There are two models with the Touch Bar, a 13-inch and a 15-inch one, which cost hundreds of dollars more than the model without it. (The Touch Bar itself isn’t the only difference; the more expensive models also have better processors, more ports and other upgrades.) When you’re in front of these machines, it’s hard not to be wowed. Both are impressive to look at, with their huge trackpads and bright screens. Both have Touch ID’s fingerprint sensor built into the power button, which works as snappily as on the iPhone.
Apple also provided me with a 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar to review, and I found the keyboard very pleasant to type on. I use a 12-inch MacBook myself as my usual laptop, and found that I liked the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro much better than on my own machine. Both use the same, slimmer “butterfly” technology that Apple introduced with the MacBook in 2015, which cuts down on bulk but can also feel too shallow to some users. Apple improved the design on the MacBook Pro by making the keys feel like they’re travelling a little more deeply into the keyboard.
Even in the short time I’ve had the computer, it feels more powerful and impressive than its predecessors. If you’re upgrading from an older MacBook Pro, this will feel like an upgrade: the screen is brighter, the performance is noticeably better and the computers themselves are lighter. Not bad, as a total package.
But the focus of this new line really is the Touch Bar. It changes depending on what program you’re using. For example, if you’re using Safari, the bar may feature your favourite sites. I have nothing bad to say about it — apart from the fact that it may require some creative ergonomics to use comfortably.
The display on the Touch Bar is impressive, particularly when showing off colour much more vibrantly than you’d expect from that tiny strip. Apple’s made it easy and intuitive to customise. I’m a person who likes physical, clicky buttons, but even I have to admit that the added functionality of the adaptable software controls on the Touch Bar is intriguing. Not all of the Touch Bar controls are necessarily time-savers. For example, some observers of last week’s event remarked that the Touch Bar adds steps in Photoshop.
But some of the controls do save you having to go through annoying drop-down menus, instead putting them at your fingertips. Being able to customise the Touch Bar is a huge perk for often-used functions. For example, if you have an abnormal devotion to flagging messages, or if you’re an “Archive” person instead of a “Trash” person in Mail (or vice-versa) you can add those quick shortcuts right to your keyboard through the Touch Bar. In other programs, it gives you finer, more visceral control — you can slide through a spectrum to get just the right shade in Photos, or hit just the right decibel level in iTunes without making your finger do a jackhammer impression on your volume keys.
And, in any case, the Touch Bar controls are about intuition — not necessarily about saving time for power users who’ve memorised all of the keyboard shortcuts, but for making various features more available to the average user. With zero training, I knew exactly how to use the Touch Bar. That’s not nothing.
So, in a vacuum, these are really exciting and excellent computers. In the real world, they are still excellent — but there are other things to consider.
Price is a big one. The MacBook Pro line has always been Apple’s premium line, and that’s never been more apparent. The new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar is $2199 in Australia. If you want the Touch Bar, you have to pay at least $2699. If you wanted, you could spend about $5259 on a fully tricked-out 15-inch MacBook Pro with all the bells, whistles and software that Apple offers. That’s not insignificant.
There’s also the fact that Apple is really pushing its users into new technology — which means we’re going to have a transition period here. While the MacBook Pro fixes one of users’ greatest laments about the MacBook — the MacBook has a single USB-C port; the new MacBook Pros have four — people will still need to use adapters for most of their accessories. Which, quite frankly, can be annoying. I personally have forgotten adapters on business trips before, making my job unnecessarily harder. (In my case, I need an adapter for my digital voice recorder. Your mileage may vary.)
That problem won’t last forever; USB-C is likely to become the new standard. But that isn’t the case now, and prospective buyers should know they’re going to have to wait for an adapter-free existence. Transition periods can be annoying like that.
Even the Touch Bar itself, while an intriguing addition that gives an honestly wonderful experience, will take some time to get used to. And if developers other than Apple don’t embrace the technology and add some tricks of their own, a worst-case scenario could see the Touch Bar going down in history as a great missed opportunity: a piece of tech that was interesting, but never lived up to its full potential, – inform smh.com.au.
That grim picture of the Touch Bar’s future is not a prediction, by any means. It could easily become second nature to swipe, tap and slide at the top of my keyboard. I sort of hope it does, because it’s a lot of fun in the demos. But it will take me — and, likely, most other Mac users — some time to figure out just how to make the Touch Bar personally useful to justify the MacBook Pro’s price tag for all but the most faithful Mac users. That hurdle may prove a hard one for Apple to overcome, and it will have to make a strong case to users and developers to get all of us to jump it.