Computers / Hands-on Review

Apple Raises the Bar a Touch

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The late 2016 15.4" MacBook Pro and select 13.3" MacBook Pro models feature a redesign that introduced the Touch Bar. Replacing the traditional function keys, the Touch Bar adapts to what you’re doing and gives you intuitive shortcuts and app options when you need them. Here are some uses the Touch Bar offers when using some of the macOS built-in apps.

Safari

The first app we opened on the MacBook Pro was Safari. The Touch Bar changed to show an address bar, along with Forward and Back icons, as well as a New Tab icon. Tapping on the address bar allows you to search or type in a URL address. Don’t worry—you can type using your keyboard, not the Touch Bar. If you've imported your bookmarks, you can just launch them in the Touch Bar.

The Touch Bar also showed a slight preview of each tab opened. We’re not sure how helpful it was, since the images were really tiny. However, we were impressed with how many tabs show up with the previews in the Touch Bar. We got up to 20 tabs before we decided to take it easy. It was also nice that we could play/pause, as well as scrub through YouTube videos with the Touch Bar.


Photos

While it may not be as feature-heavy as Photoshop, we were still able to do slight edits in Photos. You can search by sliding your finger across the thumbnails in the Touch Bar. See one you like? Tap the heart icon to “favorite” it. If you’re craning your neck to view some of your photos, it might be a good idea to tap the rotate icon. After you’ve picked a photo, there are a few editing options available, such as crop, filters, adjust, retouch, and red-eye. Most of the options are straightforward, but some of the adjustment features require a little extra effort to get things exactly the way you want, due to the limited space of the Touch Bar.

Finder

Searching through the folders can be a pain, especially if you don’t remember the filename to pop into Spotlight. Fortunately, the Touch Bar has the arrows for you to tap, allowing you to move quickly between folders without having to click the onscreen buttons with the Force Touch Trackpad (even with its larger size). Need to view something in Quick Look? Just tap on the eye icon in the Touch Bar. You can also organize your files in Finder with the Touch Bar by tapping the tag icon. There’s even a share icon so you can send your files in a variety of ways.

Mail

If you push your email to the Mail app, the Touch Bar lets you compose, reply, and flag emails. While you’re typing, predictive text shows in the Touch Bar so you can just select the word instead of typing it out. In practice, it isn’t as intuitive, since you’ll just type the whole word most of the time. It does help for longer words you don’t want to type fully again. There are also formatting options available while you type, such as bold, italicize, and underline. You can also turn the Touch Bar into an emoji bar so you can have instant access to your favorite emojis while you type. Sometimes, the only way to reply to those forwards from Grandma is with a sad face.

Maps

Find yourself… in Maps by tapping the location icon in the Touch Bar. If you know where you want to go, you can tap the search field and type it in or simply ask Siri by tapping on the Siri icon. If you want to find a nearby restaurant, hotel, or gas station, you can tap on the appropriate icon in the Touch Bar. After selecting a destination, the Touch Bar allows you to get directions, call the business, or visit their website.


Control Strip and Customization

When you’re not in an app, the Touch Bar shows some default system settings (A.K.A. the Control Strip) on the right. You’ll have access to screen brightness, keyboard brightness, volume, Exposé, Launchpad, and media playback. You can also quickly access Siri.

You can also customize the Control Strip in Settings and the Touch Bar in certain apps, such as Finder, Safari, and Mail. When you’re customizing, the buttons jiggle, similar to the way the icons jiggle in iOS. Simply drag the icons you want to down to the Touch Bar—don’t forget to tap Done or your changes will not be saved.


Final Thoughts

The Touch Bar is an ambitious change and a unique take on introducing touch capabilities to the MacBook Pro. Instead of just slapping a touchscreen on the MacBook Pro, Apple opted to utilize space on the keyboard. While it’s tough to say if the Touch Bar is truly intuitive (we found ourselves using keyboard shortcuts instead of it, sometimes) in the short time we used it, we agreed that there is some potential. It will also be interesting to see how third-party apps incorporate the Touch Bar in the near future. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can always hold the Function (fn) key and the F1-F12 buttons make their temporary return to the Touch Bar.

To read more, see the B&H Explora articles, The Apple Touch Bar and Adobe Photoshop CC, and Navigating Final Cut Pro X with the New Touch Bar-Enabled MacBook Pro.

Have you had any experience with the Touch Bar? What do you think of it? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.

1 Comments

Besides the touch login I have not found it to be useful. It's nice not to have to type my password on installs or opening apps like 1password. For any other use it's just too small but It might be one of those things you have to get used to.

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