch the “fn” key in the lower left corner of the keyboard. To touch a function key, I need to look down and, in most cases, use my other hand to tap the function key. Compare that to my 2015 MacBook Pro. I can tap any of my function keys with any finger, all without looking down from the screen.

One solution is to use System Preferences to have the Touch Bar always and only display function keys. This works, kinda (no physical keys means loss of touch), but defeats the purpose of having the Touch Bar.

To be clear, I love the Touch Bar. I love the fact that I can touch and slide, all in one motion, to adjust screen brightness or volume. I love all the custom Touch Bar interfaces, customized for many of the applications I use. I would just like some way to set up a one handed set of customizable keys.

One idea: Is there a way to use the fn key as a modifier for non-function keys? For example, is there a way to tie a macro to, say, fn-z (z being so close to the fn key)? If so, I’d just replace all my function keys with the bottom row of my keyboard. As is, fn-z appears to just pass through as plain old “z”.