MacBook OLED screen concept Spotify 2-1

There has been a lot of talk about the OLED touch bar rumored for the upcoming MacBook Pro refresh expected this fall. But how exactly will the touchscreen work for users?

If you’ve not been paying attention, Apple is thought to be working on a new slimmer MacBook Pro that according to reports will feature a thin touchscreen on the keyboard in place (or possibly above?) the top row of the keyboard. The top keyboard row currently includes function keys, aka the F1-F12 keys that double as quick keys for screen brightness, Mission Control, iTunes media transport controls, etc.

So it’s thought that the new touchscreen might replace the function keys and offer those functions as contextual buttons on the touchscreen. But surely Apple won’t JUST use the new OLED touchscreen for digital versions of the function keys it already has?

MAcbook-oled side

Menu bar and Dock

A couple of the maybe obvious options would be to bring down buttons from the menu bar or dock that maybe aren’t currently as accessible directly from the keyboard. Having the dock would allow for quick keys for access to, of course, all of the apps and windows in your dock, which I’d expect alone would be much more useful than the current function keys if they are indeed being replaced by the OLED touch screen entirely.


App-specific keys

But perhaps a better approach to the display will be, as we previously speculated, to offer contextually sensitive buttons, offering up different function keys depending on what app you’re currently using. Sort of like how the menu bar functions currently change in macOS depending what app you’re focused on, the OLED display could offer up app-specific commands, like media transport controls for iTunes, frequently visited sites, bookmarks or navigation controls for Safari, or customized toolbar items for other apps like Finder, Logic Pro, or Pages. The iOS keyboard, even when using an attached Bluetooth keyboard, offer similar functionality, as noted by 9to5 readers. 

If Apple does take this kind of approach, and I’m hoping it does, it may or may not allow third-party developers to take advantage by building their own quick keys for the feature.


Touch ID

Apple is also working on integrating Touch ID functionality into the Mac, which would allow it to unlock the fingerprint-based tech for payments and authentication/unlocking of the Mac and other apps like it does on iOS devices. But the TouchID functionality according to our sources is currently being integrated into the power button of the MacBook, which would presumably be separate from the OLED touch bar. There have been rumors and Apple patents in the past detailing methods of embedding Touch ID like functionality underneath displays, but that’s something Apple has yet to introduce in an actual product. Apple is said to be planning an upgraded pressure sensitive home button for iPhone 7 with haptic feedback, but it’s unclear if that will mean physical changes to the appearance of how it’s integrated into the device. 


An OLED Touch Bar for other Macs?

If Apple does believe in the rumoured OLED touch bar as a serious hardware innovation for the MacBook, then what does that mean for the rest of its Mac lineup? Will the shiny new hardware be limited to the MacBook Pro?

Then there was the concept above that imagined what the feature might look like on a new Apple keyboard for other Macs. If Apple does take the contextually sensitive, app-specific approach to the new hardware like I’m hoping, developer adoption for third-party apps will of course be limited by the fact the feature is only available on the new MacBook Pro at launch.

How would you like Apple to take advantage of the new OLED touch screen for MacBook Pro?

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About the Author

Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s Logic Pros series.