The Uncertain Future of the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar

4 minute read
| Particle Debris

It’s been one year now with the 2016 MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. What’s the verdict? Here’s some great analysis.

Play piano on your MacBook Pro Touch Bar with Touch Bar Piano

Touch Bar Piano is one of the cool things for the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar.

The Particle Debris article of the week is from Chuq Von Rospach. (Actually two articles, and the second is discussed here on page 2.)

This essay is particularly interesting to me because I haven’t seen a thoughtful analysis of the Touch Bar all year. That may be because it has more or less sunk into technical obscurity. As author Von Rospach says:

So what’s the future of the Touch Bar? I don’t know. I’m not sure Apple does, either. I was fascinated that when Apple released the iMacs earlier this year not one word was mentioned about the Touch Bar or TouchID and support for them via an updated keyboard or trackpad was nowhere to be found. I’m taking that as an indication that after the lackluster response to this with the laptop releases, they’ve gone back to the drawing board a bit before rolling it out further.

I think the reason for this inattention by Apple may be related to the dark years of the Mac: 2015-2016. That’s when Apple got distracted and stopped updating its Macs on a timely basis. But one technology seemed to be dwelled on, and that’s the Touch Bar. Because a lot of engineering effort was put into the Touch Bar (and its follow-on technologies) my guess is that some executives believed that the Mac was being properly attended to.

We know now, it wasn’t. And that colored the community’s thoughts, initially, on the Touch Bar.

Touch Bar Analysis

Author Von Rospach delves into a considered analysis of the Touch Bar, and you should read it in full. (It also generated a lot of reader feedback which resulted in his part II.) One key comment, which resonated with me was:

So having lived with the Touch Bar and Touch ID sensor for months and then migrated away from them again, I’ve found they seem to be solving problems I don’t really have.

And therein lies the rub. Author Von Rospach talks about how he bought a new iMac 5K and described how, with increased use of that computer, he didn’t really miss the Touch Bar because there are equivalent technologies that are just as easy to use.

Another factor that stole the thunder from the Touch Bar during the dark years was the technically aggressive competition from Microsoft and HP. While Apple was focusing on the aesthetics of the user interface of the Mac, the competition was delivering faster systems with more memory for demanding technical professionals.

That’s why there was so much pushback when Apple tried, in vain, to position the mostly obsolete Intel Skylake-based 2016 MacBook Pro with a limit of 16 GB of RAM as the “professional” replacement for the (missing in action) updated Mac Pro.

Corrections were set in motion when Apple announced a new Mac Pro, and the icing was put on the Mac’s cake at WWDC 2017. Apple got the message: it’s okay to add UI refinements in addition to sheer power and professional capabilities. But not as a substitute.

Von Rospach’s closing remark hits the nail on the head.

Right now, my bet is on Apple having decided they fell in love with the Touch Bar and lost sight of the fact that Apple sells solutions to problems, not technologies. And here, they handed us this really neat technology, and it fell rather flat in the market.

But wait. There’s more. After some reader feedback, author Von Rospach had some additional thoughts and clarity on all this. That’s on page 2.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of August 28th. The Touch Bar’s future.

15
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
11 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
Old UNIX GuyDJR12wab95Lee DronickSteveC Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
DJR12
Member
DJR12

I see the TouchBar’s failure to catch on as part of a broader phenomenon within Apple right now. If I were a member of the hardware team, I’d be getting pretty tired of the software crew not coming up with innovative ways to use the hardware innovations being provided. To me, the TouchBar is a lot like Force Touch or 3D Touch — nice little bit of input technology that Apple hasn’t really provided compelling use cases for. In all of these cases, Better Touch Tool does a far better job of allowing the user to derive benefit from the… Read more »

wab95
Member
wab95

@Old UNIX Guy: Your post reminded me of something that I’ve intended to write for awhile, but have never found the appropriate place – until now; and that’s about the need to upgrade my MBP. Thank you for the segue. I recall an article in MacWorld years ago (perhaps written in 2010 or 2011) in which new Mac laptops were being reviewed, and the authors opined that it might be the last laptop that one would ever need to purchase. Their reasoning was about CPU and GPU speed and capability, OS upgrade potential, SSD hard drives, RAM and the like,… Read more »

Old UNIX Guy
Member
Old UNIX Guy

As my username on this site indicates, I’m a Mac user because it’s based on UNIX. How that relates to the touch bar is simple:

No escape key = No way I purchase

Seriously Apple, I will stick with my 2015 MBP to the day it’s no longer supported (and then some) rather than buy the crippled pieces of junk you call “Pro” laptops these days.

Old UNIX Guy

Lee Dronick
Member
Lee Dronick

I think that you can set up a custom modifier key to emulate the Escape key.

Old UNIX Guy
Member
Old UNIX Guy

Lee – you are absolutely right about that. I know several people who are doing just that. Some other things I could do to solve problems with the 2016/17 MBP’s that don’t exist in the 2015 models are: 1) always use an external keyboard so that I don’t have to listen to the sound of machine gun fire as I type on the built in keyboard. 2) buy a dock so that I can have my ports back. 3) buy an adaptor (and lose one of my limited number of USB-C ports) so that I can get magsafe functionality back.… Read more »

SteveC
Member
SteveC

Looking @ TBar from the OS point of view. These appear to be directly descended from NSToolbar et al… So the macOS changes required were probably minimal… I personally believe that getting TouchID on the keyboard was the cost driver and TB got to come along for the ride… Enclave is most definitely the most expensive component.. I believe Apple knew there would be a tepid reaction to TB for all above reasons, but the dataset acquired by engineering for the whole package – ‘priceless’….. the dataset of developer requests to the v 1 also very valuable… I believe they… Read more »

wab95
Member
wab95

SteveC: I quite agree with you, the Touch Bar as a tech investment has far greater potential and use cases than its current implementation. Rather my binary proposition had more to do with truncating the length of my post. As for the Touch Bar, both Chuq Von Rospach and Josh Centers have provided additional thoughts on its expansion. I’m confident many at Apple have already thought beyond its current implementation. It’s the implementation that has drawn criticism, and has resulted in a lack of user enthusiasm. I’ve tried to reserve judgement on its utility to me personally until I can… Read more »

Lee Dronick
Member
Lee Dronick

Ah yes the VHS clock. Most of the ones I saw flashed 12:00 over and over.
Gave rise to the derogatory term we used for someone who had no tech skills: “Noon Flasher “.

Don’t blame the user who had no tech skills for not being to outwit that incredibly complicated user interface, blame the designers and programmers.

SteveC
Member
SteveC

exactly so

garbage in -> garbage out. This is a lazy paradigm.

no garbage in. This is one signature of design

blinking lights should never have been allowed to be to solution!

wab95
Member
wab95

John: Just a couple thoughts about the touch bar, with the caveat that, although I’ve played with it at Apple Stores, I don’t own, nor have I used, under real work conditions, a touch bar enabled MBP. First, I think that the two Von Rospach pieces are excellent, make not only insightful but plausible observations and deductions about where Apple may be headed with the technology and why, and are a must read for those interested in the topic of not simply the Touch Bar but secure enclave enabled technology and the services that depend on them. Second, I have… Read more »

SteveC
Member
SteveC

“..in my view, it is unclear whether or not the Touch Bar was ever meant to solve a specific problem, or instead to address a market demand for a touch interface on the PC…”

Why does your ” or instead” posit only one other plausible explanation?
I say it was never that limited in its ambitions…

SteveC
Member
SteveC

I’ve always wondered if the touchBar is something whose real purpose is not simply a function-key replacement strip on a laptop. Suppose the TouchBar were released on its own with Bluetooth as a generalized input device like the trackpad but configurable… embedded 3-5 position led touch sensitive strip as smart replacement for physical switches…built in power. licensed suppliers who want smart controls on devices.. Could be used to engage in dynamic ways with beacons… OS needs an environment to develop inputs from these devices without the device being in the market laptop keyboard is a good environment to begin letting… Read more »

geoduck
Member
geoduck

aardman
Ah yes the VHS clock. Most of the ones I saw flashed 12:00 over and over.
Gave rise to the derogatory term we used for someone who had no tech skills: “Noon Flasher “.

aardman
Member
aardman

The TouchBar is like the clock in those old VHS machines. You get the idea that it might be useful but it seems that to access that utility, it will require some effort to learn how to set up and operate it. Most people stop at that point and so we had tens of millions of VHS machines in people’s homes blinking at 00:00:00. Apple has always been very good at making technology non-intimidating but I don’t think they were able to do that with the TouchBar. The small squint-inducing display in stumble-finger tight quarters might be delivering a first… Read more »

geoduck
Member
geoduck

A good couple of articles. This time last year I was really jonsing for a new MacBook Pro. My 2012 non Retina 15″ was showing its age, really starting to limit what I could do. I’d upgraded it as far as I could. I eagerly awaited the new MacBook Pros that promised a full rework of the line. Then they came out, thinner, of course, with adequate, if not spectacular processors, and limitations to memory, upgradability, etc. On the other hand it had a nifty panel above the keyboard that promised all sorts of things, IF software companies decided to… Read more »