The fundamental problem with Apple’s Touch Bar

“You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it,” Rob Griffiths writes for The Robservatory. “The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.”

“When the new MacBooks were released, I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea… was incredibly disruptive,” Griffiths writes. “To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.”

Griffiths writes, “Using a Mac should be about doing things efficiently, and to me, the Touch Bar is an incredibly inefficient solution to a non-existent problem.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Having an infinitely malleable Touch Bar in place of a static row of function keys is an advancement, regardless of where your eyes go or not. Beware of opinions based on “30-minutes in an Apple Store.” When the apps you use regularly utilize the Touch Bar, you learn to use the tools and shortcuts provided. You cannot get to that level in 30-minutes in an Apple Store.

34 Comments

  1. I barely use the touchbar on my macbook.. because i can’t be bothered to look down and make sure i am hitting the correct thing.. instead, I use the keyboard shortcuts..

    touchbar is a useless gimmick for slow people who like shiny things.

          1. Tin roof, Sean:

            I agreed with Khan and the article. I’ve had my MacBook Pro for months and hate the TouchBar precisely because you have to look down at it.

            It’s a gimmick that not only doesn’t make me more efficient or improves usability, it’s a detriment.

            I also posted a poll and many respondents don’t use it and dislike it.

            So cut the crap personal attacks on people and come up for air out of your basements.

            1. In my case, the instances where I’ve found it to be useful is where it is much easier to look down at my touchbar and touch my finger to a button there than it is to move my mouse to a point on the screen and click. It’ll probably become more useful in things like media production where you want to keep your fingers next to some transport controls rather than try and manipulate them with a mouse. It is possible that the cost of looking down at the touch bar exceeds that of moving the cursor with the trackpad.

            2. Your comments actually contain your concrete opinion about the Touch Bar.

              Quite different from, “Typical fanboy”, “no life, “self identity”, “live vicariously”, “myth”, “mirage”

              That bullshit is nothing to do with the particular TOPIC. It’s just one in ongoing stream of content-less personal, name-calling. I.e. just trolling.

              Also – why do your criticize my post as “personal attack” when it is simply an almost-copy of Troll Khan’s post?

    1. Funny, I find it very useful yet I am neither slow or a fan of shiny things. I find that I rarely have to look at it to know what is there for me to touch or where on the bar to touch.

      The Touch Bar is part of the solution for the finger print reader. I am willing to bet most people rarely use the old function keys unless they are adjusting the volume or brightness on there Mac. Having easy to recognise, contextual buttons has greatly improved my keyboarding experience. I also love the auto complete option when typing email addresses. I know that when I type so many letters of my address all I have to do is touch the center of the Touch Bar and boom, There is is. I still use keyboard short cuts, but now I find the useless space at the top of my keyboard is actually useful.

    2. “I barely use the touchbar on my macbook.. because i can’t be bothered to look down and make sure i am hitting the correct thing.. instead, I use the keyboard shortcuts.”
      An interesting comment about your experience.

      “touchbar is a useless gimmick for slow people who like shiny things.”
      Bullshit.

      Why did you have to jump from making a specific useful comment to a generalized insult to everyone who says anything different?

  2. I used to use a 21″ Cinema Display with my MacBook. Working on the 21″ in front — tools on the MacBook, to the side.

    I did NOT find it awkward at all. Not even slightly.
    (And, in fact, changing the focal distance of your eyes through a work day is, I understand, good for them.)

    Seems to me like an “incredibly specious complaint to a non-existent problem”.

  3. I use BetterTouchTool with which I’ve customized the ENTIRE toolbar completely just as I want for every app.

    I can add my own icons for each item, create macros, and make every element app specific or global. Easy to use and there’s an unlimited number of possible actions.

    Great tool for customizing gestures and keyboard shortcuts as well

    I love my TouchBar now

  4. Hmmm, I’m not sure I’ve ever used most Function Keys without looking at the keyboard first. Most of the time I am pretty sure I even look when I push ESC, the easiest F-Key to find.

    So this “disruptive” pattern which existed from the earliest keyboards is Apple’s fault?

    I use the Touchbar for countless functions every day, and I am pretty sure it’s fatal flaw (at least for me) is that I trigger things by accident. I had to get rid of the Send option in Mail (defaults to just above the 2 Key) because I kept sending half written emails.

    Despite that, I still think the Touchbar is a work of art and solves two major problems: wasted space of the F-Keys, and the increasing need for Touch interfaces. Kudos to Apple for not going touch with the entire Display.

    1. You’re right, the only funtion keys I use without looking are volume up and down since I’m used to where they are. I’d be willing to give the Touch Bar a go, but not in a brand new laptop just yet, but a $150 Magic Keyboard, preferably with a matching black trackpad alongside it.

      P.S. Its looking more and more as if the iMac Pro will be delayed, whether or not this is the case, it’d be a shame for this thing not to have a Touch Bar Magic Keyboard. I haven’t even heard a hint of rumor about this though.

      1. Yes, this needs to find its way into the iMac too. If it becomes as powerful as it should be, then iMac pro users should be able to enjoy it just like MacBook Pro users. 🙂

    2. Yes, F-Keys have always been a bit problematic, as ergonomically, that row is conventionally beyond the normal reach of touch typing.

      Granted, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some touch typists who have been able to adapt to occasionally “reach” far enough, but in general, they are not, which means that the UI will require a “eyes down to keyboard” moment.

      Overall, I agree with you from the perspective of the F-Keys being underutilized (but not really ‘wasted’ space, as I’ve found them to be quite useful on laptops as they’re effectively shortcuts to control panel settings that are more commonly employed on mobile devices (changes in environment, such as lighting, noise/sound, etc): I still miss my old Thinkpads which also included WiFi on/off here too (airline travel).

      Similarly, I agree that there’s a place/need for touch interfaces too, such as for a fingerprint ID. Granted, I don’t know how much this may already be being replaced with Face ID, but my general thought process here (and I’m reasonably confident that Apple thought of this and probably prototyped it) would be to try putting the function into a mousepad replacement.

      Overall, the Touchbar remains still an underutilized product, even though its now been out for awhile. Perhaps it would have been smarter for Apple to have been less “gee wiz!” ambitious at initial launch, just limiting its scope to Touch ID and a virtualization of the F-Keys (bake it into the OS to allow easy user reassignment) and allowing the end use in applications to be more viral – – as well as having an excuse for Apple Apps to “trickle” out their updates over a longer period for free media.

      In the end, there’s also those of us who saw the limited utility of the TB and also that the 13″ MBP without it was not only cheaper, but also had better battery life … and voted with our wallets for a MBP to be without.

      To this end, it would be quite fascinating to see Apple’s sales data (yeah, fat chance), particularly from yet another point of “COURAGE” in trying to ignore the sales of non-TB 13″ (and MB Airs) in steadfastly refusing to provide a non-TB 15″ MBP.

  5. It’s proven to be redundant to me. Except for the stuff that used to be in function keys, I don’t really use it. Once in a blue moon I use it to pick an emoji. I sometimes notice it changing words as I type, but that’s useless. It is a waste of the chip. Rather have 32GB of RAM any day. But no one will be able to tell Apple this. They will continue to push it.

    I tried to use it, to be positive about it, until I noticed I’d completely forgotten about it. It’s never going to replace in app menus.

  6. I have a MacBook Pro with a touch bar for work (Yes, I’m lucky enough to be in a work environment that uses Macs) and while at first I used it about as often as I used the function keys, I’m finding apps that allow me to use the touch bar function more and more. And that’s just the apps that I use most of the time. That doesn’t even begin to cover the apps that I would use for personal use that take advantage of (or could take advantage of) the touch bar.

    I didn’t really use it all that much when I was playing with MBPs in the Apple Store either. But then again, I wasn’t playing with the apps I would actually use on an MBP in the Apple Store either.

    1. On the other hand, I am not a fan of the new trackpad – it is way too sensitive and too easy to click too hard, resulting in a result other than what you were going for. It also makes dragging much more difficult – I’ve had to enable the three finger dragging function, and it does get hard to get used to when I was used to the simple click and drag functionality of previous trackpads.

      1. YESSS! Finally, someone who has this same experience. New trackpad is weird and … smushy? I’m still using my old 2009 macbook pro with a proper trackpad. My new work macbook is crazy nice, but I like working at night on my old workhorse. (Slightly clackier keyboard too. )
        later.

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