What it is: Jony Ive is Apple’s main designer and explains why Apple developed the Touch Bar.
No matter what you may think of Apple, Jony Ive has been the primary driving force behind the user interface and design of everything from the latest Macintosh models to the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. What’s interesting is how Jony Ive thinks and in his latest interview, he explains the rationale for the Touch Bar.
What’s particularly interesting about his interview is when he states, “We don’t limit ourselves in how we will push — if it’s to a better place. What we won’t do is just do something different that’s no better.”
It’s easy to come up with something different. Just look at Windows RT and Windows 8 to see how Microsoft created something different but not necessarily better. What was the compelling reason to use Windows RT or Windows 8? Even die hard Windows enthusiasts used various shell programs like Start8 or Classic Shell to make Windows 8 more usable and familiar than the tile-based interface Microsoft tried to force everyone to use.
Another example of something different but not necessarily better are touch screens on PCs. Touch screens make sense on smartphones and tablets because the touch screen is right in your hand in the first place. On PCs, touch screens are nice to have but not necessarily better. In a typical laptop, the touch screen is close enough to touch, but it’s not necessarily a better input device than the mouse or trackpad. On desktop PCs, the screen is further away from the user’s hands so reaching out to touch and manipulate the screen is even less convenient.
Once you get used to a touch screen on a PC, you’ll notice their glaring omission in non-touch screen PCs. Yet the crucial question is whether touch screens are a convenience or a necessity?
Take away a mouse/trackpad from a PC and you can still manipulate your way around solely with a keyboard but it’s extremely inconvenient to the point of uselessness. That shows how important a mouse/trackpad is as an input device for computers.
Take away a touch screen from a PC and it’s a minor annoyance. You can still do everything with a mouse/trackpad. It may be a little slower or clumsier, but touch screens aren’t radically better or crucial than a mouse/trackpad. Strip away a mouse/trackpad and touch screens are the only form of interaction on smartphones and tablets.
Touch screens on PCs are generally convenient but not necessary. Now look at the Touch Bar.
Like touch screens, the Touch Bar is completely optional. Take away the Touch Bar and you can still use a Macintosh. In fact one of the latest low-end MacBook Pro models lacks a Touch Bar and comes with a traditional row of function keys instead.
What the Touch Bar offers is speed and convenience by displaying shortcuts for the specific task you’re doing. Although you can work without a Touch Bar, the Touch Bar offers shortcuts to make your work easier and faster. In comparison, a touch screen isn’t always easier or faster than a mouse/trackpad. For precision, a mouse/trackpad is actually better than a touch screen. For simplicity, a touch screen is more intuitive than a mouse/trackpad.
A touch screen doesn’t offer dramatically better performance over a mouse/trackpad. The Touch Bar does offer dramatically better performance over a mouse/trackpad/keyboard by displaying one tap access to commonly used commands. Over time, the Touch Bar may be optional, but it can speed up your work and that’s what makes the Touch Bar more important than a touch screen.
A touch screen acts as a supplement to a mouse/trackpad/keyboard on a PC. The Touch Bar acts as a shortcut to a mouse/trackpad/keyboard. That subtle difference is what makes the Touch Bar more important as an input device. Over time, more PCs will have a touch screen as standard equipment and more Macintosh computers will have the Touch Bar as standard equipment.
Watch the future to see which one will proved dominant. Touch screens are never coming to the Macintosh so Macintosh users will need to switch to a Windows PC if they believe touch screens are crucial to using a computer. If PCs start to adopt the Touch Bar concept, then you’ll know which user interface idea is truly more useful.