Make the Touch Bar Suck Less

I recently go a new job as an IT manager and with that came a spiffy new company laptop. Org policy is to outfit everyone with a new (refurb) Macbook Pro. Me being the computer czar, I opted for a 13″ with a touch bar, because:

  1. I need to be able to support everyone, which means having access to their hardware
  2. It’s a new toy and I want it

Like basically everyone, I discovered that Touch ID is awesome but the Touch Bar…not so much. To everyone who is regretting the strip of touch screen sitting above their number row, this post is for you.

My Complaints

If you’ll indulge my need to complain, here are my two big gripes with the Touch Bar. If you’re not in the mood to indulge me, skip on down to my 20 second fix.

Before, I start complaining, please consult this image to learn about the proper names for parts of the UI about which I’m complaining so you can understand the precision of my complaints.

From Apple Human Interface Guidelines

From Apple Human Interface Guidelines

App Controls Are Largely Useless to Me

“App Controls” are the app-specific icons that hijack your Touch Bar giving you tools of dubious usefulness such as “Create a New Chrome Tab” to inline formatting options, to color pickers and video scrubbers.

My problem is that 95% of the controls taking up 75% of my Touch Bar real estate either things I don’t care about or would be faster to just use an existing keyboard shortcut. (Check out the Keyboard Shortcut Week Series!)

The Control Strip is Too Small And It’s Buttons Suck

Even though the vast majority of app controls fall into the “kinda nice to have right there, but not really” category, I wouldn’t really mind their general uselessness if I could still have my most important controls in the Touch Bar as well.

Your “Control Strip” on the right side of the Touch Bar has room for 4 buttons of your choice. Choices include sliders for volume or brightness, Play/Pause, Mission Control, etc. If you want the full Control Strip, you can always hit the expand button and get everything.

Let’s say you want to turn down the volume. You have two options:

  1. Tap the volume slider button in your quick Control Strip to bring up the slider and adjust the volume there
  2. Tap the expand Control Strip button and then tap the volume increment button

Both those methods required two interactions to achieve the goal of turning down the volume.

Why?!?!

There is no option to put volume increment/decrement buttons in your strip, you must use the slider. You can’t put standard media controls in your Control Strip, only a play pause.

This might not bother you, but if you’re the type of person who is bothered by being forced to interact with a stupid design decision dozens of times a day, then this is quite galling.

If you didn’t already skip to the fix, please accept my thanks for letting me vent. Now here’s how to turn your back on this naughty little hardware feature.

Quick Fix: Make Touch Bar Like Your Old Function Bar and Be Done with It

You may remember your old computer with a happy row of system controls for volume, media, and brightness that moonlight as function keys when the fn key is held. If all you want is your old life back, then you can have it in under a minute by changing two settings.

This is such a quick fix that I’m embarrassed I didn’t do it sooner, and it’s what I recommend to all my beleaguered co-workers.

Open System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard

Your Touch Bar settings can be found in the Keyboard tab of your keyboard preferences.

The two settings you want to set are:

  • Touch Bar shows: Expanded Control Strip
  • Press Fn key to: Show F1, F2, etc. Keys

The first setting will ensure that your Touch Bar will show your standard “Control Strip” at all times. Here’s what it looks like.

You’ll notice common controls you’re probably used to including:

  • Screen Brightness
  • Keyboard Backlight
  • Media Keys (Previous Track | Play/Pause | Next Track)
  • Volume Controls (Mute | Down | Up)

These are what you use the most often, so for most people, it’s all you need. Feel free to customize what’s on your expanded control strip with the “Customize Control Strip…” button.

I've never found use for Launchpad, so I would exchange it for something else
I’ve never found use for Launchpad, so I would exchange it for something else

The second setting will change your control strip to function keys when holding the fn key, which is exactly how it works on a normal Mac keyboard.

It’s important to note that by choosing to always show your control strip, you’ll no longer be seeing app controls. It’s up to you to decide if this is a loss…

Conclusion

If you want to turn your back on this whole Touch Bar experiment, then you can simulate a normal function row using this method.

If you’re of the mind that the Touch Bar has potential but is just poorly implemented, then stay tuned for future posts on how to go the empowerment route and build your own damn Touch Bar your own way using BetterTouchTool.

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