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Thoughts on the Macbook Pro Touch Bar — Make the Buttons Wider

almost 4 years ago from , http://meet-cristian.com

I've been using the 2016 15" Macbook Pro for the past two months and I actually like the touchbar, but I feel it doesn't do much to enhance my productivity and I'd say the one change that would deliver the most significant improvement is this: make the buttons wider.

The one concern I've seen come up again and again, and something I myself experience, is that you have to take your eyes off the screen to look at it before using it, unlike shortcuts on the keyboard where you only use muscle memory. To make matters worse, the buttons are tiny and require a good degree of precision to hit. So what if the few buttons that each of us actually use most frequently would take up all of the available space - the degree of precision required to hit a button would be much smaller (since you only need to get it right on the x axis and there are no consequences if you slam your whole finger on the y axis), and it would be a lot easier to learn that the first ~25% of the touchbar does A and the next 25% does B and so on.

All Apple would have to do is make it so that buttons take 100% of the space, so people who prefer having all options in there can keep things the way they are, and those who only frequently use a few actions (which I expect is a good segment of the user base), could have a much nicer, much more forgiving experience. Here are a few examples:

Safari showing my top sites: ---

Mail: --

My logic is that with such wide buttons, they'd become so easy to hit that we could set the top most frequently used actions for each app then use them effortlessly, instead of having the full top bar of the UI on the touch bar and not use any of it.

What are your thoughts on this?

18 comments

  • Connor NorvellConnor Norvell, over 3 years ago

    I'd be interested to see A/B as well. I have to look for anything i want to press, half the time my volume will be too loud in my headphones, so I'll try to slide the volume down and end up lowering my brightness... bigger buttons across the board would be nice imo. maybe a hotkey (like holding ~) to open more options or something for extra UI would work well. I could see this working!

    3 points
    • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for commenting. Two things that could help in the meantime (if you didn't already know about them):

      • If you hold down the FN key you can get the old media control keys back (or the FN keys if that's the setting you have in System preferences). I use this for Next / Prev. track, but you could use it for adjusting the volume.
      • High Sierra will apparently introduce a new gesture for switching the volume and brightness by just swiping on the icon once for each step and double tapping for muting.

      None of these are in my opinion as useful as wider buttons, but I still hope it helps.

      1 point
  • Thom StoodleyThom Stoodley, over 3 years ago

    I've used BTT to customise some of the functionality. I had to resort to using this having lost where my Screenshots saved. I now activate / toggle this custom menu with two taps of FN.

    I find colour coding buttons quite helpful too.

    Tbh, I'm surprised there's not many 3rd party apps for this yet.

    1 point
    • Cristian Moisei, over 3 years ago

      Apple could have locked most of the functionality down so you can't customise how the touchbar works with Safari for example.

      0 points
    • Svenn-Petter Mæhle, over 3 years ago

      +1!

      Also: BTT also lets you set custom widths for the action buttons that you can add.

      0 points
      • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 3 years ago

        I have BTT so I'll look into this more when I get home, but from what I know, you can only set a bunch of shortcuts hidden under the BTT button, not set app specific shortcuts or replace the original ones, right?

        0 points
        • Greg WolffGreg Wolff, over 3 years ago

          BTT has a great arsenal of customizability, you get out what you put in. You can override app specific shortcuts, make custom buttons come up in certain apps or with modifier keys, and really you can do anything with the button's uses. BTT allows you to change the mouse position and trigger clicks with delays so that pretty much covers a lot of use cases.

          0 points
  • Elliott ReganElliott Regan, over 3 years ago

    What I find ironic is this is that Apple have already made a similar decision with Safari Tabs. In Safari, the tabs fill the entire width of the window, while in Firefox, the tabs have a max-width.

    Having not used a Touchbar, I'm not sure which I would prefer, but I think the shortcut key-sized buttons were a safe and familiar place to start. It leads to a predictable layout, which probably helps people get used to the new feature.

    1 point
    • Cristian MoiseiCristian Moisei, over 3 years ago

      Hm, that's a fair point that keeping them the same size would get people to get used to them, but that would take an insane feat of memory if you are using the full UI with 5-10 shortcuts, and for those who chose to customise the touch bar to a more manageable size, we get a less forgiving experience.

      I know Apple has some buttons be wide and some not (safari tabs take all the available space, the Move To button in mail is several times wider than others, but of fixed width see here ), so it will be a while before they get their stuff together.

      0 points
  • Jonathan BrodheimJonathan Brodheim, almost 4 years ago

    The one concern I've seen come up again and again, and something I myself experience, is that you have to take your eyes off the screen to look at it before using it, unlike shortcuts on the keyboard where you only use muscle memory. To make matters worse, the buttons are tiny and require a good degree of precision to hit.

    Your solution work because there are three options in each, but what happens when the system is showing more than three optiions? I assume they would scale like Safari tabs until there isn’t any more space (the size they are currently) and the user will still have to scroll/interact to see more options.

    With that said, I’m surprised the larger buttons shown in your mocks aren't the default behavior, but I don’t think that will help with the issue you are describing. You don't have to look @ a keyboards because they are always fixed. But if you are switching apps all the time, your context changes as well. In one app the same button will be a tab switcher for a website, and in another that same tap area will create new message. No matter what, the user has to look down to see what that section of the tab bar is doing, regardless of the size of the UI.

    1 point
    • Cristian Moisei, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      That is what I meant when I said the buttons should take all the available space. So with 3 buttons, each takes 33%, with 5 buttons each takes 20% and so on until you hit a minimum size (the current one), then you have to scroll.

      I don't agree with your large point: yes keys are always the same and are easier to remember once learned, but at the same time most of us will only use a handful of actions for each app so if every time you want to send an email you go for the the first 33% of the touchbar, you will eventually get used to it and it might even be possible for users to be able to do it faster than finding the two keys for the shortcut (CMD + D).

      I am not saying this change I'm suggesting would make the touch bar the pinnacle of input, just that it would become more useful if the buttons were fewer and easier to hit.

      1 point
      • Jonathan BrodheimJonathan Brodheim, over 3 years ago

        Fair enough. I think the main issue with the touch bar is that it makes so much sense for non-pro users (those who don't know that keyboard commands and shortcuts even exist), but it was introduced on a "pro" machine.

        My point about the sizing is that in one app it might be 33%, but in another it could be 20% or 50%. Sure this might work for the left-most action in all apps, but for the rest you will have to looks down regardless. That is, unless you have an impeccable memory :P

        0 points
  • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

    I’ve been using the 2016 15” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar since last February.

    I can see where increasing the width of the strike area on buttons may improve their use. The problem though, the variances in sizes occurring when oscillating in and out of applications constantly (3 buttons, 5 buttons, etc., etc.,) - may break one’s concentration. It’s hard to keep up and may require too much glancing and guessing.

    I use the Touch Bar very little.

    I do accidentally use Siri a lot. As in, accidentally hitting that dumb button as I may have stumbled over the delete key.

    My personal use cases of when I use the Touch Bar:

    Shifts in context and mode - so, for example, when I fire up the computer and am adjusting settings. If I plug in headphones and am adjusting for music. If I’m going through photos. Occasionally, for working with audio files (scrolling, etc.,) - but the Track Pad is better. Those uses kind of makes sense. Though, these are all mostly passive mode/ activity shifts, not deep work activities.

    When I get lost or stuck - if I’m leaning back from the computer or taking a pause (I may remember) to glance down at the Touch Bar. Even in those cases, let’s say for Sketch - the use of the Touch Bar is still a novelty.


    My main reasons for not using the Touch Bar as much have to do with the ergonomics, the wasted range of motion required for its use and the context of when/ what controls are exposed.


    I find intense shortcut management to be more effective. The combo of Alfred (I use it constantly and have custom workflows, etc., etc.,), SketchRunner (a life saver I couldn’t work without now) and Spectacle for window management are together just faster and more convenient. Shoot, even for emojis, I find Control+Command+Spacebar to be more convenient and a better use of my direct field of vision.

    So, I’m not sure if a change in size would address the above issues.

    I have a friend who works on a Microsoft Surface laptop and I do see him often use the touch capabilities of the Surface. Highlighting, tapping, touching...

    Me, I got this wimpy little Touch Bar surface better suited for infant sized fingers, which makes emojis, saaweeet.

    0 points
    • Cristian Moisei, almost 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I can see where increasing the width of the strike area on buttons may improve their use. The problem though, the variances in sizes occurring when oscillating in and out of applications constantly (3 buttons, 5 buttons, etc., etc.,) - may break one’s concentration. It’s hard to keep up and may require too much glancing and guessing.

      This is true, I don't think the TouchBar can ever be the ultimate productivity input device. But people could learn shortcuts on an app per app basis, just for those they use frequently. Say the Reply button in email is always the first 33% of the screen. That is something that you can learn, when you're in Mail, you press that part of the TouchBar to reply, even if in Safari you have 5 buttons.

      It's not a revolutionary improvement, but I still think it's an improvement.

      I do accidentally use Siri a lot. As in, accidentally hitting that dumb button as I may have stumbled over the delete key.

      You know you can remove any button from it right? One of the first things I did was get rid of Siri.

      0 points
      • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

        Yes! I am guessing you can remove Siri, but couldn't find the setting.

        Please reveal your secrets kind, sir.

        True that - the TouchBar has some potential for utility.

        Yet, reaching up there still feels like more work than say, using Alfred. but It's probably more of a personal preference, which I can appreciate.

        In general, our current means of input (touch pad, bar, mouse and keyboard) feels a bit dated for what we do.

        I ran an experiment last year with a midi-controller as an input device for design.

        I wrote about it here: https://www.designernews.co/stories/73410-ask-dn-midi-controller-for-shortcut

        Truth be told, I gave up.

        I'm back to my Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard (love that) and Magic Mouse most days.

        Realistically, I try to avoid the Apple MBP keyboards altogether, as they are hard on your fingers, wrists, etc.,

        And, I have two of the LG5Ks now, so there is little incentive to use the TouchBar. :)

        0 points
        • Cristian Moisei, almost 4 years ago

          To customise the TouchBar globally, you go to System preferences > Keyboard > Customise Control Strip. You can also chose what happens when you hold down the Fn key (I have it set to show the expanded strip, the one you get when you click the little arrow next to the right most keys, which you can also customise by taping on the arrow while in edit mode).

          You can also customise what the touchbar shows in most apps by going to View > Customise Touchbar (though not all apps support this).

          I can see why you'd have less use for it with your setup, I am only using my macbook with no display or keyboard.

          0 points
  • Dean HaydenDean Hayden, almost 4 years ago

    Your suggestion makes sense. With a bit of memory training, consistent positioning for individual apps it makes sense.

    It's a visual interface and adapts to content. In the Safari example of multiple tabs, it might be quicker to use the touch bar than the mouse (or trackpad) or shifting through tabs via a keyboard shortcut.

    Not used a touch bar but I feel the benefits of the interface out weighs the loss of physical function keys.

    0 points
    • Cristian Moisei, almost 4 years ago

      It does on the Macbook, where you can access things like mission control or show the desktop with gestures, but I would have been pissed to lose the function keys on an iMac, where you can't do gestures.

      It's also really up to developers to take advantage of it. Apps like Sketch, have really cool controls that change based on the tool you use, give you quick access to your saved colours and styles, let you select tools, etc. Apps like Spotify just have shortcuts to other parts of the UI like Search, Next / Prev, which are not nearly as useful.

      0 points