Monday, November 22, 2021

The Reincarnation of the Touch Bar

Luc P. Beaudoin:

The obvious advantage was providing configurable, direct access to context sensitive commands.


To reduce the need to look down towards the physical keyboard, macOS could present a virtual command bar on the main screen. This would be triggered by some event, such as a physical key, keyboard shortcut, Siri, hand gesture, eye gesture, or facial gesture (see next section). This virtual keyboard could be presented as a single row of buttons, or a 2-D array of buttons.

As someone who really hated the actual Touch Bar, I do think there’s something to the idea of providing similar functionality in other ways. (Ideally it would be much more configurable than the Touch Bar was.) I’m thinking something like the old System 7 Control Strip, but with an area for application-specific functionality, too. To a certain extent, this idea lives on in menu bar status items. But the menu bar fills up easily, and the old Control Strip could be resized, hidden, and shown, including via keyboard shortcut. In Big Sur, Apple freed up some menu bar space by consolidating popular status items into a single Control Center icon, but it doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut and isn’t keyboard navigable. It doesn’t even activate via the “Move focus to status menus” shortcut.


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The Touch Bar is available on screen for Sidecar users, even in Monterey on machines that don't have built-in touch bars. It's pretty handy there.

Sounds like a toolbar to me. I predict there will be more focus on toolbars anyways (vs menus), as that aligns better with what you can do on iPad.

It makes you wonder if the TouchBar would have been more successful if Apple had allowed third party apps more scope to do things with it. Keyboard Maestro basically could not use it except in very minimal ways for example, which limited its utility. And since it replaced the function keys, that's a loss in utility that it had to balance which was a big ask from the start.

Sounds like you're describing the context-aware ribbon in Microsoft's tools.

I was just about to say, sounds like a MS Ribbon with a toggle switch. Which absolutely is a good idea, albeit with a risk of getting swamped with a myriad of choices.

Oh but Apple wouldn't allow...

/points to iTunes

Control Center can be activated with Fn (or globe)-C, but I have zero idea what to do after that with the keyboard. The only use I can think of for it is avoiding the tiny click target.

There's a relatively recent -- I think -- addition to /System/Library/CoreServices that I saw in Activity Monitor: Control Strip. I don't know what it does, though. (I have a Touch Bar Mac if it's related to that.)

@Peter Yes, I think there was a lot of potential there but they never opened it up beyond hard-coded application-specific toolbars.

@Tom Ah, I’d forgotten about that. Here are some of the other new fn shortcuts in Monterey.

Some more on the Dock: You can hold the Fn key and the down/up keys to switch sections and left/right to switch to either end of the Dock, and option+left/right will swap icon positions.

(I forgot to @, I'm not great with these things)

The fn/globe key stuff is… kind of meh. Your third-party keyboard that ostensibly has fn may not be compatible.

Some keyboard shortcuts are also available through ctrl-cmd; for example, ctrl-cmd-F still works even though the menu bar says globe-F. But that doesn’t work in all apps (e.g., it doesn’t in Music and TV, but does in Podcasts, Finder, Safari, MS Teams), is obscure, doesn’t seem to apply to all shortcuts (of the ones listed, only F seems to work) and often overlaps with existing shortcuts, which take precedence (for example, ctrl-cmd-Q is not Quick Note, because it has been Lock Screen for a long time). Which I suppose helps explain why they’re introducing another modifier in the first place.

Funny, Peter Lewis beat me here and didn't mention that his own (excellent) app, KeyBoard Maestro has a popup control called palettes that can be programmed to be a touch bar like solution. So if app providers put in the effort, they could pre-define palletes for KM. Alternatively Luc could hand roll his own.

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