Two days ago Microsoft announced their Microsoft Surface Studio, and I wrote a piece on how it was their answer to Apple’s own desktop solutions. It was hard to compare the products’ philosophies, especially when I don’t think macOS is ready for a complete touchscreen experience. Then Apple announced their new MacBook Pro lineup yesterday and it dawned on me: the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro is Apple’s first distinct step into creating a touchscreen display experience in their MacBook line.
In the Microsoft Surface Studio piece that I wrote, I brought up how Steve Jobs didn’t believe the MacBooks should have touchscreen displays while reports of an “iMac Touch” patent surfaced. Jony Ive even repeated it in a CNET interview, saying it wasn’t “particularly useful”. Maybe at the time Apple didn’t think a full-on touchscreen MacBook display made sense, but yesterday’s event proved they haven’t stopped thinking about the possible applications of it. The Touch Bar is a touchscreen though, well more like a multitouch strip and not the 13+ inches of touch input we might have ever expected. Later on in the interview, Ive stated that the Touch Bar “is the beginning of a very interesting direction”.
Onstage Apple showed off the Touch Bar’s functionality of contextually surfacing shortcut keys within applications. These keys seemed especially beneficial for everyday users who may not be aware of all the various shortcut keys they can find. Touch typists and those comfortable with their keyboard shortcut finger-yoga, may not even think of touching or looking at the Touch Bar. That’s immediately what I felt and thought as I watched the first few seconds of the Touch Bar demos. Nearing the end of the event though, it dawned on me. What creative feats could this Touch Bar do when it wasn’t just showing me shortcut keys?
When the iPad first launched, I remember DJs flocked to the devices because they offered a quick and instant setup in a way physical hardware couldn’t. The iPad had a relatively small upfront cost compared to traditional equipment, and could quickly create infinitesimal on-the-fly setups that would complement a DJ’s current equipment setup. Eventually hardware companies building DJ controllers picked up on this and began implementing touch inputs into their products. Essentially pulling the idea of the iPad’s touchscreen ease-of-use back to where DJs have been comfortable for such a long time.
As the Touch Bar demo went on during today’s event my mind began to race with all the possibilities. It all became clear when Karim Morsy from algoriddim got on stage to perform a live mix using djay Pro and the Touch Bar. Morsy showed off how algoriddim had tuned the djay Pro software to work with the Touch Bar’s features, past just using the basic keyboard shortcuts. It allowed them to turn the MacBook Pro into a mini-DJ controller, without the need for extra hardware. This most likely won’t replace a DJ’s setup, but it showed that the Touch bar had room for creative growth.
To truly grasp what the Touch Bar in the MacBook Pros will be is to step back and stop thinking of just the keyboard shortcut possibilities. Software developers have been pushing the envelope on what is possible with iOS for years, and I see no reason why it won’t continue with the Touch Bar. This small touchscreen display will usher in new usage patterns, and user interactions not previously possible on the Mac.
This is the Touch Bar’s win, this is what sets it apart from a full-on multitouch display. The Touch Bar brings new touch input functionality not previously found on the Mac, without having to completely rebuild the entire hardware and software ecosystem. Taking this a step further, the Touch Bar can be seen as a way of Apple bringing some of the magic that made their iOS devices so great back to where it all started, on the Mac.
I’m excited to see what possibilities macOS software developers will surface with the Touch Bar in the years to come.