Sunday, 4 December 2016

More Thoughts On The Touch Bar


Having previously tried the entry-level MacBook Pro, the only new MBP feature | hadn't been able to try was the new, function key replacing, Touch Bar.

Purely from an aesthetic point of view the Touch Bar is a pleasant addition to the MBP. The OLED screen is sharp and bright; it looks exciting on first acquaintance. Good thing too, because to use it you will be spending a lot of time looking at it. It isn't intuitive or natural to use.

By default the Touch Bar shows brightness and volume controls and the esc key. In the old Apple paradigm you pressed the F1 or F2 keys to change the brightness; F11 or F12 keys to change volume. That becomes a tap, finger move and slide in the new model.

The old way is better. Still, the ability to morph those keys must have significant payback, right?

Well possibly, but only when apps use the feature. Not all of Apple's do, never mind third-parties. Even when they do the benefits are hard to quantify. Safari, for example, offers the address bar when opened, the ability to swipe between tabs if you have more than one. Except that in both cases you don't benefit from the Touch Bar.

Open Safari from scratch and the insertion point is in the address bar anyway. The re is absolutely no need to use the Touch Bar at this point. Also when you are browsing in Safari your hands are already on the trackpad. A swipe and a dick get you to your new / next tab without having to move your hand from the trackpad, where you'll want it for browsing that tab. Using the Touch Bar means a change of interaction method. Two in fact, neither offering any kind of benefit.

Then if you're new tab happens to blast out music at full volume you have the missing volume keys to contend with. How quickly will you be able to mute your audio when you have to navigate the Touch Bar before getting to the controls.

And there's the crux of the problem. Everything on the Touch Bar has to be replicated on screen for compatibility reasons. It is, therefore, pretty useless. As a crutch to MacOS's limited touch capabilities it is weak. The effort made to fix that shortfall would have been a far better investment in the long run.

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