1. Computer Skills

4 Useful Things You Can Do With the Touch Bar

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Read Time: 4 min

The Touch Bar on the latest MacBook Pro has had a, well, mixed reception. 

When Apple removed all of the physical function keys and replaced almost every physical port with USB-C, they certainly made a statement. To many people, it seemed like Apple was abandoning professional users, the group for which the MacBook Pro—ostensibly—was intended. 

Now that developers have had some time to take advantage of the Touch Bar’s functionality, the situation is starting to change. While it might not be for everyone, it is starting to become useful.

In this tutorial I'll show you some of the productive things you can do with the Touch Bar

Activate the Function Keys

The Function keys existed on Macs for a reason. They were spare keys that users could assign to perform specific functions. macOS, or OS X at the time, assigned some default actions to keys, like F8 to play or pause any media, but the user was able to map them to pretty much anything they wanted. 

By replacing the Function keys, Apple has instead given control over to developers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it's unlikely that many Mac users were assigning specific actions to the function keys.

The fn key is on the bottom left of the keyboardThe fn key is on the bottom left of the keyboardThe fn key is on the bottom left of the keyboard
The fn key is on the bottom left of the keyboard.

If, however, you liked how the Function keys worked before, the solution is simple. In the bottom left of the keyboard there’s the fn key. Hold that down and the Touch Bar will display F1 to F11 where you can tap them.

Control Pro Apps

Most apps don’t really benefit from the Touch Bar, but then, they didn’t really benefit that much from the Function keys either. 

Unless they were a serious power user, most people weren’t using the Function keys very much in apps like Safari, Pages and so on. It’s only with professional apps that they really came into their own.

It’s no surprise then that professional apps have been the first to embrace the Touch Bar.

Adobe, for example, had already added Touch Bar support to Photoshop by the time the new MacBook Pros launched. It’s still early days yet, but it’s already looking promising. You can do things like add new layers, adjust the brush settings, and even add your own favourite controls. While most of these features are accessible through keyboard shortcuts, a lot of Photoshop’s controls lend themselves to using a multi-touch slider.

Lots of other professional apps, such as djay Pro and Apple’s own Final Cut Pro X, have added Touch Bar support. If there’s a powerful professional program you use regularly, the odds are Touch Bar support is available or will be soon.

Create Custom Touch Bars With BetterTouchTool

While some developers are doing great work adding support for the Touch Bar, other apps just don’t need the functionality or are created as a part time hobby. 

If you’re keen on the Touch Bar’s functionality and want to add it to apps that don’t otherwise support it, or you just want to tweak the functionality, the app to use is BetterTouchTool.

I’ve already covered BetterTouchTool when I looked at how to speed up your workflow with custom trackpad gestures

BetterTouchTool has just brought the same functionality to the Touch Bar. You can create buttons that map to any keyboard shortcut, built in actions and macOS system commands.

There’s really very little you can’t do with it, especially if you combine it with something like KeyBoard Maestro, another app that I’ve covered in depth before. If you want a button on the Touch Bar that can cause three different apps to open and arrange themselves in a certain way, it’s the tool to use. 

Launch and Switch Apps

On a MacBook, the dock takes up a ridiculous amount of screen real estate. Almost everyone I know keeps it hidden at all times. Even when I’m using my Hackintosh with it’s 24” monitor, I keep it off the screen. 

The dock, however, isn’t useless. It’s handy to see what apps are running and which windows are open, especially if you’re doing any work that involves switching between them. 

The problem is that there’s often, especially on the 13” model, not enough space for it.

Rocket basically moves the Dock to the Touch Bar.

This is where Rocket comes in. By essentially moving the dock and most of its functionality to the Touch Bar it does two things: it gives the Dock enough space and it makes the Touch Bar useful all the time. 

Wrapping Up

The Touch Bar is far from perfect but it no longer looks like it was a huge misstep from Apple. 

Sure, the native functionality isn’t great, but with apps like BetterTouchTool and Rocket, you can make it a lot more useful. As more and more developers explore ways to integrate the Touch Bar into their own apps, it will get even better.

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