I started my new job on Monday and picked up my new work Mac, a MacBook Pro 13 with touch bar. It’s a change from a terrible slow work PC and my iPad whenever possible. I don’t want to get too much into the pro and cons of a laptop vs a tablet, but instead, I wanted to discuss the key feature of the new MacBook Pro, the touch bar.
The touch bar has been a controversial feature of the new MacBook’s pro. The initial reviews were mixed and now they seem to be mostly negative. However, I consulted a friend on slack who I knew had a touch bar before I selected my work computer. He stated that he loved it and with the extra USB C ports, I decided to take the risk. So far I think it was worth doing.
The Issues with the Touch Bar
Let’s start with the biggest problems with the TouchBar. The first is that when you are using a second keyboard (because the MacBook is docked or you just prefer mechanical keys) then you don’t have the touch bar as it’s not on the magic keyboard or third-party keyboards.
The second is that the buttons change, this is the benefit of the touch bar (you get the controls you need when you need them) but in reality, you don’t know what will be there when you go to touch it. Compare this with traditional keyboard shortcuts, their point is that you learn them and they don’t change. You can even adapt them so they make sense between apps. Sure, they can occasionally be different between apps, but you don’t have to look where they are.
For the person who doesn’t touch type and instead always looks at the keyboard, the touch bar is a better solution. They will see the shortcut and options all the time and it presents options for them. But for a more “Pro” user, that isn’t so useful.
Why I like the Touch Bar
One of the first things that clicked for me with the TouchBar was setting my Hipchat status. Hipchat allows our team to stay in touch and communicate, but it’s not always great to be listed as active when you’re in a meeting. I noticed the option to tap and change my status and instantly adopted it.
If this option wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t have started this habit, but the Touch bar gave me that suggestion.
The next change that really stuck was discovering I could set up a shortcut to lock the MacBook. Security is an issue and not leaving your workstation open to the world is important. Realising I could adapt my quick buttons to include “lock” the MacBook as an option.
Again a task I need to do at work, made easier and customized.
And don’t forget TouchID
And of course, there is TouchID which makes a lot of things easier including logging into the MacBook and 1Password.
In the end, I’ve moved the MacBook next to my larger monitor so I have my keyboard in front, then mouse to one side and Macbook (with touch bar in reaching distance) on the other.
With TouchID, I can’t help but think that FaceID has to replace it on the MacBook (it makes the most sense on a Mac and Macbook where the screen always looks at you pretty much dead on). I also wonder how many more functions I’ll discover thanks to the touchbar, perhaps it will stop at these two.
Still, the whole thing reminds me of how Jobs sold the idea of an all touchscreen phone. It can adapt to what you are using it on. It also makes me wonder about how this could continue in the future. There are already keyboards with e-ink keys that can display different icons depending on the application. It’s not impossible to imagine something similar on the MacBook, and perhaps a next generation iPad Smart Keyboard offering similar functionality.
Have you tried out a MacBook with a TouchBar? What are your thoughts?