Nine years ago, Apple took the touchscreen mainstream with the first iPhone. Since then, touch has become the go-to interface. Makers of PCs and other devices have rushed to capitalize on it without always pausing to consider if it made sense. Apple alone seemed to resist it, for years rebuffing calls for a touchscreen MacBook.

Until now.

Macbook Pro
Image source: Apple

Even now, it hasn’t gone all the way. Apple has added an OLED Touch Bar to its MacBook range, replacing the row of function keys on the keyboard, while the display remains a traditional non-touch screen. It includes a TouchID fingerprint sensor, seen years ago on the iPhone, at the right. The rest of the bar lays out at one’s fingertips context-specific, or app-specific, tools, besides quick access to Siri, the voice assistant recently added to via macOS Sierra.

So when using a photo app, for example, sorting and editing tools pop up on the Touch Bar. Similarly, function apps show up when using Excel, and autocorrect features display when composing text, and so on. Users can also customize the Touch Bar.

The new MacBook range with the Touch Bar was announced October 27 as Apple commemorated the 25th anniversary of its first laptop. But for the Touch Bar, most other features were somewhat underwhelming, notably with prices starting at $2,399 for the 15” model and $1,800 for the 13” laptop. Apple also retired the glowing Apple on the back of the screen, replacing it with a simple etched logo.

The Touch Bar doubtless is the highlight of the new MacBooks and brings a new dimension to laptops. It is a masterstroke from a company that, again and again, has demonstrated perceptive use of technology and features and puts user experience at the top of its agenda. As some have remarked, the Touch Bar puts the iPhone in the MacBook.

MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar Features

Many journalists who got hands-on time with the new MacBook at the Apple keynote event have shared their experiences. Several details have trickled in from developers too. Broadly, the Touch Bar brings two great features.

One: Apple has opened up a new tool – in addition to the keyboard and mouse or trackpad – for developers to play with. Microsoft, among others, have quickly welcomed the innovation.

“Through the Touch Bar, Office intelligently puts the most common commands at your fingertips—all based on what you’re doing in the document,” Microsoft, whose Office for Mac is a cash cow, said in a blog.

Predictably perhaps, Apple has added a note to caution overzealous developers.

“Use the Touch Bar as an extension of the keyboard and trackpad, not as a display…avoid animation,” the company said in its guidelines.

What was not clear is how far Apple would go to control third-party features.

The second key feature is the TouchID, which was introduced in the iPhone three years ago. On the new MacBook, it’s powered by the Apple T1, a dedicated and secure payments authorization chip. The feature would bring to the laptop the ease of logins seen in the iPhone and iPad, but more importantly, it will make ecommerce transactions as easy on mobile devices. So that’s expected to be a huge payoff for Apple, not to mention its ApplePay platform.

Article by Bala Murali Krishna