New MacBook Pro: Why is the Touch Bar so maligned?

When Apple first rolled-out the Touch Bar on their MacBook Pro (MBP) line, I had the chance to review a well-equipped MBP for a magazine article. A two week period of hands-on time isn’t enough to truly judge any particular feature, but I was left thinking that the Touch Bar was a complete novelty, something I’d never appreciate — which was a prevailing view at the time in the press. But actually buying a new MacBook Pro recently gave me the chance to live with the feature awhile, and I’ve changed my view.

Of course, the general tech press hasn’t. Back in September, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas called it stupidly pointless, while berating the MBP’s keyboard (which I’ll discuss in a separate article later). And just days ago, Dieter Bohn in The Verge referred to it as “a not very successful experiment, to put it gently.” You can Google the subject and you’ll find plenty of Apple-bashing over it.

After using my new MacBook Pro for the past couple of weeks, I’ve actually grown to love the little strip of touch-sensitive glass. One reason is that when I reviewed the laptop awhile back, support for it wasn’t very widespread. Today, many more applications support it — including substantively all the Apple-provided apps, plus my other two most-used application suites: Microsoft Office, and Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.).

Of course, not everything does; take BBEdit for example. But you don’t miss what you never had. With the others, if someone took away my Touch Bar, I’m sure I’d live. For one, I’m an old-skool keyboard shortcut guy, so I can manage. But having the most-used features right there a simple press of the finger away? Well, it’s something I’ve grown to love:

Touch Bar in Mail.
Touch Bar in Safari.
Touch Bar in Adobe Illustrator.
Touch Bar in Microsoft Word.

Yeah, I get it, I could live without any of this stuff, and I find I use it a lot more in some apps (Mail) than others (Safari). But it still has actual, demonstrable value and workflow improvements to offer; take Mail, for example. I’m constantly flagging and marking read/unread my e-mail messages, and those functions are right there. And even as I type this post, Safari is smart enough to apply the same predictive language capabilities to the text editing box of my blog as you find in iMessage on an iPhone:

My Touch Bar just then, after typing, “on an”.

I find too that in most cases, since it’s right there in my peripheral vision, it’s more accessible and more usable than I expected. I also appreciate weird things like the backlight slider; in a MacBook without a Touch Bar, there’s one button for brighter, one for dimmer. You can use it that way on a MacBook with a Touch Bar if you touch the left carat button. But it’s easier, in my view, to touch the little flower icon (yes, it’s a sunburst, I know) and use a slider:

The screen dimmer slider.

Each to their own, but I’m starting to think that the tech writers who hate this thing hate it because they’ve not actually ever used it for longer than their review period. Which is also what I’d say about the keyboard — although that’ll have to wait for my next blog post.