X Course Advisor FREE Course Advisor
(Close)
Watch Tutorials
macProVideo.com
Close
Apple MacBook Pro Touch Bar: The Present And The Future

Check out our Mac OS X: Sierra's Cool New Features course!

The Touch Bar on the current MacBook Pro is terrific, but it’s not being used to anywhere near its potential. As you might expect, Apple’s own apps do a pretty good job of supporting it, but after nine months I’d have expected third parties to have stepped it up a bit more. In this article, I’ll show you what’s being done by Apple, by third-parties, and what should be done.

What’s Being Done: Apple’s Own Apps 

 

Apple’s own tech is often best shown off by Apple themselves, and the Touch Bar is no exception. Final Cut Pro X is a Touch Bar poster child and has some great tricks, including showing a navigable mini-timeline. It also lets you adjust audio keyframes in a way that’s impossible without the Touch Bar. (See my training course here.)

 
Swiping through these slides while seeing how long you’ve been speaking is great

Swiping through these slides while seeing how long you’ve been speaking is great

Keynote lets you see (and swipe through) upcoming slides and displays a clock/timer - really useful, especially while presenting. Safari shows mini versions of open tabs, which are again swipeable.

 

Pages offers basic text controls, but also shows a useful, slideable, live-preview selection of styles. It offers shape controls when working with shapes, comprehensive color sliders, and the infamous (but actually useful) Emoji insertion options. 

A great way to schedule an appointment

A great way to schedule an appointment

Calendar lets you swipe through dates and change calendars very easily, but it’s the draggable time ranges for appointments that prove really useful. Reminders offers a similar time-based slider, and it’s great. iBooks lets you see where you are in a book and swipe to navigate; both are welcome.

 
So many controls here — shame they’re modal

So many controls here — shame they’re modal

 

Garageband and Logic Pro go crazy, letting you switch between a playable, swipeable keyboard, a swipeable transform pad for your synth, a mini timeline, or a collection of useful buttons. It’s a fantastic collection of useful tools, but perhaps overwhelming for the novice. One minor (and unavoidable) issue is that because there are so many options available on the instruments, sliding your finger on a button will scroll the list sideways instead of activating the slider directly. Instead, you have to take the slow route: tap, then slide to change an individual control. With all those options, that’s a compromise worth making.  

Move through your photos with a quick swipe (shown with the Control Strip active)

Move through your photos with a quick swipe (shown with the Control Strip active)

 Probably the best example of all is in Photos. You can swipe through your photo collection far more quickly and easily than with standard controls, and while you adjust settings on a single image, you can see the actual image in the Touch Bar’s version of the Light or Color slider. 

Adjust your photo while you flick between before/after (shown without the Control Strip)

Adjust your photo while you flick between before/after (shown without the Control Strip)

Even better, these sliders don’t take over the entire Touch Bar while in use. While you can still only use one slider at a time, you can press the nearby “before/after” button while you drag a slider, to easily discover how effective your changes are.

Too many apps include no support at all — you just see the Control Strip, or nothing

Too many apps include no support at all — you just see the Control Strip, or nothing

What’s Being Done: Everyone Else

While Apple’s own apps do a pretty good job, most other developers seem to have missed the point. Microsoft have enabled their Office apps, and done a decent job. Both Word and iA Writer give control over styles that are especially welcome in fullscreen mode. Google Chrome offers only a limited set of fixed buttons (no Safari-style tab thumbnails) but at least they’ve done something. Most developers haven’t bothered, and an option to show the full control strip or F-keys in apps with no support would be welcome.

The Touch Bar’s most obvious (but weakest) use is to display switchable sets of custom buttons — and that’s what many developers have implemented. While the Touch Bar supports multi-touch, buttons make use of just a single touch, and that’s wasted potential. And while the buttons can display a custom label or icon, that’s somewhat offset by the need to look at the buttons, because they’re not tactile. 

While adjusting a slider in Photoshop, this is all you see

While adjusting a slider in Photoshop, this is all you see

Some apps, like Photoshop, do allow you to use sliders, but they’re almost universally modal: you see just one slider at a time, while everything else disappears. On the upside, you can immediately drag on a slider’s icon to activate it — you don’t need to tap and wait before sliding. But when you do adjust a slider, everything else disappears to show the slider on its own. When you finish sliding, you then have to wait a couple of seconds (or press a close button) to return to the previous set of options. It’s modal, and it feels slow every time.

Worse, it’s actually slower than the current method of resizing brushes. Why use a Touch Bar slider to adjust brush size or hardness (only one at a time?) when I can hold Control and Option and drag with the mouse to change both at once? This usage of the Touch Bar may be more obvious to the user, but it doesn’t bring anything new. It’s slow, and I have to take my eyes off the screen. For advanced users it’s a big step back.

It’s only a thin strip of the image, but it’s not bad

It’s only a thin strip of the image, but it’s not bad

It’s not all bad, though. The History button shows a series of swipeable document states, and sliding on the Touch Bar is a really nice way to flick between your last few operations. It’s just a shame the same strategy isn’t used to show brush presets, to control sliders or Preview in filters, to flick between view modes in the Select and Mask workspace, or anything else.

These controls from the current iMovie would be right at home in the Touch Bar, for iMovie or FCP X

These controls from the current iMovie would be right at home in the Touch Bar, for iMovie or FCP X 

What Should Be Done: Multiple Sliders At Once

Photos demonstrates a good start, but what’s really needed is the ability to use multiple sliders at once, and with a seamless, minimally modal interface. Instead of tapping on a single slider and seeing everything else disappear, why can’t we use two or more sliders at once? This would be a something truly novel, and we’ve got enough fingers. 

It’s entirely possible to do this on an iPad, and colorists use color surfaces (such as the Tangent Ripple) to do it all the time. Some specific examples of what the Touch Bar could do:

  • In FCP X, in the Color Board control the globals/shadows/mids/highs sliders at the same time, with a switch to move between the color/saturation/exposure panes. There’s enough space in the Touch Bar to control vertical movement on the color pane, too.
  • In Lightroom (which currently offers no support at all) I’d love to see streamlined support for culling (star ratings, quick keywords) but most of all I want multiple sliders for quick corrections. If I could use, for example, the Exposure, Highlights and Temperature sliders at the same time, and was able to adjust them all independently, I’d be much more productive. Keyboard or mouse controls let me adjust just one slider at a time, and when I’m processing thousands of images in a sitting, that’s not enough.
  • In Garageband, I want a mixer! Give me sliders for several tracks at once, and let me control automation like I’m at a real mixing desk. (Note: This does work for a track at a time in Logic Pro X.) 

What Should Be Done: Swipeable Collections

This is already present in Photos — the ability to quickly move through your entire photo collection by swiping on thumbnails, or to swipe through several filters on a single image. Photoshop’s History mode has the right idea too, but let’s go further to imagine swipeable lists of:

  • Photoshop’s brush presets
  • Illustrator’s brush, swatch, symbol, and graphic style libraries
  • InDesign’s paragraph, character and object styles, swatches and more — especially important as there’s still no way to assign custom shortcuts to styles without a number pad
  • Undo/Redo states in any app that supports multiple undos
  • FCP X effect and text presets

What Should Be Done: Other Controls

We don’t need the brushed metal, but touchable versions of these would be welcome

We don’t need the brushed metal, but touchable versions of these would be welcome

Some additional Apple-provided control types would help a lot of developers to push ideas further. Buttons and sliders are great, but how about:

  • A jog/shuttle control like in FCP 7, to allow for more flexible speed control
  • A two-way control stick, to allow two-dimensional nudging with greater flexibility than the arrow keys provide
  • Vertically scrolling buttons, to allow several sliders to be stacked in a tiny amount of space 

What You Can Do Today

Better Touch Tool lets you do all kinds of sneaky things

Better Touch Tool lets you do all kinds of sneaky things

If you don’t want to wait for Apple to implement new Touch Bar features, you can download Better Touch Tool and add your own Touch Bar widgets or buttons. It gets complicated, but you can:

  • Add custom buttons and widgets, and optionally only let them appear when a modifier key is held
  • Use the Touch Bar as an app switcher replacement
  • Allow time/date and battery info to live in the Touch Bar

Conclusion

At least we have this very nice color picker

At least we have this very nice color picker

The Touch Bar can be great, but as it’s always going to remain a Mac-only optional extra, it’s got to provide something pretty compelling for developers to pay attention. So far, outside Apple, there’s not a whole lot going on, and augmenting shortcut keys with buttons isn’t enough. If Apple can show developers just how far the Touch Bar can be pushed — and make it easier to do the same things — then we could see whole new classes of interactions. We’ve been adjusting one slider at a time for way too long, and as a Mac fan, I don’t want to see the iPad have all the multi-touch fun. Take a deeper look, then send in those feature requests to Apple, and all your other favorite developers. 

Learn more about your Mac, OS and creative software at macProVideo: https://www.macprovideo.com/tutorials/  

Check out our Mac OS X: Sierra's Cool New Features course!

Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson | Articles by this author

Iain Anderson is an editor, animator, designer, developer and Apple Certified Trainer based in Brisbane, Australia. He has taught privately and in tertiary institutions, and has freelanced for Microsoft and the Queensland Government. Comfortable with anything from Quartz Composer to Second Life and Final Cut Pro to Adobe Creative Suite, he has laid out books, booklets, brochures and business cards; retouched magazine covers and product packaging, shot and edited short films and animated for HD broadcast TV, film festivals and for the web.

Comments

Sep 09, 2017
Adrian
You have to do a lot of gymnastics to use the Touch Bar
Sep 10, 2017
msonic
While we're all waiting fot touch bar support for all the major DAW's, here's a great Midi Touchbar App you can use rigt away.... http://urbanlienert.com/miditouchbar/

Sep 10, 2017
jimijames
The question for me is when is Apple going to come out with a touchscreen? The only answer I can think of is Apple is delaying such moves in order to sell more products.

But why jam everything into a thin strip that requires some contortions when a fully touchable screen would be a natural solution?

The obvious answer is a touchscreen. Whenever Apple does release it for the MacBook Pro tho the entry level price will probably be $5000. lol
Sep 11, 2017
funwithstuff
Author here — I don't think there's a Mac touchscreen coming any time soon. An iMac with a touchscreen would give you RSI from reaching out, and a laptop with a touchscreen would need a much firmer hinge to provide a more solid push-back. Even with that, the UI would have to change significantly to make it worthwhile — and that's an iPad.

If you look at the Windows PCs that do include a touchscreen, there are issues, and Windows 10's "tablet mode" still doesn't seem to be popular. With a desktop UI, the buttons are way too small. Swiping to scroll is OK though. If a pen is supported, drawing is also OK, but only if the device is on an angle.

Though it *seems* like a logical idea, in practice it turns out to not work very well.
Sep 11, 2017
funwithstuff
That MIDI touchbar app looks awesome — thanks for the link.
Sep 11, 2017
jimijames
iPads are getting more powerful but do you think we are still a ways off from seeing one powerful enough to run full-fledged DAW apps that there might be something like an LPX for iPad?
Sep 15, 2017
funwithstuff
Jimijames, I think the processors are up to it, as the latest iPhone's got the power of a MacBook Pro on common benchmarks. The issue is taking the complexity of a full DAW and making it touch-friendly, plus managing all the inputs and outputs you might want.
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Create an Account  Login Now

What is macProVideo.com?

macProVideo.com is an online education community featuring Tutorial-Videos & Training for popular Audio & Video Applications including Adobe CS, Logic Studio, Final Cut Studio, and more.
© 2017 macProVideo.com
a division of NonLinear Educating Inc.
Link