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.
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.”
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.
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?