Apple’s new Touch Bar: The first reviews

Excerpts from the hands-ons we’ve seen. More as they come in.

The star of Apple’s keynote Thursday was the Touch Bar that replaces the old function keys on the new MacBook Pros. Demos with Final Cut Pro, Photoshop and djay Pro start at the 54:25 minute mark on Apple’s replay video.

After the keynote, reporters jostled for a chance to get their hands on the thing. Excerpts from their reports:

Jason Snell, Six Colors: There’s no brightness control for the Touch Bar. My first impression of the Touch Bar is that the “keys” looked… like keys. It didn’t feel like I was looking at a screen, but at an extension of the keyboard. That was an intentional choice on Apple’s part. Unlike the display and the keyboard, the Touch Bar’s brightness is not manually adjustable. Instead, the Touch Bar’s brightness varies based on lighting conditions, using the light sensor. I wasn’t able to try and trick it or confuse it, but the entire time I was using it—in a dark room and in a much more brightly lit one—it seemed to match the keyboard well. This is not a bright, glowing screen above a dark keyboard—it’s an extension of the keyboard.

Brian Heater, TechCrunch: Hands-on with Apple’s new Touch Bar MacBook Pro. It’s a secondary Retina display, which mean it’s capable of displaying some fairly high-res graphics, in spite of the fact that most of what you’ll be interacting with will be big and button-like functionality. Click into Photos, however, and you’ll get little thumbnails that you can scroll through. Click into Safari and you get small images of the tabs you have open.

Chris Davies, SlashGear: New MacBook Pro hands-on. Apple isn’t the first to put a display where the function keys once were, and Lenovo beat them to that. What helps distinguish Apple’s system is the brightness and clarity of its display: it’s hard to believe this isn’t a printed panel backlit, rather than an actual screen. It’s only when the graphics start changing that you can accept what you’re seeing.

Larry Magid, Forbes: Hands-On With The New MacBook Pro. The Touch Bar will take some getting used to and its value depends on how it customizes itself for whatever app you’re using but I do buy into Apple’s argument that regular function keys — that have been around since the days of dumb terminals in the 70s – are a bit obsolete because they can’t adapt themselves to the app your using.

David Pierce, Wired: A Whole New Kind of Laptop. One thing’s for sure, though: the tech is solid. The slightly raised platform is remarkably responsive, and the screen is so vibrant it almost looks like Apple slapped a sticker over it. There’s virtually no lag as you swipe or tap—it’s just a touchscreen, really, with support for up to 10 fingers.

Andrew Cunningham, Ars Technica: Hands-on with the new TouchBar. Under the bright showroom lights, it did look like the maximum brightness of the Touch Bar is lower than the brightness of the laptop’s display—it was just a little faded out. It’s not clear whether the brightness of the Touch Bar can be adjusted at all.

Dieter Bohn, The Verge: I’m sold on the Touch Bar. The new MacBook Pro looks and feels so good it’s unreal.

Jordan Novet, VentureBeat: Mixed feelings. I found myself feeling nervous about hitting the wrong virtual key on the Touch Bar… The funny thing is, the Touch Bar actually made me yearn for a full touchscreen.

Mark Spoonauer, Laptop. Touch Bar Is NOT a Gimmick. The MacBook Pro is supposed to be for serious work, but the new Touch Bar is a lot of fun. Actually, it’s a lot more than that. After spending just 20 minutes with the new 13-inch ($1,799) and 15-inch ($2,399) models, I’ve found it be a real time-saver.

Michael Gorman, Engadget: That Touch Bar will be a boon for power users. There wasn’t much I could do today in my quick demo except for scroll through webpages, apps and photos, and for those tasks it worked well. For such uses it strikes me as more of a novelty than anything particularly useful.

Tom Manelli, Techpinions: With Touch Bar, Apple Again puts Faith in Third-Party Developers. I can tell you this much: The Touch Bar is addictively enjoyable to use.

Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:  Hand-on video… 

Ina Fried, Recode: Watch as we touch the new Touch Bar. Periscope from the demo room.

AppleInsider‘s hands-on video… 


  1. Richard Wanderman said:
    For me, the Touch Bar is not the killer app of this new computer (its great but so is Touch ID, the fast ports, etc.) and frankly, there is no single killer app but I’ll be buying one, no doubt totally maxed out and it’s a lot of money but it’s my main computing device and it’s important to me as the center of my digital life.

    As all of Apple’s main products mature the changes in them will be incremental and that’s fine by me. Why change something that works well just for the sake of change?

    The TouchBar and Touch ID are great additions, but I could live without both and would still be buying this new machine. I’ve been using Apple Pay on my iPhone to pay for things on my Mac with the latest Safari release so while having it on the MBP is more convenient, it’s not absolutely essential.

    I do love the 2TB SSD option, less the price, but the space is fantastic.

    October 28, 2016
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:

      Over the years you’ve been quite consistent (and persistent) in your support of the Mac as an essential platform for Apple’s ongoing success. I also spend more time each day (at work and home) using a Mac more than any other Apple device.

      In my view, the updates to the MacBook Pro evidence the evolution of Apple’s hardware design approach to that of a suite of device solutions that work powerfully independently yet work in concert and complement the functionality of other Apple devices in different forms. The Touch Bar will increase productivity for power users while providing creative users with convenient access to editing tools.

      You mentioned a few of the features of the new MacBook Pro. Which feature (or features) in particular is driving your decision to upgrade to one of the latest models?

      October 28, 2016
      • Richard Wanderman said:
        For me, power is everything (processor and graphics, not battery), and between that and the USB C ports, this machine will be a decent upgrade to my current one.

        All the new stuff is great but for me, the overall speed of the machine in everyday use is most important since it’s my only machine and I know MacOS and my collection of applications well enough to find myself working ahead of the machine from time to time.

        The other aspect of this machine that’s most important is the fact that USB C can do all that thunderbolt can do and more. This makes this machine much more useful as a portable/desktop alternative.

        October 28, 2016
  2. John Kirk said:
    “Apple isn’t the first to put a display where the function keys once were, and Lenovo beat them to that”

    Honest to God, any tech writer who writes “X was not the first” without understanding that it’s not who’s first, but it’s who’s first to get it right should have license their to write taken away for a week and be forced to take a competency test before they’re allowed to write about tech again.

    For a tech writer to promulgate this horrible, horrible misunderstanding of what matters in tech is like an historian saying, “Well, the fascists did get the trains to run on time, (Author’s note: They didn’t) so they’re not all bad.” .

    Ugh. Normals are supposed to be ignorant of tech. It’s not their area of interest. It’s not their field of expertise. People who analyze and write about tech should know better.

    October 28, 2016
    • Fred Stein said:
      Hi John, Thanks for the rant – really. I like it.
      On ‘the the first..’, My catch phrase, (a twist) “First mover disadvantage”. First attempts often shed light on what not to do; or what to different; or are too early for cost effectiveness, Great recent example is Apple Pay. Killing it. Google abandoned their first attempt only to copy Apple.Despite having 6x the device market shareGoogle lag Apple Pay in user adoption.

      October 28, 2016
  3. Tom Wyrick said:
    During my 4-5 week delivery window for a 13″ MacBook Pro …

    I hope it will be possible to configure the Touch Bar with up-arrow and down-arrow scroll buttons, so users can navigate up and down on a document without using the Track Pad. A forefinger resting on the keyboard (F or J) has to move farther, and away from the screen, to get to the Track Pad instead of the Touch Bar. That compromise is unavoidable for complex Track Pad activity (such as pinching, zooming and drawing), but simple scrolling does not require the full range of Track Pad capabilities.

    Another Touch Bar option should be colored buttons corresponding to same-colored boxes and pop-up menus on the screen. Instead of selecting these on-screen items with Track Bar gestures or frantically tabbing between them on the keyboard, users should be able to jump directly to the box (menu) of immediate interest by touching a single Touch Bar key of the same color a few inches below it.

    These colored jump-to buttons on Touch Bar could also be used in other apps to facilitate on-screen navigation, such as in WORD or EXCEL. The writer who wants to jump to important passages of his/her text or the accountant who wants to jump between key entries should be able to do so by designating “strategic locations” in their documents as they work (revealed on-screen, let’s say, by a small orange triangle). Users could later scroll between those designated locations with a single Touch Bar key (another orange triangle).

    Touch Bar reduces the need for a touch-panel display (like Surface’s or iPad’s) or a Track Pad by moving activity as close as possible to the user’s fingers: the F and J keys. That minimizes effort and confusion. Looking back in a year or two, I believe we will be surprised at the large number of on-screen and Track Pad functions the Touch Bar will make redundant.

    October 29, 2016

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