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

3 minute read
| The Back Page

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?

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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!

Member
Rick Allen

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… Read more »

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NorthSaanichBC

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… Read more »

skipaq
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skipaq

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… Read more »

Member
memrystax

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?… Read more »

JonGl
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JonGl

@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… Read more »

Lee Dronick
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Lee Dronick

There is a need to appeal to a wider market

The iPad, and other tablets market?

Member
Matthew Sorensen

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… Read more »

skipaq
Member
skipaq

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.