Touch Bar Impressions

I spent about an hour today at my local Apple Store trying out the Touch Bar on the new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros.

I recently picked up the non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro, so the screen, keyboard and case were already familiar. Below are some stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

Touch ID and Touch Bar

  • When off, the Touch Bar looks like it is made of the same stuff as the key caps. It has a nice flat black look to it. Under direct light, it was possible to see where the cover and the screen meet, though.
  • The texture of the Touch Bar is slightly rougher than the Trackpad. It’s still very smooth to run your finger across, but I think there’s a little more grip here.
  • The Touch ID button isn’t integrated into the Touch Bar at all; it’s very much a stand-alone button at the end of the bar. That said, it feels great as a button, and I’m more than a little sad the non-touch model didn’t get it.

Emoji on the Touch Bar

  • If you thought scrolling through emoji on iOS was bad, wait until you try this thing.
  • As most reviewers noted, different apps do different things on the Touch Bar. An hour was not enough time to feel confident in what was going to be available where. That said, things like Save/Don’t Save dialogs putting buttons on the Touch Bar could prove quite fast to use.
  • Maps’ implementation is nice, but the big colorful category buttons are only available when the focus is in the search field of the app. Little things like this will just take getting used to.
  • Having splashes of color — or huge sections in custom color pickers — is really jarring at first. I like the way it looks, but the vibrancy is startling after decades of monochrome keyboard under my fingertips.

Maps' colorful buttons

  • The Touch Bar customization in System Preferences is cool. It really feels like you’re dragging an item off the bottom of the display and on to the Touch Bar.
  • Mercifully, that colorful Siri button can be hidden. The closed and open state of the Control Strip can be customizes separately from each other, which was confusing at first. I suspect most users won’t ever change things around, though.

Picking a color on the Touch Bar

All in all, I’m impressed with the Touch Bar hardware. While the screen could be higher resolution, it’s hard to see pixels at a normal distance. The Touch ID button isn’t sunk into the screen like rumors say are coming on the iPhone, but it is perfectly functional.

An hour is not enough time for me to judge what I think about it from the software perspective. I liked that it surfaces things in complex applications like Final Cut Pro X and Numbers, but the inconsistent usage and mode switching that has to take place to find things would need to be second nature before I considered it helpful day to day. I think there’s a ton of potential here, though, and it’s still early days of this thing.

Most of my work is done at an iMac, and I opted for the notebook I have specifically not to have frustrations about having the Touch Bar some of the time, but not most of the time. If Apple brings this to the desktop — and it totally should — then sign me up. For now, I’m okay without it.