The most significant addition to the new MacBook Pro is a secondary display above the keyboard that replaces the standard function key row. Instead of physical keys, a strip-like screen will present functions on an as-needed basis that fit the current task or application. The smaller display will use Organic Light-Emitting Diodes, a thinner, lighter and sharper screen technology, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said earlier this year.
Apple’s goal with the dedicated function display is to simplify keyboard shortcuts traditionally used by experienced users. The panel will theoretically display media playback controls when iTunes is open, while it could display editing commands like cut and paste during word processing tasks, the people said. The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.
I think a multipurpose, adaptable function strip would be infinitely more useful than a strip of function keys. Here’s what I mean: look at your keyboard from an oblique angle and notice all the places where the original plastic texture remains, and where it has been worn down. If your keyboard is anything like mine, it’s probably mostly shiny, but the strip of function keys at the top likely looks pretty similar to the day you bought it. Those keys have valuable purposes, of course, but they’re nowhere near as oft-used as the rest of the keyboard. Why fix them in plastic?
The possibilities are intriguing, but I use Esc all the time in Terminal, as well as function keys programmed for other tasks, and this change is likely to make using those keys less convenient and comfortable. Instead of removing keys, I would rather Apple add more and restore the arrow keys to full size. For a Pro notebook, I want more storage and more screen space, not a yet thinner computer that compromises everything else.
I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the loss of the ESC key. I use Vim and touch that key all day long. Replacing that with a touch button sounds like a terrible idea for usability. Clearly nobody in charge at Apple is also a vi user.
There is also the unaddressed issue of how terrible OLED displays are for anything persistent (they burn in), consume power when idle and offer no tactile feedback.
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