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Comment: The Touch Bar hasn’t really taken off, perhaps it should be optional?

CNET has a piece today listing five things it thinks Apple needs to do with the Mac line-up this year. Alongside sorting out the butterfly keyboard issues, allowing a sneak-peek at the Mac Pro, updating the MacBook Air and offering one non-USB-C port on MacBooks, Dan Ackerman asks for … one more thing.

Make the Touch Bar truly optional. It’s not a universally adopted control interface, and plenty of Mac users either don’t care for it or don’t feel they need it.

The least expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar is a full $500 less than the least expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar (yes, there are CPU and storage differences as well). The 15-inch MacBook Pro, however, is only available with the Touch Bar. I’d wager that many potential shoppers would jump at a chance to shave a few hundred dollars off a 15-inch Pro that skipped the high-concept Touch Bar …

I should start by saying that I think the chances of this happening are next to zero. Apple is seemingly very proud of the Touch Bar, and it’s a distinguishing feature that makes the MacBook Pro stand out from the sea of similar-looking non-Apple laptops out there these days.

More than that, there are a number of signs that point toward Apple gradually working its way toward a virtual keyboard at some future point, and the Touch Bar is one small step along that road.

However, I do think Ackerman has a point.

I kind of like the Touch Bar, but only for one reason: I really like the slide controls for volume and brightness. They feel more instinctive than hardware buttons, and it’s a more convenient way to get a precise level than the on-screen slider.

But, in all honesty, after 18 months of use, that’s about the only benefit I see to the strip.

There was much talk about all the funky things we’d be able to do with the Touch Bar once app developers offered support for it, and how much more useful it may be.

Well, some app developers have indeed added support, but I still don’t find myself using it. Sure, I could use it to scrub through video or photos – but it’s fiddly when you’re looking at such a small image, and that giant (and truly lovely) trackpad is so much better at it.

For other apps, I found myself glancing at the Touch Bar out of curiosity, to see what options it offered, but never found any of them compelling. I’m a keyboard shortcut fan, so given the choice between, say, touch a new document icon on the Touch Bar and hitting CMD-N, the Touch Bar isn’t even in the running.

Only Apple knows the marginal cost of the Touch Bar translated into retail terms, but touchscreen OLED panels aren’t cheap. The $500 difference cited by CNET is obviously exaggerated by the other spec differences, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Touch Bar adds $200-300 to the retail cost of the machine. Offer people the option of paying say $250 less for an otherwise-identical non-Touch Bar model, and I think a lot of people would go for it.

As I say, I don’t imagine for one moment that Apple will do this – but I do think it should.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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