Apple’s MacBook Pro is full of innovation, from the 500-nit Retina display with DCI-P3 color gamut to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports that are the future of physical connectors for Macs and PCs.
But the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is what really grabs your eye. It replaces the row of function keys with a touch screen that has its own watchOS-based processor and interface.
You can’t load watchOS apps on the Touch Bar; rather, it displays a rapidly changing set of interface buttons and displays, so you can interact with your apps and data more efficiently. It’s mainly active in apps written by Apple, but developers are adding Touch Bar support to their programs as we speak.
Apple concentrates touch right above the keyboard, which is a much shorter reach than the main screen from your typing home position. Less wasted movement back and forth adds up over the course of a work day, resulting in minutes or even hours saved over a year. We’re excited by the possibilities, so here are 15 cool things you can do now, with one to grow on.
Dismiss the Cancel/Don’t Save/Save dialog after hitting Command + S
When you save, instead of having to lift your hand up and reach over to the trackpad or a mouse, simply choose one of the three buttons that appear.
Use the Calculator from the number row
Operators like AC (all clear), +/-, percentage, division, multiplication, addition, subtraction, and total (=) show up when you open the calculator. It’s not a traditional numeric keypad, but you can solve a quick math problem from the number row at the top of the keyboard.
Replace Siri with Lock Screen or Sleep
Click on “Customize Control Strip” in the Keyboard system preference, and you can rearrange the default controls on the Touch Bar. On the far right, I replaced the Siri button with Screen Lock, because I use that 1,000 times more than Siri on the MacBook Pro.
Skip digging through menus
The contextual menus just change, depending on what you clicked on last. The Touch Bar will present you with a range of colors when you’re formatting fonts and text, and consequently will present a list of predicted words if you’re typing text.
Predictive Text, just like on your iPhone
When you’re in Messages or other text-based apps, predictive text will show up in the Touch Bar, like it does on your iPhone. If you’re ham fisted, this can speed up text entry and help your accuracy.
Preview and Edit your Photos
Double-click a picture in Apple’s Photo app, and the Touch Bar turns into a row of thumbnails, so you can easily pick through all the pictures in your library in a few seconds. Once you find the right one, you can use the Touch Bar to edit the photo, adjust the colors, or step through filters. The Touch Bar can preview changes right on its display, making it easier to figure out which edits you need.
Create a Tune in GarageBand
GarageBand presents audio effects so you can tweak the sound on your tracks. Do you want a little more snare drum in the beats you’re layering on your latest masterpiece? The Touch Bar lets you dial them in, so it’s just right.
Keep your fingers on the keyboard
Since the Touch Bar is a few millimeters above the number row, you won’t have to shift your hand position, as you’d have to do when using the trackpad or a mouse. A few seconds here and there add up over the course of a work week.
Buy stuff with Touch ID
Once you set up your MacBook Pro with Apple Pay, it will securely send your credit card info to online merchants, just like on your iPhone. Once set up, it will automatically add billing addresses and other contact info, speeding your transactions by several minutes.
Unlock your MacBook Pro
Sure, like on your iPhone you’ll have to enter your password when you first power up, but every subsequent time you unlock the system from sleep, you can just tap the Touch ID with your finger.
Switch between tabs visually in Safari
Not sure which of the dozens of tabs you have open in Safari has the recipe for millionaire’s shortbread? Swipe along the Touch Bar to find it in seconds.
Access F1-F12 quickly
The ESC key and F1-F12 aren’t physically there anymore, but you can bring them up by holding the Fn key at the bottom of the keyboard.
FaceTime and Messaging (I assume Skype too, eventually)
Start a FaceTime call, and the program will automatically bring up the Full Screen, End Call, and Mute buttons on the Touch Bar. It will also show the contact you’ve called and a running timer. Likewise in Messaging, you can bring up a row of emoji that you can scroll through to pick just the right one.
Final Cut Pro and its accessory apps
Final Cut Pro X’s commands are so dense, there’s a symbiotic industry for keyboard covers and stickers that let you know the keyboard shortcuts. While it won’t totally replace keyboard commands you’ve already memorized, the Touch Bar adapts to what you’re doing at the moment, so it will display a group of logical commands as you move through your project workflow.
Neat stuff in Calendar and Contacts
When creating a meeting in Calendar, the Touch Bar displays open time blocks, days of the week, and other information. It should ease your pain a bit when finding the right time for that post-mortem on the TPS Report.
Play games, someday!
None of the game developers have announced concrete support yet, but the possibilities are intriguing. If you’re running a shooter in the Call of Duty series, for example, the Touch Bar could graphically show you how much ammo you have left for each weapon, and a touch could switch you from your shotgun to a pistol without having to cycle through our other weapons.
Other third-party apps like Adobe Photoshop, OmniFocus, and Microsoft Office are expected to have Touch Bar support in the coming months, so we’ll be looking out for the improvements too. Until then, have fun!