Touch Bar Is Apple’s Double Down Against the Foolishness of ToasterFridges

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I’ve been thinking hard about the Touch Bar on Apple’s new MacBook Pro. It’s compelling, and the people who’ve had hands-on time with it say it’s all that and a bag of chips*. We’ll be reviewing it in-depth, but the thing that really stood out for me was this: Touch Bar is Apple’s double down against the ToasterFridge.

More specifically, Touch Bar is Apple’s solution for the same need that ToasterFridges are trying to fill.

Using Touch Bar on MacBook Pro

A woman using Touch Bar on MacBook Pro

Say the What?

To lay out my case, we need to go back to netbooks. Remember those? They were all the rage a few years back. Apple spent a couple of years denigrating Netbooks while analysts and pundits criticized the company for not offering one.

But while Apple executives hammered on netbook quality and experience, and insisted customers weren’t happy with them, the company was also very clear never to denigrate the need netbooks filled. People wanted an ultra portable device to consume content on the go, do email, and other light needs.

Apple never said people didn’t want that, and instead said that netbooks were the wrong solution. It was all said in Cook Code™ and a couple of throw away comments from Steve Jobs.

To loudly toot my own horn, I put those pieces together and argued that Apple was planning to compete with netbooks with an “iPod Supertouch.” To continue that tooting, I nailed it. Apple released the iPad and netbooks were gone faster than you could say “Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 was a shameless knockoff.”

ToasterFridges

Apple’s quest against the two-in-one devices has taken a similar tack. CEO Tim Cook and other executives have called tablets that convert to a laptop and computers with touch-sensitive displays “ToasterFridges.”

That epithet is intended to belittle such devices. While the unwashed masses don’t care, I’ve little doubt that this term has had some effect on analysts and others in the industry. “ToasterFridge” successfully frames such devices as ungainly, hacked-together kludges. Words have power, and Apple’s CEO uses Cook Code™ effectively.

But just as with netbooks, Apple has never bashed the user need that ToasterFridges are trying to fill. Touch controls are useful for some things. Just as styluses are useful sometimes and mouses have their use and keyboards remain the best way to type. None of these user input methods are best at all things, but each is best for certain things.

ToasterFridges came about in part because the PC industry was looking for some way to compete against iPad. But they’ve found adherents precisely because there is a user desire to harness the power of touch while keeping the utility of a keyboard.

Apple has never said there’s no such need. Instead, Apple has said that ToasterFridges offer a poor user experience, and that the company doesn’t think people want to touch their computer screens.

Touch Down

And Lo! Let there be Touch Bar. Apple hasn’t talked smack about ToasterFridges in a while. But when Touch Bar was introduced, it was obvious Apple was serious about its stance on such products.

Touch Bar harnesses the power of touch (as well as the power of context-aware keys, but that’s another issue) without users having to dirty up their displays with grody fingerprints.

It’s how Apple always approaches these new paradigms. The rest of the world throws blunt force trauma at new ideas, while Apple uses finesse, subtlety, and diverse disciplines to identify a need and provide an elegant solution.

My only real complaint about Touch Bar is that I can’t use it on my iMac. Hopefully that will change.

Bro, What about that Smart Keyboard?

I hear you, bro. The iPad Pro (12.9-inch) with Smart Keyboard is very much an acknowledgement that Microsoft’s Surface Pro has some legitimacy. But in hindsight, I see the Smart Keyboard as less of a ToasterFridge and more acceptance that iPad Pro (both models) are powerful enough for content creation, and that typing is easier and faster on a physical keyboard.

But iPad Pro is still not a ToasterFridge, and I suspect that Touch Bar is Apple’s signal that it will never become one.

*As the kids say**.

**Kids are still saying that, right?

9 Comments Add a comment

  1. I like the touch bar concept over touch screen laptops. But Apple has limited their marketing to consumers and low level pro users. There is a need to appeal to a wider market. If this is all they have coming near term they risk losing the gains of recent years. They tout their ecosystem; but much of that ecosystem seems to be going extinct. They just seem to have lost their focus.

  2. Bryan, I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment about iPad Pro not being a toasterfridge. I have been an avid Apple enthusiast since the Summer of 2000, when I got my very first Mac. Since that time, I started collecting Macs, and I have now acquired 27 Macs. (I know, it’s a little much) Everything from a 512k Macintosh, PowerMac G4’S, iMacs, an eMac, Mac Mini, Clamshell iBook, and a lot more. And my newest being a 2014 MacBook Air. Anyway, when I upgraded to an iPhone 6+, from an iPhone 5s in 2014, I gave my mom my iPad mini because I thought my iPhone 6+ could replace my iPad. I was wrong. I still needed a tablet, and the 6+ was too big for me. I stuck with my 6+ until this last June when it suffered from the infamous “touch disease” I got a 6S, but now, I definitely needed a tablet. And seeing as though I only had being using Macs, for the past 15 years, I thought I would give the Surface Pro 4 a chance. And in part, because I had been running Windows 10 on my MacBook Air, and I really liked it. When I got my Surface Pro 4, (with type cover), I was blown away with pretty much everything about it. Number one, the keys on the type cover are full size, and are spaced just like the keys on a MacBook Air. And just like the MacBook, they are backlit. Number 2. The type cover has a glass, multi-touch trackpad. It’s not nearly as big as the trackpad on a MacBook, I’ll give you that. But, it is very usable, and I personally have had no issue with it. And as you pointed out, having a trackpad fits. Also, to your point about the Smart Keyboard, in 2010, when Steve Jobs was introducing the redesigned MacBook Airs, he made a point about how “Touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical. It gives great demo, but after a short period of time, you start to fatigue, and after an extended period of time, your arm wants to fall off.” This is true! But thankfully like I said, my Surface has a glass trackpad, so I don’t ever have to be in that situation! The same cannot be said for iPad Pro. It does not have a trackpad. And just because it’s an iPad, and not a Mac, does not mean your arm will not want to fall off. It will. And that actually brings me to my third, and final point. Windows 10. Windows 10, is actually a really great OS! Microsoft has definitely learned from their mistakes from Windows 8, and 8.1, when their OS really was a confusing toasterfride. (Also, that’s when Tim Cook made that comment” Like I said, they have learned. As an example, when my keyboard is attached, the UI is optimized for keyboard and mouse, and when I remove the keyboard, the UI changes to a more tablet friendly UI, and it really does! Contextual menus change, the UI for all of your apps change, and it really does offer an amazing tablet experience. I am a very picky user, and I have a very low tolerance for a less than great experience, so believe me when I say, the surface pro 4 is an amazing device. And I even forgot to mention the adjustable kickstand, which lets me adjust the screen to pretty much any angle, like a real laptop, which is also something the iPad Pro can’t do. Bottom line, at the end of the day, people will need to choose the device that is right for them, and in my case, the Surface Pro 4 fits the bill, and from my point of view, offers a vastly better, and uncompromised experience. Something I cannot say about iPad Pro. Thank you.

  3. @Matthew- I’m with you. I’ve only had my Surface Pro 4 for a couple weeks, and already I’m seeing its future. I was shocked to discover that even InDesign has a touch-specific interface! I thought I would have to seriously tolerate Windows 10, but on the Surface, it’s quite good, and the morphing interface is useful, though, to be honest, I tend to keep it out of tablet mode. 😉

    However, the unsung hero is the kickstand. I thought it would be a problem, especially in switching to tablet, but I find that even in tablet mode it’s great. I can keep it open and use it as a handle, but its best use is to open it all the way when sitting on the sofa, and use it as sort of a “hook” over my crossed leg that both holds it in place and helps it sit at a comfortable angle that a flat slab cannot do. I was really worried that I’d come out hating the kickstand, but so far, it’s one of my favorite features. That and the pen. I love taking a screen shot, writing on it, and sending the result to somebody, or even, on occasion, just keeping it for future reference. I love the precision of the pen as well as the ability to write and have it converted to text just like with my Newton–ok, “just like” is an exaggeration. The Newton could write anywhere on the screen. This is more like the PalmOS, but still… it’s nice to have that again.

    I really don’t know what Apple has for us in the future, and I’m not going to say their best days are behind them–people said that about Microsoft–but for now, I’m entirely OS agnostic. I have iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, and maybe even some Linux still on board. No more “all in one basket” that’s how I view my future.

  4. Spot on.

    Apple builds world class tools with full time content creators in mind, which tends to mean minimal-kludge-factor when it comes to hardware design philosophy.

    For instance, when the Surface Book hit the shelves I found the concept intriguing, so when I saw one in the store, I couldn’t help but give it a quick test drive. Hated it. Even brand new, the screen wobbled every time I touched it. How was I supposed to get precise work done if every time I needed to touch the screen I had to hold the display still with my other hand? And trying to use a stylus on an upright screen always feels like kindergarten and crayons, not worth the effort. Neither is any of this a physically restful way to work. When you have hours of content creation effort ahead, more strain on the shoulders will tend to reduce productivity.

    Unfortunately, Apple has internalized this philosophy so well that they don’t do a good job of articulating the base line advantages of having a huge, extremely precise, non-mechanical track pad combined with the simple elegance of the touch bar. That’s where they miss Steve. He was never afraid to expose the competition’s weaknesses–disembowel them on stage in fact–in order to fully spotlight the rightness of their design choices.

    I stick with Apple because of the inherent stability of macOS and iOS, and for the fact that when I’m working, I always feels as though I’m working with professional tools that do not get in the way or try to mix too many interaction metaphors just to score points with pundits.

  5. The iPad, and other tablets market?

    I was speaking of the PC market that a tablet doesn’t satisfy. The mini needs updating. The MacBook line needs entry level, consumer level and pro level (yes, these should be upgradable) products. They should also go back to making a true MacPro tower that pros can tinker with to their particular use.

    I do not believe the Mac is viable in just the form factor they just announced. It cannot be beyond the talent level for Apple engineers to built a tower or upgrade the mini. They can do this while still pushing the innovation forward in iPhone, iPad and MacBook.

  6. Like in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, we need someone to point out what should be obvious… The Surface PC (and similar laptop models from other companies) is just a rehash of the Microsoft Tablet PC.

    In 2002 Microsoft introduced the Tablet PC. It was a Windows laptop with a touch screen, a pen, and a removable keyboard, so that you could use your Windows PC as a “tablet”.

    Other PC manufacturers came out with their own versions of the Tablet PC. At first, it was hailed as the future of computing, and like the Surface and other current “convertible” PCs they sold well at first.

    But after a few years, and people actually using the Tablet PCs, sales dropped off. People bought regular notebook PCs (which were less expensive) or bought Netbooks (those also died off after a few years on the market).

    Then in 2010 Apple introduced the iPad. It brought a fully multi-touch operating system (instead of trying to shoehorn a desktop operating system into it) and apps, it was much lighter and thinner than a laptop (and did not require fans to cool it), and it was affordable. By 2010 Tablet PCs were dead, and the iPad put the nails in the coffin of Netbooks.

    So here we are today. The Surface type of PC is the new Tablet PC. It has a newer version of Windows, and technology has advanced to make it thinner and lighter, but it is still a Windows PC laptop with a removable keyboard, and it is still more expensive than a competitive notebook PC.

    The Surface and Surface-type notebook PCs are expensive, thick, heavy, run hot requiring internal fans, and they run a desktop operating system and apps that have really require an external keyboard and pointing device.

    I doubt that anyone would buy a Surface or Surface-type notebook PC without ever needing to use an external keyboard and trackpad or mouse. Those things are necessities for using a Windows desktop operating system and apps that run on Windows.

    In contrast, iPads hardware and software are fully self-contained and designed specifically for multi-touch use. External keyboard covers are options that some people buy, but most users never buy one at all. And no external mouse or trackpad is necessary or even available for the iPad, because it is designed specifically for multi-touch only… There is no cursor on screen to drive with a pointing device, as we see in desktop operating systems and computers.

    iPads and MacBooks are two entirely different types of computing devices. The hardware, software and user interfaces, are entirely different from each other. Apple’s executives have stated on many occasions that it makes absolutely no sense to try to combine the two different types of devices into one.

    We will (fortunately) never see a Mac computer with a multi-touch display… And that is a “very good thing”.

  7. I think the “ToasterFridge” moniker was a bit of a diversionary and marketing tactic. The Surface Pro 4 is a great device as is the iPad pro. I own both. I have my reasons for using the Surface Pro 4 as my mobile device. As a MS SQL administrator / Developer I got tired of living in a Remote Desktop world or trying to find some app that would let me work. Surface Pro 4 means I don’t have to compromise.

    I also don’t see the device as a compromise between a tablet and a pc. It is entirely different as described in the above comment by Mathew Sorenson. I also think the Apple pattern is to denigrate anything that they see as a possibility until they have a solution. Then lo and behold the new iPad pro adds come out saying “I’m a computer.”

    I have stopped being a fanboy for any technology. I tell people what I use and why, however I am not going to proselytize for the Apple brand. Use what works for you! Apple is limiting my choices right now both with the iPad pro and the new MacBook lineup, so my MacBook Pro is going to live a while longer in my household.

    If I could say anything to the Apple management about what this Pro user needs, it would be “Please give me choices!”

  8. Bryan,
    Totally agree with your assessment!
    Apple has thought through the issue of when it is appropriate to use touch and or stylus (IPD pros).
    You just forgot to mention the seamless content sharing inside the apple ecosystem.
    Create on any device….share with all!
    There is the real reason MacBook Pros will never be toaterfridges!

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