The UX of Things Ep.2 — MacBook Touch Bar

Hands-off keyboard and eyes off the screen, it's time for a break.

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Touch Bar has been a hot topic ever since it was introduced back in 2016. Even though there’s been a lot of criticism, Apple has decided to stick with it. Whether you’re a fan or a critic, it’s a very cool looking piece of tech.

But that’s about it.

Most of the time I have my MacBook sitting on the side while using an external monitor and peripherals. In that case, I haven’t found a single use case to reach out that far to perform any kind of action.

Other times, when I’m mobile and using the built-in keyboard, there are very few cases where it came in to be useful.

I was never able to look at any kind of shortcuts on the Touch Bar as shortcuts. For me, a shortcut means I can use a combination of keys to perform an action. Doing so, without having to look off-screen, look at the keyboard, and tap around.

How it feels

In most cases, I’ve found it to be counter-intuitive and inefficient. Actions that required a single click before have now become tedious.

I was always a big fan of psychical keyboards. And still, to this day, I think of good ol’ Blackberry keyboards. Typing on physical keyboards, including smartphones, is a much more enjoyable experience for me. I’m not sure if it’s more performant, but for typing, it always felt right.

For me, it’s all about efficiency and convenience. Touch ID is another good example. I find it more intuitive to leave my hands as is, keeping my eyes on the screen, and simply entering the password. Most of the time I’m entering my short system password anyway, and not the iCloud one.

I can’t help but feel that Apple was dumbing down the MacBook to accommodate a larger target audience. On the other hand, MacBook Pro was always an ultimate productivity machine. Great build quality, robust, and very reliable. While that hasn’t changed, efficiency freaks aren’t getting much love from Apple as of late.

Touch Bar is one of the main reasons I’m ditching my MacBook Pro for a MacBook Air instead. With the introduction of the M1 chip, Air has been getting more love than ever, and justifiably so.

Touch Bar removes instant access to crucial functions such as brightness and volume control. One might argue that it’s still straightforward on the Touch Bar to adjust both. But as someone who never looks at the keyboard when typing, it breaks the natural flow I had before. Stop what you’re doing, look down, locate the icon. Touch to expand, locate the slider, and finally adjust the slider.

It turns out there’s actually a faster way of doing the above, that I’ve realized a year after using it. By tapping on the volume, you can adjust the slider without lifting the finger up. The same goes for brightness. Way better, but still asks me to take a break.

For me, the biggest pain comes from not being able to have function keys visible at all times, without having to sacrifice crucial functions. If you’ve ever done any development, you’ll know the pain. Good luck tapping on the correct key without having to stop what you’re doing.

If Touch Bar had a translation, it’d be “hands-off keyboard and eyes off the screen, it’s time for a break.”

The end of the Touch Bar

According to a reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple has finally decided to ditch the Touch Bar. It seems like they’ll be going back to psychical keys this year. Very surprising that they haven’t done so earlier already. But I’m sure that many MacBook users will be pleased to hear this news.

The other change we’re likely to see is a return of MagSafe and more ports. Almost feels like they’re inventing backwards at this point. Either way, it’s great to see Apple acknowledging wrong moves and listening to their users.

Did Apple invent the Touch Bar?

It might come as a surprise, but Apple did not invent the Touch Bar. Lenovo introduced the Touch Bar a few years before the MacBook did. 2013 to be exact, on their Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon model. Lenovo called theirs ‘Adaptive Keys’. Both have plenty of things in common and share the same location.

Being introduced years before the MacBook’s Touch Bar, it looks pretty cool I’d say. Regardless, Lenovo has realized the mistake and has bailed on it since. It doesn’t come as a surprise, as both MacBook and Lenovo attract a very similar target audience.

Still, as with most things Apple does, many believe that they came up with this concept. But then again, great masters do copy and by now, we’re already used to seeing it from Apple. To be fair, in most cases when Apple copies others, they tend to make it better. Which is a good thing.

But in this case, Touch Bar feels nothing more than just a gimmick.

Conclusion

MacBook is my favorite piece of technology, by far. It’s so good that I’ve never even considered any alternatives. And while most were hating on the lack of ports, I simply couldn’t get over the Touch Bar.

With the introduction of M1 Chip, Apple has changed the game. And seeing that they’re ditching the Touch Bar, I can’t help but feel that the future of MacBooks is very bright.


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Wishing you a wonderful Sunday. 🌇

Filip