The new Macbook and the lost touch

I’m curious to see if software developers will find interesting ways to take advantage of the tiny multi-touch screen that Apple squeeze in its latest MacBook Pro.
In case you missed it, I’m speaking of the Touch Bar, a 2170×60 pixels touchscreen display that replaces physical row of function keys on high-end MacBook Pro models.

Macbook Pro Touchbar

I’m quite sceptic about the usefulness of this tiny hardware evolution. It looks like a perfect marketing move without an accurate regard for usability and ergonomics.

I have to admit that the first impression causes a WOW effect. The wide color space, retina display feels really good, that’s something you can definitely show off to your friends. But what’s the added value on the long run?

Here are my doubts

Why putting a touch screen in such an uncomfortable position?
The uppermost row of keys is not easy to reach with your fingers and your hand is forced in an unnatural position.

You loose tactile feedback.
The embossed edges of the keys allow you to press them without watching. Unconsciously you know where the “esc” button is because you can feel it. A touch screen has no emboss so finding a key without looking is almost impossible.

It needs custom software.
Developers have to build custom software to make the bar works. Considering it only appears on Macbook Pro laptops it means they need to provide alternatives for the other Apple computers.

Possible alternatives

Transforming Ipad in a second screen for Macs
Apple Continuity only allows to share the same content between Apple devices but not to use 2 screens in conjunction. Imagine using the Ipad as an interactive touchpad for your working sessions.*

Mock up of Ipad — Macbook integration (palettes from http://www.macrumors.com/2010/11/05/adobe-considers-possibilities-for-iphone-and-ipad-integration-with-photoshop/)

A touch screen display in place of the touchpad
Compared to the touch bar the touchpad has a much more convenient form factor and it is in a much more comfortable position for your fingers.

Mock up of interactive touchpad

A physical interface
Microsoft presented few months ago a nice experimental interface named Surface Dial. That’s a graspable dial that can be used in conjunction with any Windows 10 computer and it allows to zoom and scroll with any software.

Microsoft Surface Dial

Conclusions

The Macbook Touch Bar can bring some interesting news to the laptop experience, although adding a tiny touchscreen display to a rather regular laptop does not look as a true innovation nor a well designed user experience. 
I believe tech product designers should look further than adding touch screens here and there. Some good examples comes from Microsoft with its Surface Dial, and from Lenovo-Wacom partnership on Yoga Book which offers the opportunity of paper drawing on a laptop.
 http://blog.lenovo.com/en/blog/yoga-book-the-first-tablet-for-natural-sketching-and-note-taking/


*There are many 3rd party apps to connect ipad and Computers but none is working with a deep integration with productivity apps.