Apple's Touch Bar Seems Clever (But Awkward to Use)
The new Macbook does away with the row of physical function keys, replacing them with a touchscreen strip.
BY Andrew Moseman | Oct 30, 2016 | Technology
Apple's new Macbooks are faster, thinner, and better than ever before. But we knew that before Tim Cook recited the familiar boilerplate at today's Apple event. Instead, what's immediately striking about the newest generations of laptops is a little strip that stretches across the top of the keyboard.
It's called a Touch Bar. As was rumoured before today's announcement, this tiny strip of touchscreen replaces the physical Escape key and the function keys that usually live up north on typical keyboards. And it'll cost you: the new Macbook Pro with Touch Bar starts at USD300 more than the one without.
Touch Bar's customisability is its key selling point. Sometimes it'll show you the Escape key and volume functions that currently occupy the top of Macbook keyboards. But it's smart enough to adapt to software. Browse in Safari and the Touch Bar shows you icons of your favourite websites, allowing you to visit them with one touch. Go to work in Final Cut Pro or Photoshop, and Touch Bar automatically displays video or photo editing tools that'll let you skip through to any point in a video.
Here's the thing, though. This just looks so awkward.
Say you learned to type the way I did, fingers on Home Row (left hand on a-s-d-f, right hand on j-k-l-;). The function keys, and thus the Touch Bar, are really far away. I can't even reach the far left and right ends of those rows without moving my hands. As Apple's Craig Federighi introduced the feature on stage, you could see him reaching up with his index fingers to select things in the Touch Bar. Same for the other presenters.
If you're answering an email, Touch Bar copies that feature in iMessage that offers suggested words based on what it thinks you're going to say next. That's cool, but bouncing back and forth between the proper hand placement for typing and reaching up to Touch Bar looks tiresome even when Apple's own people were demoing it. Touch Bar wants to make us all hunt-and-peck typists like we have to be on our mobile devices. But the joy of laptops is the keyboard. I put off answering emails on my phone until I can sit down at the laptop for this very reason.
Here's another example: when you highlight text, Touch Bar offers buttons to make that text bold or italic. Again, pretty cool. But you know what's easier than reaching up to tap a touchscreen button to bold a word? The plain old Apple-B keyboard shortcut that doesn't make you move your entire hand.
I could see the Touch Bar being far more useful for multimedia editing, or other situations where you don't need your hands in typing position—maybe. In Final Cut Pro, for instance, we saw how Touch Bar displays the entire video's timeline. This makes an easy way to snap to a particular point in a video.
Let's be honest, though. What Touch Bar really represents is a peek into the world after physical keys. Hell, Lenovo just tried it, and Apple has now spent the better part of a decade teaching us to put up with typing on a touchscreen. No matter how many programmers cry foul at the loss of a physical Escape key, the gadget arc points to a keyless future.
For anybody who spends a lot of time typing, that's too bad. Because there's a lot of time and engineering that's gone into making physical keys feel great, and no simple touchscreen can replace it.
From: Popular Mechanics