(update 8/28: the discussion this piece has generated has been a lot of fun, and thank you for all of the reshapes and feedback. The discussions I’ve been in have led to some more clarity and some things I felt were worth a followup, which you can find in More Thoughts on the Touch Bar and TouchID — chuq)
A few weeks ago I bought my iMac 5K for the home office (which I love), and that meant shifting away from using my MacBook Pro, a fall 2016 13” model with the Touch Bar and TouchID sensors that I’d been using as my primary computer. I was curious how I’d feel losing access to those features.
The short answer: I didn’t miss the Touch Bar at all, and I missed the touchID sensor a little bit, but a lot less than I expected to. Josh Centers at Tidbits wrote on this topic recently and I think he did a good summary of the issues with the Touch Bar.
Much as I love the TouchID sensor, what keeps me from missing it much is 1Password. It’s marginally more work for me to type in my password to open 1Password than use my fingerprint, but not much. My Apple Watch unlocks the Mac, and so I don’t need the TouchID sensor for that, and when I use Apple Pay on the iMac, the Watch makes that quite painless, too.
So having lived with the Touch Bar and Touch ID sensor for months and then migrated away from them again, I’ve found they seem to be solving problems I don’t really have.
I find that an interesting opinion to have, given how strongly Apple pushed these features in the October laptop releases, but it doesn’t surprise me because that seems to be the common reaction of most people who’ve spent time using them. I would like to have TouchID capability on the iMac, but as I think about it, some minor improved proximity capabilities with the Watch would solve those same problems as well.
I would love to see 1Password be able to unlock itself based on Watch proximity to the iMac much as the Mac does, or perhaps be able to send a notification to the watch that I can confirm to unlock. There are lots of possibilities here if Apple chooses to open up the technology to these options.
So what to do about the Touch Bar?
So what’s the future of the Touch Bar? I don’t know. I’m not sure Apple does, either. I was fascinated that when Apple released the iMacs earlier this year not one word was mentioned about the Touch Bar or TouchID and support for them via an updated keyboard or trackpad was nowhere to be found. I’m taking that as an indication that after the lackluster response to this with the laptop releases, they’ve gone back to the drawing board a bit before rolling it out further.
It seems to me Apple fell in love with the technology of the Touch Bar system, which if you dig into it a bit is a stunning piece of engineering, and expected all of us to fall in love with it as well. The problem is: Apple rarely sells things to us based on neat technology, it sells us based on the stories of how that technology will solve problems for us, and right now, the problems a Touch Bar solves for us that we care about being solved are few and far between.
Can Apple find the “killer app” (god, I hate that term) for the Touch Bar? It sure needs it. I’m not sure what that would be, though, but I want to give them another release cycle of MacOS for them to figure it out.
I do think, though that Apple has a problem with the product line now because of the Touch Bar: it has a technology that’s only available on a few products, and it didn’t expand access to it with the iMacs. This, like 3D Touch on the iPhones, makes it less interesting to developers to integrate into their apps, because many of their users won’t have access to it.
So I think Apple needs to make a decision here: either push the Touch Bar/TouchID system out to the entire Mac Line via a new Keyboard, or they need to expand their laptops with a line of devices without Touch Bars.
The current laptop line forces users to pay for the Touch Bar on the higher end devices whether they want it or not, and that’s a cost users shouldn’t need to pay for a niche technology without a future. So Apple needs to either roll the Touch Bar out to the entire line and convince us we want it, or roll it back and offer more laptop options without it. I’m going to be curious what they do if/when they announce updated Laptops this fall.
Right now, my bet is on Apple having decided they fell in love with the Touch Bar and lost sight of the fact that Apple sells solutions to problems, not technologies. And here, they handed us this really neat technology, and it fell rather flat in the market. So I expect the next round of laptops to de-emphasize it, unless they understand how to re-launch it across the products successfully.