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De-distractionate the Touch Bar

Shocking even myself, I’m now the owner of a Touch Bar equipped MacBook Pro—I purchased the entry-level 16″ model last weekend. Why? I’ll save the detailed explanation for an upcoming look at the machine and its performance, but the main goal was to replace two laptops with one.

But just because I now have a Touch Bar-equipped Mac doesn’t mean I suddenly like the Touch Bar. In fact, my feelings about it haven’t changed since I wrote about it two years ago:

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum.

After some hours working with my new MBP, this is definitely a problem—and it’s a problem even when I’m not using the Touch Bar, which is pretty much all the time: I’ve found that the changing images and colors on the Touch Bar grab my eye every time I switch apps…

The camera was focused on the Touch Bar, but when I’m looking at the screen, I see all that activity just below the screen, and it’s really distracting. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix, and one I’d not heard of prior to buying this machine…

The fix is simple, because Apple gives you at least some control over how the Touch Bar works, via two options on the Keyboard System Preferences panel:

For me, the simple fix was to set the first pop-up to “F1, F2, etc. Keys,” and the second to “Show Control Strip.” Now, when using my machine, the Touch Bar never changes—and I have my function keys back (though I do have to look at them to use them):

When I hold down the Fn key, I get access to the control strip, with brightness, playback, and volume controls. As I use macros to control Music and volume level from the keyboard, having access to these items at all times isn’t so important to me that I need to have the control strip frontmost.

However, as I’ve only had the machine for a few days, I am still experimenting—I may flip-flop these two settings. The important part is that regardless of which I choose to have on by default, the Touch Bar won’t change as I change tasks. While I still hate the Touch Bar, at least now it’s bearable.

3 Comments

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  1. Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve always been neutral (not strongly opposed) to the Touch Bar; I never used F keys before except for their brightness and sound control and Expose functions, and I certainly never was able to use F keys by touch, so I mildly prefer having the icons with a bit of visual feedback to the F keys. But I don’t feel strongly, and I do miss the hardware esc key. (My early 2019 MacBook Pro doesn’t have one.) And I’ve never even noticed the changing Touch Bar visually, so its presence is not a negative.

    All that said, I too had never noticed the customization options. Instead of “Show App controls”, after reading your post, I’ve set the default to “Expanded Control Strip”, which I’ve customized to have the things I want, so sound, Mission Control, music control, brightness, and AirPlay are now easily and consistently accessible. Really nice! (I’ve also gotten rid of Siri, which I never use but frequently bumped by accident on the Touch Bar.)

  2. Thanks for the info. My 2013 15″ still works for lighter weight tasks. I’m probably going to get the 13″ if/when it becomes available. I couldn’t consider the non-physical esc key. And having gotten used to FaceID on my iPhone I think I’ll like TouchID on my Mac. I use 1Password and get tired of typing its password.

  3. I don’t mind the Touch Bar changing, I actually enjoy that it does. However, I agree with the need to remove
    Siri from the strip, replacing it with the Lock. That way, I can easily secure my Mac, but also, if I trigger it erroneously, it is easy to unlock it using Touch ID.

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