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The Touch Bar feature introduced on the 2016 MacBook Pros was truly and utterly polarizing for users. You either loathe it or love it; there is no in between.
But whichever side of the Touch Bar fence you find yourself on, the fact of the matter is, if you want a MacBook Pro, you’re going to have to live with it because they no longer sell models that don’t have it.
And if you’re hoping that all the hate they’re getting for it is going to prompt the company to get rid of it in the next few iterations, don’t hold your breath.
Apple isn’t known to retract features that they deem worthy of their products.
So, why don’t we just move on from all the hate and embrace this interesting new feature?
For the most part, who uses the function buttons that it replaced in the first place?
Apple’s implementation on the Touch Bar was smart right out of the gate. They made it in a way that it conforms to the application that’s currently in use.
Final Cut Pro X was one of the first apps that embraced this feature and boy, did users love it.
But it helps that Final Cut is an Apple product and that the company probably tinkered with the Touch Bar for longer than anybody else did.
For the rest of the applications that people use on the MacBook Pro however, Touch Bar integration has been a little problematic and, at times, utterly useless.
Take the word suggestions when typing, for example.
It may be a good feature on a smartphone keyboard but not on a laptop with physical keys.
In many ways, we type almost as fast as we can think so having a suggestion box in the same plane as the keyboard seems useless.
In a way, it’s redundant and time-consuming that you have to take your fingers away from the keyboard and your eyes away from the screen.
Luckily, the Touch Bar can be customized via software tweaks.
And because it’s already been a couple of years since it was released, a couple of third-party app developers have improved on its implementation.
Others even decided to develop software for the Touch Bar itself.
Apps that have great Touch Bar integration out of the box
When Apple came out with those Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pros, they featured how it would look like working with both Apple-branded software and third-party apps.
For the most part, the Touch Bar support came trickling down to various popular software.
However, some of them felt unrefined.
This is partly because Apple caught most of the world on its heels with this latest feature.
The other part, however, might just be due to plain old confusion on what that tiny strip of OLED is really for.
In short, the majority of the apps that put the Touch Bar to good use only came after a few months when most developers have had the time to reflect on the philosophy behind the new feature.
Here are a few of these apps that made full or at least clever use of the Touch Bar.
Final Cut Pro X
You can expect Apple to fully embrace the Touch Bar in all of their apps.
The Final Cut Pro X, the company’s flagship video editing app, however, deserves an honorable mention because of how well-executed its Touch Bar is.
Final Cut Pro X’s implementation of the Touch Bar makes it useful for scrubbing through your timeline, picking colors, and other important functions.
While these are all still available via keyboard shortcuts that experts already probably have in their muscle memory, the Touch Bar option has the potential to overtake it because of its customizability and slider functionality.
Apple is the go-to device for creatives for one reason: the app selection is top-notch.
One of the best of these apps is the Pixelmator and it has made it to this list because it’s one of the best-executed Touch Bar integration in any third-party app on the Mac App Store.
Pixelmator’s Touch Bar implementation can potentially save you some time from clicking through and fumbling around the interface.
It accomplishes this by keeping your commonly used tools available right in the Touch Bar.
So, tool switching will be a simple tap away instead of a couple of kicks that it used to take on non-Touch Bar MacBooks.
Other than that, you also gain an overview of your layer stack where you can even do quick edits and easy order changes and many more functionalities.
All of these make your edits quicker and your life a bit easier than before.
Sure, most Mac users will probably be inclined to use Safari but there are quite a lot of Chrome users on macOS too.
And because it seems like Chrome’s developers have embraced the Touch Bar almost as much as the Safari team has, the functionalities are so surprising.
The implementation is pretty simple.
Once you have Chrome open, your Touch Bar would display forward, back, new tab and other often-used buttons.
One of these Touch Bar buttons that we surprisingly love on the Chrome for macOS is one that takes you instantly to Google’s Omnibox.
This implementation essentially removes the need to drag your mouse cursor to these same functions near the top of the Chrome application.
It’s a subtle improvement but it’s one that should have a significant impact on your web browsing experience.
Microsoft Office Suite for macOS
There’s no denying that Microsoft Office is one of the most popular productivity app suites in existence.
For a while, it might have even kept Microsoft afloat.
But, just because it’s made by a rival tech company doesn’t mean it can’t be good at Touch Bar innovations.
On the contrary, Microsoft’s Touch Bar implementation on its productivity suite has become one of the best ones yet.
One good example is the availability of a feature called Focus Mode on the Touch Bar.
This mode takes visual clutter like ribbons and commands and just leaves the user with a white background and a blinking cursor.
Instead, the usual commands and ribbons get transferred to the Touch Bar where it’s less likely to distract you from your work.
Excel’s Touch Bar function is also something that needs to be given some attention for its excellent execution.
If you highlight a couple of cells, the Touch Bar will suggest formulas that you can use with them.
Truth be told, this might make Excel easier to use on a MacBook Pro versus a Windows 10 computer.
Touch Bar Specific Software
The Touch Bar wasn’t entirely well-received in some Apple fanboy circles.
Some people were understandably resistant to change.
However, some were simply turned off by how poorly some apps implemented their Touch Bar strategies.
As a result, some proactive app developers decided to take things into their own hands.
They started by creating their own software for the Touch Bar itself.
Some of them just added some functionalities to the existing software. Others, however, completely revamped how the entire thing behaved.
All these apps, therefore, would not be found baked into other applications.
Instead, you’ll find them on their respective websites where you can download and sideload them into your MacBook Pros.
The results are nothing less than astonishing because the Touch Bar-specific app market is beginning to take a life of its own.
From mundane, Pac Man and Galaga themed games to powerful customization tools, there is a rich selection that has blossomed from these endeavors.
Here are some of the most productive and well-executed out of all of them:
macOS users love the minimalist approach of the dock. In most cases, they even set it to hide after a couple of seconds when left unused.
The developers of the Touch Bar app Pock must have had this in mind when they created it.
The main idea is to transfer the contents and functionalities, including the notification dot underneath an app in use, from the macOS Dock on the main screen to the Touch Bar.
This means you can launch apps and switch between them right inside your Touch Bar.
It even supports multiple windows so you can switch between different instances of one app if you so choose.
The result is a less cluttered screen so you have more room for what you need to work on.
This feature in itself might be good enough to make the Touch Bar a worthwhile addition to the MacBook, but Pock has other uses that even increases the feature’s value proposition.
Pock also enables useful widgets such as Wi-Fi and battery information to be shown all times on your Touch Bar.
Furthermore, the developers are also working on other widgets that will increase the usefulness of your Touch Bar even further.
Haptic Touch Bar
One of the common gripes that people have with the Touch Bar is that you sometimes don’t know when your MacBook has already registered your button press.
It lacks the tactile feedback that a true keyboard key has.
The Haptic Touch Bar aims to remedy this by engaging the trackpad’s haptic engine whenever you do anything with the Touch Bar.
It’s not a perfect solution since the trackpad haptic engine isn’t exactly close to the Touch Bar, but it still gives you good feedback.
And, if in case the haptic engine isn’t your jam, the Haptic Touch Bar app can also enable audio feedback when you interact with the Touch Bar.
If the end goal is to lessen mistypes due to the lack of feedback then I can tell you that, even with its drawbacks, it works as intended.
Touch Bar Timer
If you just want to add a stopwatch widget to your Touch Bar, you don’t have to use BetterTouchTool and its granular controls and settings.
You can simply install an app that’s aptly called Touch Bar Timer.
It does exactly what its name suggests.
It adds a timer widget to your Touch Bar that you can see at all times even when you switch between apps and the contextual changes of the Touch Bar kicks in.
This way, you’ll be able to keep time even if you’re working between apps.
If you’re a proponent of the Pomodoro Technique, this app can be your best friend.
In fact, its developer is thinking of adding Pomodoro Technique specific functions to the app in the future.
The Touch Bar, for the most part, is smartly executed.
It displays contextually accurate functionalities with the apps currently open on your display.
The functionality, however, is dependent on the way apps design it and sometimes, it’s a bit hit and miss.
There are a few instances when the functions offered are just not intuitive enough.
If you’re sick of these instances, the BetterTouchTool might be something that you’d like to look at.
It gives you granular control over which functions are displayed on the Touch Bar.
You can, for example, customize the shortcuts, functions, and even widgets displayed on your Touch Bar.
But this isn’t limited to just one app. You can change these presets with each app you’re using.
So, if you want certain Touch Bar functionalities available on your Lightroom and a different set for your Photoshop, you can set it up in the BetterTouchTool application.
This way, you don’t lose the contextual nature of the Touch Bar.
In a way, this app is the most powerful tool for the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar because its functions encompass everything about it from what to display, where to display them, and how they behave.
It’s the ultimate customization app that deserves some attention from all MacBook Pro owners looking to have a better experience with their machines.
Personally, I think it’s a great feature because I’d rather have multifunction keys rather than a rigid set of “F-Keys”.
The main function that I use it for is to control the volume up and down and mute it when I need to.
If I didn’t have the touch bar, I’d have to navigate from what I’m currently doing, which isn’t ideal.
I also like being able to control the brightness of my screen at the touch of a button.
Granted it’s not perfect and it doesn’t always play well with certain applications (Intellij I’m looking at you!), but overall I’m happy with the feature and I trust Apple’s judgment in creating new features for its products.