What it is: The Touch Bar replaces function keys and has arrived on the MacBook Pro laptops, but when will it arrive for desktop computers?
Apple introduced the Touch Bar on the latest MacBook Pro laptops, so it’s only inevitable that other laptop models such as the MacBook will also get the Touch Bar eventually. Apple also updated several of their programs such as Final Cut Pro to take advantage of the Touch Bar, but the Touch Bar is only good if every Macintosh has one. The big question is how will desktop Macintosh computers use the Touch Bar?
First of all, the Touch Bar replaces the useless row of function keys at the top of the keyboard, so it makes little sense to include function keys at all, but it makes a whole lot more sense to include the Touch Bar. Yet one advantage of laptops is that the Touch Bar is close to the screen so you can easily see the options displayed on the Touch Bar. On the other hand, desktop Macintosh computers typically place the keyboard further away from the screen. That means the options displayed on the Touch Bar are typically out of sight if you’re staring at the screen.
MacWorld suggests that the Touch Bar could be a separate strip that you could place near the screen so it would be in close proximity much like the Touch Bar on a laptop. Yet that makes little sense because the Touch Bar replaces the useless row of function keys on the keyboard. What will most likely happen is that Apple will introduce a separate keyboard that includes the Touch Bar directly where function keys used to appear.
With the Touch Bar on a keyboard that’s further away from the screen, using the Touch Bar on a desktop computer will be different than using the Touch Bar on a laptop. With a laptop, you can see the options available and easily choose them. With a desktop computer, the Touch Bar options aren’t as visible so it takes more effort to look for them and then choose them.
That means instead of simply displaying suggested words on the Touch Bar, the Touch Bar will likely be far more useful for displaying shortcuts instead. Currently, you can assign shortcuts to function keys but it’s far easier to assign shortcuts to the Touch Bar because then those shortcuts can have actual names. Now instead of memorizing that F6 represents the spell check command, a spell check icon can appear on the Touch Bar.
Thus the Touch Bar will likely succeed on both laptops and desktop computers because they can offer complicated shortcuts, not simple shortcuts. A simple shortcut occurs when you type a word and the Touch Bar can suggest likely words you’re trying to spell. On an iPhone or iPad, this might work but on a Touch Bar, this is far less useful.
A more complicated shortcut can condense multiple steps into a single press of a button, which is the main purpose of function keys. In many word processors, you can assign macros to function keys so pressing Alt+F6 might select an entire paragraph, format it in bold, and increase its size all at once. Yet to access this shortcut, you have to memorize an obscure keystroke that often requires pressing two or more keys at the same time.
That’s where the Touch Bar can shine. By letting users create custom commands that they can assign to the Touch Bar, the Touch Bar could be a power user’s tool. Instead of displaying a row of generic function keys that can run complicated commands if you only remember the confusing keystrokes to access them, the Touch Bar can display a row of descriptive buttons. Unlike function keys, you only need to press a Touch Bar button once and you’ll never run out of room because you can scroll sideways to display more shortcut buttons.
So think of the Touch Bar as supercharged version of the function keys and that’s where the usability will come from. Now it won’t matter whether the Touch Bar is near the screen (like a laptop) or further away (like a desktop). The purpose of the Touch Bar will be to give users access to complicated commands.
The Touch Bar absolutely must come to the desktop Macintosh through a dedicated Apple keyboard. Until all Macintosh computers have a Touch Bar, many people will ignore the Touch Bar until they can ignore it no more.