Apple is preparing to launch its new high-end MacBook Pro laptops later this year. It has worked to prepare consumers and developers for the changes and benefits of moving to the ARM-based Apple Silicon processor. What a pity that this care and attention was lacking during the introduction of the now decried touch bar.
Released in 2016, the Touch Bar replaced the physical function keys at the top of your MacBook Pro keyboard with a long, thin, continuous strip across the width of the device. It’s the only touchscreen you’ll find in MacOS, and it certainly showed promise in its early days. Promises that have never really been kept.
Apple’s default options were contextual, but very little to say – the ultimate default was to show twelve serious buttons containing a number of key UX features such as volume, media playback, backlighting, screen and application launcher. In other words, the same functions in the same place as the function keys.
Apple highlighted the Emoji “keyboard” which was available in almost every app, as well as how to use the touch bar to navigate audio and video while editing.
So why hasn’t the Touch Bar taken off and why hasn’t it become a key part of the Mac platform?
One of the biggest issues is that the developers could never assume the Touch Bar was there. It was only available on the MacBook Pro. The most popular MacBook Air retained the physical function keys, and Apple never released a magic keyboard that included a touch bar; denying any of the seriously desktop-related Macs the new features.
Any functionality of the touch bar had to be replicated through menus, keyboard shortcuts and on the main screen. The developers had to bypass the Touch Bar, by making an auxiliary functionality of their applications. Over the years, as countless Mac owners upgraded, the ability to incorporate the Touch Bar into Apple’s distinctive offering faded.
Put simply, Apple never put its full weight behind the Touch Bar… and the Touch Bar has become a cute thing at the top of your keyboard rather than a necessity. It should be removed from the new design. While the Touch Bar is still part of the new design for the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, the problems will persist.
Now compare that with another change made by Apple; the move to ARM-based Apple Silicon.
It was not forced on consumers or the public, Tim Cook and his team carefully laid the groundwork for WWDC 2020 about 5 months before the first material was released. They created ARM based software development kits so that there is ARM compiled software when launching new laptops. And perhaps more importantly, Apple has made sure that ARM machines are as compatible as possible with older x86 apps.
Much of this success was achieved quietly in the years leading up to the launch of the ARM project; removing support for older APIs and UI kits; the shutdown of 32-bit applications; and the specific requirements of the code delivered to the Mac App Store reduced permutations, guided developers and users to the goal, and ensured a smooth introduction.
Apple has also been clear on the timescale of the switchover (end of 2022) and the scale (every Mac). Consistency has been promised and clearly signaled. Everything that didn’t happen with the Touch Bar happened with the move to ARM.
The Touch Bar remains one of the most visible entries in Apple’s “Miss” column, but the lessons of the Touch Bar are clear to all.
Now read on for the latest upcoming MacBook Pro hardware delay …