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The MacBook Pro and the Touch Bar – was it really that bad? Will the new MacBook be better?

Last year, MacBooks said goodbye to the Touch Bar. Do you miss it?

MacBook Pro

Right out of the gates, I am going to admit to being the owner of a 2019 MacBook Pro 15-inch. I’ll ignore the ongoing comments about the keyboard, and instead focus on the other elephant in the room. The Touch Bar.

How it came to be

As with everything that Apple place in the machines we eventually buy, countless hours of work went in to the Touch Bar. As much as anything, back in 2016 it was developed to put a hush to the naysayers that believed the MacBook was dead. The development team, thought that professionals, did not much care for the physicality of the row of function keys at the top of the keyboard. So, instead, they came up with the idea of a strip at the top that would react and interact with whatever program you were working in. It was far more clever than it actually first appeared too. Essentially, it was an embedded iOS device, with its very own chip. That in turn would talk to the Intel processor. Now, that does sound like a lot of engineering to me! After the hardware, next came the programming side. All the apps got updates with Touch Bar support. If nothing else, no one could argue that the Apple were not showing the Mac a lot of love.

Apple listened

After its launch, though, one criticism that could fairly be levelled at it, was that it hardly got any updates or attention thereafter. There were no more app updates to include its functionality, and only one hardware update. Phil Schiller admitted that although many liked it, the biggest complaint, by far, was that there was no physical escape button. So, on the 2019 16-inch model, the full escape key was back. On its debut, the Touch Bar interacted with flagship apps such as Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro, but it never saw any further implementation after that. We never even saw the ability to toggle between light or dark mode. And as for sharper visuals, haptic feedback or even a height increase — forget it! Many users complained that it actually made their entire keyboard experience worse with continual accidental triggers of unwanted apps such as Siri (and Siri is for another time)! Nope, it looks as if all that work that was put in to its launch, was for nothing. Although all Macs were Touch Bar enabled, it was only ever physically built in to the higher-end MacBook Pros. Although those machines make up for a great deal of sales for Apple, developers felt that it was not across a broad enough range of Macs to gain their investment and attention.

First impressions

My first sight and use of the Touch Bar was actually when a friend lent me one in 2016. As for many, I dare say, that first night’s experience, was like playtime. It seemed really, fun, cool and intuitive. I’d never seen anything like it before. Then again, that was only for the night. Soon enough, I came to own a MacBook with a Touch Bar, as I mentioned earlier. I’ll admit it certainly has not radically changed the way in which I type or use my Mac, but equally, I can’t sit here and say that I hate it either. For me, at least, it sits there quite innocuously, minding its own business and lets me get on with things. I have never encountered any of the freezing problems that so many reported. It’s been totally reliable, and I have somewhat got used to its presence now. It’s part of my day.

Bye bye

Before the launch of last year’s MacBooks, we all knew the Touch Bar was to be a thing of the past and a return to full function keys was imminent. The company cleverly hid from any direct announcement of it being taken away, preferring instead, to hide it among a press release, which highlighted other, new features;

“Users value the full-height function row on the standalone Magic Keyboard. And we’ve brought it to the MacBook Pro. They want the familiar, tactile feel of mechanical keys that pro users love.”

Creatures of habit

The trouble with innovative ideas and change, is that we are reluctant to them. Often the creatives are among the worst, too. We like things just as they have always been. Turns out, function keys are high on that list. Until removed, you don’t ever realise how much you used to turn and use a given set of keys. One of the many things that the Californian giant got right with last year’s MacBook releases, was it showed they had listened. They had heard what the pro users were saying and reacted. Rather than being locked away in an ivory tower, they gave back to the power users missing functionality. An HDMI port was once again back, as too was an SD card slot and MagSafe.

For those that had argued that Apple were out of touch, love or hate the now retired Touch Bar, it proved, undoubtedly, that Apple were still very much in touch with their users by its being removed.

As for me and mine

Well, as I said, it has never really troubled me one way or another. As you know if you read many of my blogs, I am hoping to change up my Mac line-up this year, and that may include checking out the current MacBook Pros. I don’t know if it is just me, being a little odd, but the things that seem to trouble many, just never really get me fired up. The bezels, the notch, the butterfly keyboard….nope, never caused me a moments anxiety or loss of sleep. So, I wonder if my 2019 MBP does get laid to rest this year, whether in time I will yearn for the Touch Bar? Time I guess will tell.

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Originally published at https://www.talkingtechandaudio.com/blog on March 01st, 2022.

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