Let me start off with a confession: I was one of those who was rather disappointed when Apple announced the new MacBook Pro models in late October. Part of the reason for the disappointment was the fact that yet again, the cat had been let out of the bag by rumors preceding the launch that had predicted the “touch panel” that would be on the notebooks. The reason that Apple went right ahead and called it a “groundbreaking” device (in its typically understated manner) did not help matters. I had only seen demos the device on videos and honestly, felt that the Touch Bar – a thin touchscreen strip that replaced the function keys on top of the keyboard – was not that much of an innovation, and whose utility would be limited to a select few who would invest the time to master it. “it is a bit of a stunt,” I remember remarking to one of my acquaintances.
Well, the new MacBook Pros have now arrived in India, and I have been using one for a couple of days. So it’s time for another confession:
I was SO wrong about the Touch Bar. It is actually a heck of an innovation and perhaps the most radical interface change I have seen in a notebook’s keyboard.
It really works!
No, I am not speaking from the perspective of a hardcore user who has performed a series of complex operations on the new notebook. And neither have I installed those games and apps that many have designed for the Touch Bar. And I am not speaking from the perspective of one of those “heavy duty” users who has used the Touch Bar to invoke all sorts of strange, mystical functions. I have just used the new MacBook Pro purely as a writer’s notebook for two days – nothing other than good old typing, the odd spot of photo editing and surfing the Web. And the Touch Bar has become pretty much an integral part of my computing experience.
The reason for this is simple – because Touch Bar is actually not a stunt. Apple has rather grandly said that it “adds the most relevant tools directly to your keyboard” – well, it does, but the fact is that that particular statement does not capture the essence of what the Touch Bar does. And no, it is not a “touch substitute” of the function keys either (although it can act as one).
First off, it is a reasonably bright strip and secondly, it is incredibly clear for reading or even watching images. And oh yes, the touch experience on it is incredibly reliable and smooth (I’m yet to get a touch or swipe wrong). Combine that with a stack of features and functions, and I think the MacBook Pro delivers the best touch and type experience I have seen on a notebook. Yes, it is better than what we have been used to on Windows notebooks and I will go a step further, even on Apple’s own iPad Pro with Apple’s keyboard cover.
Honey, I empowered the keyboard
All of which makes it is infinitely more useful for a mainstream user like me than the function keys whose functions I always tended to forget. This is almost a “live” panel that keeps changing depending on what you are using. I have almost stopped using the menus in many of the applications from the display in the MacBook Pro. Sample the following:
- I can search for an item by launching Safari, typing the term and selecting Google or Bing from the different search and site options that appear on the Touch Bar.
- When using multiple tabs in a browser, I can see previews of different sites open right on the Touch Bar and can switch between them by just a touch. I can also open a new tab right from the Tour Bar.
- If I am editing a photograph using Apple’s Photos software (it really suffices for needs as basic as mine), I can access a number of edit options like crop, rotate and filter, right from the Touch Bar. If I am using filters, I can even see the previews of different effects on the Touch Bar and pick the one I like most.
- If watching videos, I can access most of the controls, like moving forward and back right from the Touch Bar again.
- While writing a story, I can access basic formatting options like bold, italics and alignment, again right from the Touch Bar, and for good measure, the Touch Bar also keeps trying to predict the next word and also giving me different spelling options, right on top of the keyboard.
- If I have to access Siri, I just have to touch a button on the Touch Bar.
- While playing music, once again, I have access to basic functions right on the Touch Bar.
And that is just from a very mainstream perspective. I am sure there are stacks of other functions hidden below that Touch Bar, depending on the level of support built into different applications (we were shown a beta version of an office suite for Mac OS that allowed you to handle basic spreadsheet functions rather easily from the Touch Bar). Given the fact that other developers are working to accommodate Touch Bar functionality into many Mac OS apps make one think that while the Touch Bar is currently restricted to the more expensive new MacBook Pros, it is likely to come to all Apple notebooks.
The impact the Touch Bar has had on my computer usage can be gauged from the fact that after two days of using the MacBook Pro, I was searching for the Touch Bar when I was editing copy on the Yoga Book.
If that does not say it all, nothing will.