Turning inner space into outer space

October 30, 2016

How the MacBook touch bar went from meh to wow

Of course, the touch bar has emojis.

A couple of new computers were announced last week. My initial reactions were wow to the first one and meh to the second one. After some thought, those opinions have completely reversed.

What had me going wow at first was Microsoft’s Surface Studio. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Microsoft has become a major manufacturer of computers. It started with iPad-like tablets called the Surface. Now the product line has grown to the point where the latest Surface looks more like an iMac that you can tilt and use as a giant tablet for your art.

Microsoft has a video showing artists using a stylus and a new gadget called a dial to instantly make beautiful creations. It’s amazing to watch.

The meh settled in when I thought about the cost. Because of the power needed to run the Surface Studio, it costs a lot more than an iMac. Graphic artists, as much as I love them, are a small niche. Graphic artists with big budgets are an even smaller niche.

The price of an expensive new product often comes down if it gains traction in the market place. That might eventually happen with the Surface Studio, but I doubt it.

It turns out the real wow was the touch bar on the new MacBook Pros. With its latest laptops, Apple has removed the F keys at the top of the keyboard and replaced them with a long, skinny touch screen that changes depending on which program you’re running.

For example, if you’re in Photoshop and you want to adjust the colour in a picture, you can run your finger back and forth on the touch bar until it looks right. It’s not just the novelty of using a finger instead of a mouse that’s appealing, it’s the fact that the controls you need are easier to find and more intuitive to adjust.

I can see where this could catch on, especially as developers come up with innovative ways of using the touch bar.

As noted by The Verge, the touch bar is actually a mini version of the Apple Watch. This opens up the possibility of the touch bar eventually running standalone apps that could be used for multitasking.

Many people already work with two screens, but that gets awkward if you’re on the move with a laptop. But imagine this problem being solved if the touch bar could handle things like email and a calendar.

Apple has taken a confusing and seldom used part of the keyboard and turned it into an area with the potential for becoming a powerhouse of productivity.

That alone is worth a wow — but there’s more. The touch bar includes something called Touch ID. According to Wired:

. . . that’s what you can now use to unlock your Mac, pay for items online, and even replace the bulk of your passwords altogether. It can recognize multiple fingerprints, allowing for secure, simple access to multiple profiles on the same device.

Hallelujah for the day we can do away with passwords.