Apple is no stranger to outbursts of negativity among critics and Internet regulars. The gloating words spoken about Cupertino after the new generation of MacBook-Pro was introduced can still be understood: only USB-C and Thunderbolt-3 ports, no usual USB-A, no SD card reader, soldered SSD drive and RAM, both too small. Opponents scolded the different features of the new products, but agreed on one thing: this is not a “Pro” model. It turns out that the manufacturer has removed a lot of useful and popular features from the MacBook Pro, but what, on the contrary, has been added?
OLED touch strips as key replacements
The technical novelty of 2017 is the Touch Bar. However, not all new MacBook Pros are equipped with it — there is a basic 13-inch version of the laptop where there is no such panel. Also, this version only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of four. The cost of a MacBook with Touch Bar starts at 1380$ for a model with a 13-inch screen and from 1780$ for a model with a 15-inch screen. The model without the Touch Bar with a 13-inch screen costs less — from 1140$, but there is no cheaper 15-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar — at least among the new products presented.
What is a Touch Bar? Instead of a row of Mac keys (corresponding to function buttons), laptops have a touch-sensitive OLED strip that, depending on the context, displays various icons associated with some specific and relevant functions at the moment. In the context of the macOS desktop, there are few of them: most of the Touch Bar remains black.
The Mac function buttons and the volume button are only visible when you tap the arrow on the Touch Bar, as are the function buttons for conveniently organizing windows and applications. At the same time, the panel itself can display colors, supports multiple simultaneous clicks and has a high Retina resolution.
At the Apple presentation, working with the touchpad looked natural and organic. But our test showed that in real life, using the Touch Bar can only be pleasant and appropriate when running the “right” programs, such as a standard email client or the Safari browser. In the latter case, depending on the context, the panel shows a favorites button, a search function, a back button, or text correction options.
For non-advanced computer users or newcomers to the Internet, this can really be a help — you don’t have to look for the corresponding functions in the menu among other similar inscriptions. Owning a blind ten-finger typing method and Internet regulars will hardly pay attention to the amazing performance of the buttons — they may not even notice them. In the end, those who are used to using keyboard shortcuts or mouse control for various actions are hardly worth relearning.
When you start a video in Safari for the first time, the bar changes, of course: in this case, the Touch Bar displays a progress bar. When navigating, the controls do not overlap the image, an advantage that can be used in Premiere Pro, for example. We were surprised by the fact that any form of promotional video we encountered during the test could be rewound using a slider. Therefore, the updated MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is probably turning into the most expensive ad blocker; however, we anticipate that YouTube and the ad vendors will quickly adapt their software so that Apple users will once again be forced to watch videos in their entirety — complete with ads, and thus one of the few benefits of the touchpad will be eliminated.
Faster feature search
Third party applications must actively support the Touch Bar API; this, for example, is implemented in the current version of the popular graphics package Adobe Creative Cloud Suite. So, Photoshop CC shows the functions and options for the selected tool. Sometimes, however, this turns into a cruel joke: for example, after pressing the corresponding button, the last 4 undo steps appear.
They are displayed as four tiny icons that should represent the result of their respective undo actions; in the image on the right, we have shown the necessary steps. However, in practice, a small fragment in most cases remains empty, and it can be difficult to see something.
Our attempt to replace the in-house image editor’s personal MacBook in prepress with a MacBook Pro with a new panel was doomed from the start: a colleague, like many professional MacBook users, works in this environment using a large monitor as well as USB — keyboard and mouse. An external keyboard with a Touch Bar does not yet exist, so the touch bar turned out to be completely useless in this case.
So while the future of the Touch Bar paints a pretty bleak picture: not many apps support it, some features, like volume control, require an extra click. The touchpad is impossible to use blindly due to the lack of tactile feedback, and someone who constantly switches from the built-in to an external keyboard will not get used to it much anyway. That being said, Photoshop and Safari show that touch bar control and operation can actually get easier, but whether or not it’s a «Pro» feature is up to each MacBook user to decide for themselves.
After all, the Touch Bar will probably soon become redundant: the multi-colored button on the right launches the Siri voice assistant. If the quality of speech recognition improves in the future and the corresponding functions are built into standard programs, then it will be possible to save money on the keyboard.