So What Is the MacBook Pro Touch Bar Good For?

by Sarah Dobson on September 16, 2019

Introduced with the MacBook Pro in 2016, the Touch Bar replaces the familiar row of function keys found on other Mac keyboards, and it works quite differently. Because it is actually a miniature screen, buttons on the Touch Bar change depending on context. In fact, different apps utilize the Touch Bar in different ways—some don’t add much, but others draw attention to key features or make certain functions easier to use. Here’s what you can do with the Touch Bar.

Touch ID

The handy Touch ID button on the right end of the Touch Bar lets you log in to your MacBook Pro with the touch of a finger—you don’t have to type your password! You can also touch this button to give the Mac permission to install new software and to pay for purchases in the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBooks Store, as well as with Apple Pay. Some password managers, including 1Password and LastPass, support Touch ID, so you can unlock those apps with your finger.

Plus, if several people have accounts on the MacBook Pro, each user can switch to their account by pressing the Touch ID button.

Control Strip

Found next to the Touch ID button near the right side of the Touch Bar, the Control Strip provides access to system functions similar to those available on the top row of an Apple keyboard, including brightness and volume. To view the entire Control Strip, you may need to tap the More < arrow button. To shrink it back down, tap the X at the far left.

App-related Functions

The left side of the Touch Bar typically offers controls related to the current app. For example, when Calendar is frontmost on the screen, it shows buttons for viewing your schedule in different time frames. With so many apps available, it’s impossible to cover them all, but here are our favorites:

  • Finder: When a Finder window is frontmost, at first, the Touch Bar shows just one view button, for the active view. Tap that button to see all the view buttons—now you can switch views from the Touch Bar instead of from the window’s toolbar. More interesting is that a scrollable list of Sort By buttons then appears on the Touch Bar, making it easy to sort by name, kind, date last opened, and more. To see more Sort By buttons, swipe left over the Sort By buttons; tap the X to dismiss these buttons.
  • iTunes: The Touch Bar displays basic playback controls: a Back button that restarts the current track, a Play/Pause button, and a Next Track button. You can drag the vertical-line playhead in the scrub bar to move in the current song. Play a song that’s in your library, and an Add button appears to the right of the scrub bar, allowing you to add that song to the playlist of your choice. The Up Next button is for adding the selected track to the list of songs that will play next. iTunes responds by flashing the Up Next button in the toolbar briefly, and you can click that button to view your Up Next queue.
  • Safari and Mail: What’s notable about the Touch Bar in these apps is that you can customize it! Choose View > Customize Touch Bar, and then follow the onscreen directions to drag buttons from the bottom of the screen onto the Touch Bar. You can also move your pointer down onto the Touch Bar to drag a button off the bar and back into the customization panel.
  • Typing: Our final favorite Touch Bar trick is the autofill buttons that appear when you type in many apps, including Mail and Pages. Start typing a word, and the Touch Bar tries to guess what you mean. If the complete word appears in a button, you can simply tap it instead of continuing to type. This is especially helpful for long words for which you’re uncertain of the spelling. The Touch Bar also shows an Emoji button while you type—tap it to see a scrollable line of emoji.

Because the Touch Bar takes on a different personality depending on which app is frontmost, it’s worth paying attention to. That way, you can take advantage of the controls that will benefit you the most.

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