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Are You Making the Most of the Touch Bar on Your MacBook Pro?

In 2016, Apple introduced the Touch Bar with the MacBook Pro. It’s a long, thin display above the number keys on the keyboard that shows a variety of buttons and controls. By default, it changes depending on which app you’re in, and it also displays the Control Strip, a collection of controls that roughly mimics the functions accessible from the F-keys that traditionally live in that position. Finally, it includes the Touch ID sensor that brings fingerprint authentication to the Mac.

Since its launch, however, the Touch Bar hasn’t migrated to any other Macs or keyboards, although the MacBook Air picked up a Touch ID sensor without the rest of the Touch Bar. As a result, developers haven’t been as enthusiastic about supporting the Touch Bar as they might have been. Nevertheless, it provides useful shortcuts in many apps, and you can customize it more to your liking. (Plus, although we’re not going into those details here, Apple is making the Touch Bar even more useful and customizable in macOS 11 Big Sur.)

Choose What the Touch Bar Shows

You may never have noticed the Touch Bar’s settings because Apple has hidden them in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. Logical, but perhaps not where you might have looked first if you were thinking of the Touch Bar as an extension of the trackpad.

You have two choices here, what appears in the Touch Bar normally, and how it changes if you press the Fn key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard. Your options include:

  • App Controls: The controls that appear when you choose this option vary by app. This option is the most generally useful, though how much so depends on whether the apps you use support the Touch Bar in helpful ways.
  • Expanded Control Strip: The Control Strip, which appears by default on the right side of the Touch Bar, lets you adjust common settings like brightness and volume. The Expanded Control Strip option fills the rest of the Touch Bar with more buttons.
  • F1, F2, etc. Keys: Aimed at keyboard traditionalists, this option mimics the F-keys that occupy the Touch Bar’s position on every other keyboard in the universe. People often use these keys as hot keys with macro programs like Keyboard Maestro.
  • Quick Actions: Want to create your own custom buttons for the Touch Bar? In Apple’s Automator app, you can create workflows as Quick Actions, which then appear on the Touch Bar when you choose this option.
  • Spaces: Those who are big users of Spaces in Mission Control might appreciate this option, which lets you switch between different full-screen apps and Split View spaces.

In the Touch Bar Shows pop-up menu, you should choose the set of Touch Bar buttons that you’ll find the most useful most of the time. That’s probably either App Controls or F-keys for most people, unless you do a lot of your own automation (choose Quick Actions) or regularly use full-screen apps (choose Spaces).

The Press Fn Key To menu basically gives you a second choice—press that key, and you can display whatever set of buttons you’d find next most useful.

Finally, notice that there’s a checkbox for Show Control Strip. If you want to take over its space on the right side of the Touch Bar for other buttons, deselect the checkbox. One useful approach is to disable the Control Strip in general use, but show the expanded Control Strip when you press Fn.

Customize App Controls

App controls are in many ways the most interesting because they change not just when you switch between apps, but also based on what you’re doing in an app. Take Pages, for instance. If you’re working with text, Pages configures the Touch Bar to show buttons that let you switch between paragraph styles, apply character formatting, and tweak horizontal and vertical justification. That button on the far right displays auto-complete options for the word you’re typing. But if you have a text box selected, Pages instead provides buttons for opacity, various colors, and line strokes. Select a table, and Pages immediately offers options for adding and removing columns and rows.

Even better, some apps, like Safari, let you pick which buttons appear in the Touch Bar, just as you can pick the controls that appear in window toolbars. In apps that allow this, choose View > Customize Touch Bar. A selection of available buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. Drag one of the buttons off the bottom of the screen and—really!—onto the Touch Bar, where you can drag it into different spots. When you’re done, click the Done button.

While you’re customizing the Touch Bar for an app, you can also rearrange buttons by dragging them left or right (with either the pointer or your finger) and remove buttons by dragging them (with the pointer) from the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro’s screen.

Note that the Touch Bar is only so big, and the Mac won’t let you populate it with more buttons than it has room for. If you try, the new button will replace one of the current buttons.

Customize the Control Strip

You’re not limited to choosing which app controls you’d like to see in the Touch Bar. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click Customize Control Strip to bring up a similar collection of controls that you can add to the Control Strip. Plus, you can rearrange and remove buttons from the Touch Bar’s Control Strip just as with the app controls.

Try Third-Party Utilities

As you might expect, clever Mac programmers have extended the ways you can use the Touch Bar beyond what Apple provides. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • BetterTouchTool: For $8.50, this general-purpose customization utility gives you control over various input devices on your Mac, including the Touch Bar. It lets you completely customize the Touch Bar, add and customize the appearance of buttons for all sorts of built-in actions, create dynamic widgets using AppleScript and other languages, and download ready-to-use presets.
  • Pock: Want to recover the screen real-estate occupied by the Dock? The free Pock puts your Dock items in the Touch Bar for fast app switching. Plus, it provides useful widgets, including a handy Now Playing widget that can show the title of the current song.
  • Haptic Touch Bar: Although Apple built the Touch Bar so it could provide haptic feedback—making it feel like you’ve pressed a key down when all you’ve done is touched a flat glass surface—most controls don’t provide it. The $4.99 Haptic Touch Bar utility makes all Touch Bar buttons pretend to be physical buttons, with haptic and audio feedback.

If you’ve been ignoring the Touch Bar because it didn’t work the way you wanted, or if you’ve liked using it but wished it could do more, give these customization options a try!

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Social Media: Do you love, hate, or just ignore the Touch Bar on your MacBook Pro? Regardless, take a look at these ways of customizing it, and perhaps you’ll end up liking it more.

Apple Updates 13-inch MacBook Pro with Magic Keyboard and Twice the Storage

In a move that completes the transition of the MacBook line from the troubled butterfly keyboard to the Magic Keyboard, Apple has released a new 13-inch MacBook Pro. The company also doubled the amount of storage in each of the standard configurations while keeping prices the same, and it ramped up the specs in the model with four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Like the MacBook Air that Apple released several months ago, the most notable change in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is the replacement of the butterfly keyboard with the new scissor-key Magic Keyboard introduced last year in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. So far, that keyboard has been well-regarded. Unlike the MacBook Air, however, the 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to include Apple’s Touch Bar, though now with a physical Escape key and a separate Touch ID sensor.

Apple doubled the onboard storage across all base configurations, so the 13-inch MacBook Pro now starts at 256 GB, and you can choose from configs that include 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and even a whopping 4 TB.

As in the past, there are two models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, one with two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side and another with four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two on each side. The two-port model receives the Magic Keyboard and additional storage, but is otherwise unchanged from last year’s model. It still features 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 and i7 processors running at 1.4 GHz and 1.7 GHz, respectively (the faster processor is a $300 option), and 8 GB of RAM, upgradeable to 16 GB for $100.

However, Apple beefed up the four-port model with faster 10th-generation processors, either a 2.0 GHz quad-core Core i5 or, for $200 more, a 2.3 GHz quad-core Core i7 that should provide even better performance.

These new processors also feature updated Intel Iris Plus Graphics that Apple claims improve graphics performance by up to 80% and can drive the company’s 6K Pro Display XDR screen.

Finally, the four-port model now starts at 16 GB of RAM (up from 8 GB) for the same price, uses faster memory than before, and can be upgraded to 32 GB of RAM for an additional $400.

The two-port model of the 13-inch MacBook continues to start at $1299, and the price of the four-port model still starts at $1799. Both are available now in silver or space gray.

If you’re looking for a new laptop, which should you choose? With its new processors, more and faster RAM, and improved graphics performance, the four-port model provides a particularly attractive package for the price.

For those who would prefer something less expensive, however, the new MacBook Air may be more compelling than the two-port model of the MacBook Pro—it largely comes down to whether you would prefer the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar or the MacBook Air’s function keys. Contact us for help choosing the right Mac for your needs!

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: In the market for a new laptop? Apple has introduced new 13-inch MacBook Pro models with better keyboards and more storage, plus faster processors and RAM. Check out the news at:

New 16-inch MacBook Pro Sports a Redesigned Scissor-Switch Keyboard

Responding to customer complaints and media mocking, Apple has introduced a new 16-inch MacBook Pro that features improves on its predecessor in several ways, most notably with a scissor-switch keyboard in place of the flaky butterfly-key keyboard. The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro at the top of Apple’s notebook line and starts at $2399. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air remain unchanged.

Apple also announced that the new Mac Pro (starting at $5999) and Apple Pro Display XDR (starting at $4999) will ship in December 2019—we’ll have more details once those are available.

New Keyboard Provides More Key Travel

Apple says the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s new Magic Keyboard features “a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel.” That’s a positive way to say that many people disliked typing on the previous keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Plus, keys failed frequently, causing Apple to redesign the keyboard multiple times and offer a repair program for out-of-warranty devices.

Although the new 16-inch MacBook Pro still features a Touch Bar with a Touch ID sensor in place of the classic F-keys, another important keyboard enhancement is the return of the physical Escape key and the reinstatement of the traditional inverted-T layout for the arrow keys.

Initial reviews from pundits who received early access to the new MacBook Pro were positive, with several vocal critics of the previous keyboard saying the new one feels the way a keyboard should.

About That 16-inch Display… and Other Displays

You might expect the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s display to be its most notable feature, and it is legitimately bigger, with that 16-inch diagonal measurement and a slightly higher native resolution. That translates to a scaled default resolution of 1792-by-1120, up from 1680-by-1050, so the new MacBook Pro will show more content on the screen than the previous model. And it’s still gorgeous.

To drive that larger screen, the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer both integrated (for better battery life) and discrete (for faster performance) graphics. On the latter side, you can choose from the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4 GB of memory, or the Radeon Pro 5500M with either 4 GB or 8 GB of memory. Those graphics chips simultaneously support up to four 4K external displays or up to two 6K displays.

More Power, More RAM, More Storage

Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro is up to 80% faster than the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, thanks to new 9th-generation processors: the 6-core Intel Core i7 and the 8-core Intel Core i9.

16 GB of RAM is the base level, which is good, since we don’t recommend any less than that. For those who need a higher RAM ceiling, Apple offers 32 GB ($400) and 64 GB ($800) build-to-order options.

When it comes to SSD storage, the base level is 512 GB, but you can upgrade to 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), or a whopping 8 TB ($2400).

Radically Better Audio

Apple clearly had audio professionals in mind while designing the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Along with the beefy processors, high RAM ceilings, and massive storage options, all of which will be popular with the audio crowd, the new notebook features significantly improved audio input and speakers.

For input, the MacBook Pro relies on a three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming that Apple claims delivers a 40% reduction in hiss. Podcasters have praised the new mic array, though without suggesting that it competes with dedicated mics.

Equally compelling for anyone who listens to music is the new six-speaker, high-fidelity sound system. Its force-canceling woofers with dual opposed speaker drivers reduce unwanted and sound-distorting vibrations and enable the bass to go half an octave deeper than the previous model. There’s still a 3.5mm headphone jack too.

Slightly Larger Physical Package

Between the larger screen, the six-speaker sound system, and the 100-watt-hour battery that Apple says provides up to 11 hours of battery life, the company had to increase the size of the 16-inch MacBook Pro slightly compared to the previous 15-inch model.

It’s only about 8mm wider and 5mm deeper, which likely won’t be noticeable. However, it also weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg), which is noticeably more than the 4.02 (1.82 kg) pounds of the previous model.

802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 remain standard for wireless connectivity, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro continues to offer four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports for charging and connectivity. You’ll still need a collection of dongles for connecting to USB-A peripherals, HDMI and DisplayPort monitors, Ethernet networks, and so on.

Price and Availability

You can buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro now, in either silver or space gray. The base model starts at $2399 with 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, and the AMD Radeon 5300M graphics chip. That’s a totally legit Mac, but if you need more power and can pay for it, a maxed-out configuration with 64 GB of RAM and an 8 TB SSD  would set you back $6099.

Note that the 16-inch MacBook Pro ships with macOS 10.15 Catalina and almost certainly cannot be downgraded to 10.14 Mojave.

Frankly, this new MacBook Pro is a solid upgrade, particularly for those who have been delaying due to the problems with the butterfly keyboard. The only real problem is that the smaller, lighter, and less expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are still saddled with that keyboard. We hope 2020 will bring the redesigned scissor-switch keyboard to those models as well.

(Featured image by Apple)

Apple Issues Voluntary Recall for Certain 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro Units

Heads up! If you’re using an older 15-inch MacBook Pro—the version with lots of ports that predates the current Thunderbolt 3 models—Apple has started a recall program to replace batteries that could explode and catch on fire. (We’re not kidding.) The affected MacBook Pro models were sold primarily between September 2015 and February 2017. To find out if your 15-inch MacBook Pro is affected, enter its serial number into Apple’s recall page. If it is included in the recall, shut it down and stop using it immediately! Contact Apple for a free battery replacement, and if you need any assistance, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

(Image courtesy of Apple)

Catching up with Apple in May: New MacBook Pros, New iPod touch, OS Updates

Apple is well known for its splashy media events, now usually held in the Steve Jobs Theater at the company’s new Cupertino campus. But Apple reserves such events for major announcements. Smaller announcements, such as minor updates to particular product lines, operating system updates, or new repair programs, get only a press release, if that.

But just because a change doesn’t merit much fuss doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting—if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to buy a new Mac, for instance, an announcement of a small MacBook Pro revision might be exactly what you want to hear.

Here’s a roundup of Apple’s recent announcements in May 2019.

New MacBook Pro Models Feature Faster CPUs and New Butterfly Keyboards

Although Apple has a reputation for innovation, the company should also be lauded for its evolutionary changes, which are much more common. To wit, Apple quietly updated the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models equipped with a Touch Bar with faster CPUs while keeping the prices the same.

You can now buy a 15-inch MacBook Pro with the latest 9th-generation 8-core Intel Core i9 processor, making it the fastest MacBook Pro ever—the previous model offered only a 6-core processor. The 15-inch models also offer faster graphics processors as options.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro models didn’t receive the same level of changes, but they gained slightly faster 8th-generation Intel processors that provide minor performance improvements.

Both models now come with the fourth generation of Apple’s controversial butterfly keyboard. We’ll have more on that issue soon.

Apple Launches MacBook Pro Repair Program for “Flexgate”

13-inch MacBook Pros from 2016 are susceptible to a display-related problem the press has dubbed “Flexgate.” According to Apple, affected Macs exhibit one or both of these symptoms:

  • The display backlight continuously or intermittently shows vertical bright areas along the entire bottom of the screen.
  • The display backlight stops working completely.

The problem is related to a flex cable connected to the display that’s too short and too fragile; some repair experts have suggested that failure is inevitable.

If your 13-inch Mac is showing either of these symptoms, you can now take advantage of Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro Display Backlight Service Program to get a free repair. You can have your Mac fixed by Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider, and if you already paid for a repair, you can request a refund from Apple.

iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3 Add New TV App; iOS 12.3.1 Fixes Calling Bug; macOS Addresses ZombieLoad

As you’ve no doubt noticed in your Software Update notifications, Apple recently updated all its operating systems: iOS 12.3.1, macOS 10.14.5, watchOS 5.2.1, and tvOS 12.3. If you’re already running iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave, it’s fine to update.

iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3 are notable primarily because they include a new version of Apple’s TV app. This app now provides access to “channels,” by which Apple means subscription-based streaming video services like HBO and Showtime. Apart from letting you subscribe to such services inside the app and playing content from them in the app, the new app looks and works much like the previous version. The new app will also support Apple’s original content on the Apple TV+ service later this year.

Shortly after iOS 12.3 shipped, Apple released iOS 12.3.1, which fixes a critical bug that could prevent your iPhone from making or receiving phone calls. So if you upgraded to iOS 12.3, be sure to update to iOS 12.3.1 right away.

Similarly, it’s worth updating to macOS 10.14.5 to protect against a security vulnerability called ZombieLoad, and if you’re still running 10.12 Sierra or 10.13 High Sierra, be sure to install Security Update 2019-003 for the same protection.

New iPod touch Gains the A10 Chip and a 256 GB Configuration

Finally, Apple showed a little love to the littlest iOS device, the diminutive iPod touch. In the new model, Apple swapped the old A8 chip for a faster A10 chip that promises up to twice the performance. That added performance enables the new iPod touch to support Group FaceTime calls and enhanced augmented reality (AR) games.

The only other change in the iPod touch is that Apple now sells a 256 GB configuration for $399, joining the 32 GB configuration at $199 and the 128 GB configuration for $299.

(All images courtesy of Apple)


Social Media: If you haven’t been paying close attention, you might have missed Apple’s new MacBook Pros, new iPod touch, support for other streaming services in the TV app in iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3, and a repair program for “Flexgate.” Read on for details:

New MacBook Pros Provide More Speed and RAM, plus a Quieter Keyboard and Hey Siri

As students prepare to head off to college, Apple has updated the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro line to provide even more powerful options for students and professionals alike. The changes are primarily under the hood, focusing on faster performance, more RAM, and larger SSD-based storage, but there are a few modest physical changes too, including a quieter keyboard and a True Tone display.

Despite these improvements, pricing remains the same as for last year’s models.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro that has function keys instead of a Touch Bar remains the same, as do the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Air.

Performance Boosts

The new MacBook Pros move to Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro used dual-core CPUs, but they now get quad-core chips. And the 15-inch models jump from quad-core chips to processors sporting 6 cores. More cores are better because more tasks can be split up between them, preventing one processor-intensive task from bogging down others.

Processing power is just one aspect of overall performance. If your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM for the apps you’re using, it has to fall back on much slower virtual memory. For those who use memory-intensive apps, the new 15-inch MacBook can now take up to 32 GB of RAM, up from a maximum of 16 GB. RAM in the 15-inch models is also DDR4, which is faster and uses less power than the DDR3 RAM used before.

Finally, if you don’t have enough fast SSD storage in a MacBook Pro, you may be forced to store large items like your Photos library and Parallels Desktop virtual machines on a slow external hard disk. The new MacBook Pros can have a lot more built-in SSD storage, but it’s pricey. The 13-inch models max out at 2 TB, which will add $1400 to your bill, and the 15-inch models can go to 4 TB, assuming you have $3400 to spare. The 512 GB ($200) and 1 TB ($600) upgrades are more reasonably priced.

Physical Changes

Apple continues to tweak the controversial butterfly-switch keyboard. Some people haven’t liked the shallow key travel and how much noise it makes, and its keys have a tendency to stick. The new MacBook Pros feature a keyboard that’s quieter and hopefully more reliable.

You’ll also notice the new Retina displays with True Tone. First introduced with the iPad Pro and added to the iPhone in 2017, True Tone adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light to make the screen more comfortable to view. It should be particularly appreciated by students working late into the night.

Other Improvements

You know how you can issue commands to Apple’s virtual assistant on your iPhone or iPad by saying “Hey Siri”? That’s possible in the new MacBook Pros also, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s new T2 chip. The T2 also manages the Touch Bar, facilitates a secure boot feature, and encrypts files on the fly to increase security.

These MacBook Pros are the first to support Bluetooth 5.0, which is backward compatible with Bluetooth 4.2. As Bluetooth 5.0 peripherals become more widespread, they’ll be able to communicate with the MacBook Pro at higher data rates and longer ranges—think of Bluetooth working across your entire house, rather than being limited to a single room.

Price and Availability

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799, and the 15-inch model at $2399. With both models, you can choose between silver and space gray, and they’re available now.

Our take is that, like most of Apple’s speed-bump upgrades, these new MacBook Pros are simply better than the previous models—who turns down better performance for the same price? The True Tone display is also welcome, as is the quieter keyboard. And it’s nice that we can finally talk to Siri without having to hold down a key or click a button.


Social Media: Apple has released updated versions of the Touch Bar-equipped 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. Read on to learn about their improved performance, quieter keyboards, support for Hey Siri, and more.