How do I use the new Touch Bar feature on the new MacBook Pro? Can I customise the functions that appear on the Touch Bar?
At the 27 October Mac launch event last night, Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro 2016, and foremost among its list of upgrades and new features is something called the Touch Bar.
In this article we show how to use the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro: how its functions change on various commonly used apps, and how to customise the Touch Bar so it displays and performs exactly the functions you want.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: Safari
The Touch Bar’s default function set in Safari features back and forward buttons, a ‘new tab’ button and a set of thumbnails showing the tabs you currently have open – it’s very easy to switch between open tabs by swiping across this section of the bar. There’s a bookmarks button too, which opens a similar set of thumbnails showing your favourite sites. You get more general controls on the righthand side, such as volume and Siri.
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An eagle-eyed Reddit user has spotted an additional function of the Touch Bar in Safari.
“In Safari, the [Touch Bar] will pop up a scrubbing control whenever a video begins to play,” writes RomansFiveEight. “Amazingly, you can use that to scrub THROUGH an ad, even a non-skippable 30 second pre-roll ad; and begin your video right away!”
This feature seems almost too good to be true – certainly in its ability to blitz past unskippable adverts – and may not survive for long, but we’re going to enjoy it as long as it lasts.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: How to answer phone and FaceTime calls with Touch Bar
The Touch Bar will change dynamically if the Mac detects an incoming FaceTime or phone call (on a linked iPhone, in the latter case). Simply tap the green Accept button to take the call, as usual, or the red Decline if you’re not interested.
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How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: Photos
Photo’s default feature set is dominated by a swipeable gallery of image thumbnails: handy for rapidly jumping to the image you want to work on. Like Safari, Photos also includes the volume and Siri buttons at the right.
On the left there are some interesting buttons, including a button to Like an image in your library and an edit key: tap this and the Touch Bar changes entirely. Now you’ve got crop, auto edit and other editing functions. Our favourite is the rotation tool in the centre: swipe this to rotate the image to your preference. Tap Done to go back to the default Photos Touch Bar layout.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: Mail
Mail is a really strong example of the Touch Bar’s power, essentially bringing the convenience of iOS’s QuickType predictive keyboard to Mac. As on iPhone, suggested words and emoji appear just above the keyboard, enabling you to rattle out emails more quickly.
There’s also, inevitably, an emoji button – which we’ll look at in the next section – a second button, and the usual generic controls on the right.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: Emoji
If you tap the smiley face in Mail (or in Messages, for that matter), Touch Bar transforms into a swipeable menu of emoji: most frequently used, by default, but you can tap the button on the left to select a different menu of images. Tap the emoji you want to include in your message.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: How to access the Function keys on Touch Bar
The Touch Bar replaces the row of Function keys, but don’t worry: it’s easy to bring them back.
All you need is to hold down the Fn key on the MacBook Pro’s keyboard (it’s the bottom left key), and the Touch Bar will promptly display the old Function keys.
How to customise what the Fn button does to the Touch Bar
By default, the Fn button brings up the Function keys on the Touch Bar. However: if you open the keyboard section of System Preferences and explore the options related to the Touch Bar, you’ll see that you can customise what the Fn button does.
Open System Preferences then open the Keyboard section. Make sure you’re in the Keyboard pane – the word Keyboard on the left should be highlighted in blue. You’ll see two dropdown option menus in the centre which relate to the Touch Bar: ‘Touch Bar shows’ and ‘Press Fn key to’.
In the first of these dropdowns, ‘Touch Bar shows’, you get to decide on a global level whether the Touch Bar will show just App Controls (the functions specific to the application you’re using), just an Expanded Control Strip (brightness and volume controls, media buttons and the like), or – the default choice – a mixture of the two.
The lower of these selects what the Fn key will do to the Touch Bar. The default here is to bring up the Function keys, but if you selected ‘App Controls’ or ‘App Controls with Control Strip’ in the menu above, you can make the Fn key show or expand the Control Strip. And if you selected ‘Expanded Control Strip’, you can make the Fn key show the app-specific controls.
I’ve made that sound complicated. Basically, the Fn key can be made to display either the Function keys, or whichever Touch Bar element you didn’t pick as the default.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: How to get the Escape key on Touch Bar
This depends on which app you’re using. In most of the main apps Esc is present on the far left; this includes Photos, Mail, Safari and Keynote. If the app you’re using doesn’t include Esc, check the customisation palette and see if it’s available.
How to use Touch Bar on new MacBook Pro: How to customise the Touch Bar
It’s pleasingly intuitive to customise the functions that appear in the Touch Bar. In fact, it operates essentially like the Dock in macOS or iOS – you just drag functions down to it and they’ll appear there instantly. Bear in mind, however, that this is done on an app-by-app basis, and Apple says only that “some apps” allow you to customise the way Touch Bar works.
Selected apps will let you bring up a palette of functions onscreen – and you do this within the app itself, not in System Preferences. Open Finder, for instance, then select View > Customise Touch Bar, and you’ll see the options below. All you need to do is click-and-drag your chosen function down to the bottom of the screen, whereupon it will appear in the Touch Bar.
To change the Touch Bar controls in other apps, open each app in turn and find the option to customise the Touch Bar. It won’t necessarily be located in the same section of the menu as in Finder, but looking under View, or in the app’s preferences, would be a good place to start. Remember, however, that not all apps allow Touch Bar customisation.
New MacBook Pro: Macworld podcast – Apple’s 27 Oct launch event
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast team discuss Apple’s 27 October launch event, including the new MacBook Pro, in episode 38, embedded below.
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast comes out every Friday. Follow the team on Twitter to get notifications of new episodes.