The Uncertain Future of the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar

| Particle Debris

Page 2 – News Debris For The Week Of August 28th
The Touch Bar’s Future

In a follow-up article, author Von Rospach takes a closer look the future of Touch ID and the Touch Bar.

In his part II, the author goes into a deeper analysis of where Apple is headed with Touch ID, the Secure Enclave in Macs, and more modern authentication technologies.

With the iPhone 8, it looks like that new technology is here. And if this is true, that explains at least in part why the TouchID sensor was downplayed in last fall’s announcements (don’t want to oversell something they know is going away) and why we don’t have a Touch Bar keyboard. It made no sense to build that product since a year later it would be replaced.


MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Image credit: Apple

Again, this goes to the heart of how Apple rolls out new technologies piecemeal. Apple can’t give away its intentions, and so it’s often necessary to roll out parts of a new technology incrementally. Taken at face value, the first piece may look like nothing to write home about. (Or worse, doesn’t meet immediate needs.) But after a period of field testing, Apple is ready to fold in the next component. Before we know it, Apple has something amazing in the aggregate. The company has done this before.

Von Rospach notes:

It looks this is another case of Apple playing a long game with their technologies that only in retrospect are we starting to understand. TouchID seems to be a transitional technology,

And to make things even more interesting, the author contemplates a second generation Touch Bar. We can’t overlook natural evolution driven by Apple’s massive investments in R&D.

Perhaps the lesson in all this is that any company must be mindful of the technical needs of users and not dismiss them because it thinks it has something really cool up its sleeve, ready to come to fruition in a few years. Keeping us excited in the here-and-now while the future pieces are being put into place is a job for clever engineering and marketing.

There is a wealth of insight in these two articles by author Von Rospach.

Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro’s observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed on page two by a discussion of articles that didn’t make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weekends.

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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 »


@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

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

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

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 »


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 »


@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

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.


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!


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 »


“ 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…


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 »


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 “.


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 »


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 »