The MacBook Pro Touch Bar

4 November 2016


Calculator uses the Touch Bar to display the primary arithmetic operations, like add, subtract, multiple and divide. In general, Touch Bar controls do not use bright color palettes but Calculator uses the theme orange color from the app itself to highlight these primary buttons. There are also shortcuts for percentages and decimal points by default. These shortcuts change dynamically to reflect the calculator mode; using Calculator in Scientific mode will show more mathematically advanced buttons on the Touch Bar.

I don’t usually link my own 9to5Mac articles, but I’m making an exception with this Touch Bar post. Several comments derided the Calculator Touch Bar interface as stupid and unnecessary. It may be simple and ‘boring’ but I do believe it is useful. Putting buttons for common math operations right next to the number keys is incredibly convenient.

On a traditional keyboard, the ‘add’ and ‘equals’ characters are on the same key, next to backspace. To sum, you have to press the Shift key and the ‘+=’ key simultaneously. This requires a surprising degree of mental coordination to do when your brain is primarily occupied by typing in a long string of numbers. It’s scarily easy to mess up and press equals when you meant add, or vice versa. Frustratingly, making just one mistake means computing the wrong answer and needing to start over.

With Touch Bar, the modifier key mental gymnastics aren’t necessary and the task can be pulled off with one hand. It doesn’t make sense for normal keyboards to dedicate space to these single function buttons as they would be unused in non-math apps.

However, this is exactly the kind of thing a bitmap touchscreen (that can display arbitrary content dependent on context) excels at. It doesn’t matter that the virtualised buttons are only relevant in Calculator because they only take up space on the Touch Bar whilst the Calculator app is being used.

Calculator is a basic example, obviously, but it shows the potential of what is possible in apps that use the Touch Bar in more sophisticated ways. It’s early days — and I am withholding a legitimate commendation until I’ve got the actual hardware to try — but the Touch Bar integration in Photos is lining up to be a fantastic experience.