My new workplace gives out MacBook Pro laptops to developers. There is an option of Thinkpad (with Linux) too, but most systems and processes are well aligned with MacOS. This is the first time I have used an Apple laptop as my full-time work machine.
Although the laptop is very well-built, there is a particular feature that just seems highly annoying and serves no purpose at all. That is the touchbar. The touchbar is a narrow strip of touchscreen above the keyboard where you would usually find the function keys row.
What you give up
As is clear, the function keys are no longer present on this laptop, since their space is taken up by the touchbar. It is incredibly annoying to not have dedicated F keys and screen brightness and volume buttons. You want to mute/unmute your mic in a meeting? Mess around in the UI instead of a simple button.
The biggest sin of the touchbar is that it is very finicky to interact with. Every other touch is either ignored, or mis-aimed. The bar goes into a dim mode after a few seconds, and then your touch will just be ignored. It also shuts off after some time, at which point it is literally a black bar of wasted space.
Changing the volume or brightness is now a complicated gesture or series of taps on a flat glass surface instead of a simple keypress on an actual key. All in all, I spend a lot of time struggling with the touchbar for things that are simply a keypress in other laptops.
Apple has designed the touchbar so that it always shows redundant controls and buttons. It almost never shows you things that are NOT present on the main screen, too. For example, if there is a dialog box asking for some system permission with
Deny buttons, what does the touchbar show? It also shows the same buttons again. Now you can decide if you want to use the mouse cursor to click the main screen buttons, or you want to poke at the touchbar. The result will be the same.
My question is: why? What is the benefit of showing the same options in two places simultaneously? What is the point of having two ways to trigger the same action?
Another duplicated control is a seekbar that appears whenever a video or audio is playing. Initially I was happy about this, thinking it will be better to use than dragging the on-screen bar with the cursor. But I was wrong. This is so imprecise to control with my finger that I never use it. I never end up where I want to be because it is so tiny, and the touch control is so imprecise.
Hard to use controls
Due to all the issues above, the touchbar controls are never as good to use as the primary on-screen controls. On top of that, you have to take your finger off from the touchpad and move it all the way up to the touchbar. If the touchbar was better in some way, I would consider doing that. But why should I ever make an extra effort to use a worse mechanism?
In traditional Apple fashion, the touchbar is highly limited in its customizability. I thought maybe I can put a row of app shortcuts on it, so I can immediately open notes, or calendar, or calculator. That would have had at least some utility. But you can’t do that. I thought maybe I can display the status tray icons on it. No can do. I thought maybe i can have it always show the time and notification icons. Nope.
Why this is so annoying
You would wonder why I’m so annoyed by this. After all I can easily ignore it and use the laptop as if it never had a touchbar. That’s true, but think of what could have been.
Instead of putting in this expensive part into the laptop, Apple could have used that money to add something useful, like an extra 8GB of RAM, at the same cost to the buyer. Maybe a better webcam. Maybe a couple of additional USB ports. The possibilities are endless.