Pragmatic 77: Look Before You Touch

10 December, 2016


The new MacBook Pros come with a new feature Apple call the Touch Bar. We look at whether blending direct and indirect interactions make sense and try to figure out if the Touch Bar is actually a good idea.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. By exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows visit today. I'm your host, John Chidjie, and today I'm joined once again by Vic Hudson. How are you doing, Vic? I'm good, John. I'm trying to fight off the cold, but I'm here. I appreciate the sacrifice. I know it's winter over there at the moment. It's the opposite for me here, but sorry. I hope you're feeling a little bit better than you were a few days ago. I actually am. day is probably the best day of the week. Four days ago, I wasn't sure I would make it to the end of the week. Oh, dear. Oh, that's not good. Yes, it's I hear it's a bit of a rough winter over there, actually. It's been a weird winter. It's cold now, though. We've had, we've had, let's see, I mowed the yard last week, and I don't usually mow the yard in December. That is odd. Yeah, OK. So grass is growing. That's weird. Yeah, hopefully this time was actually the last time, unlike the previous time that I thought was going to be the last time. God, OK. Yeah, we still have to mow the yard in winter here once a month, usually. But yeah, it gets manic in summertime. In summertime, it's like every two weeks, maybe every week if it rains a lot, which is annoying. Yeah. But at least the grass isn't dead. That's the thing that I thought was weird when I was living in Calgary is that the grass just goes brown and just stops. Just it looks like it's dead. And you're like, oh, man, that's depressing. Yeah. But anyway, and then, of course, spring milk comes and it's a beautiful green and everything's happy, and then all the weeds come up and you go to spray the weeds and it's like, anyway. Yeah, mine will usually stay green year round, but it just kind of stops growing during the winter. It turns brown in the middle of the summer when we drought. Yeah. Yeah. That's a constant. Yeah, I've got the same here. Thankfully, we haven't had a drought for a while, which is good. But anyway, as awesome as that is, I actually have been wanting to talk about today's topic for quite some time, nearly two months, in fact, but I never really had the opportunity. And in addition, I wanted to make sure I had a chance to play with these things first. and I'm talking about the new Touch Bar on the MacBook Pros. So they are announced a couple of months back and they've been available now for a little while. And I've been out to an Apple store and another- - It is the new hotness. - It is the new hotness, that's right. I've been out to an Apple store as well as a JB Hi-Fi which stock Apple stuff. And I've played with these quite a bit 'cause I've been trying to get my head around whether or not these things are in fact a good idea or not. It's certainly very interesting. Have you actually had a play with this touch bar? First, let me clarify, you did not throw your tablet out the window and go buy one. No, no, I did not. It will become clear why not shortly. But yeah. OK, no, actually, I have not had a chance to go play with it yet. I think it looks pretty cool, though. There is no doubt at all that it looks cool. Of course, looking cool isn't enough to me to want to put down two to three thousand dollars. I, you know, that's not... Yeah, coolness is not... You can't buy coolness, Vic. You can't? I mean, the Fonzie taught us this, I think. Actually, I can't... I don't think Fonzie taught us anything. Anyway, it's all good. I think there's a lot of people that still need to learn that lesson. Damn right. You can't buy cool. You just can't. It's either you've got it, you know, or you don't. And I actually have no idea what the hell cool is because I've never been cool in my whole life. So, I think it's probably safe to assume that we don't got it. No, we don't. No, we don't. OK, so I guess the way to start is I just want to talk a little bit about interaction, like how we interact with computers. And just a little bit from the very beginning, and I've covered this before, sort of on previous episodes, but it's important just to have a bit of a refresher, I think, for this to come and come into focus a little bit here, at least for me. And I guess we had to deal with abstraction, you know, with computers initially because we didn't have any decent touchscreen technology. So back in the beginning, it was you had a keyboard because it was analogous to a typewriter keyboard, that kind of made the transition into the virtual world. You press a key, you see something show up on the screen, you know, it's an abstraction. It's not actually a printout piece of paper with that letter on it. It's an abstraction. You push the key and then you see something happen somewhere other than the keyboard. You know, if it was a direct interaction, you know, like you go and turn a doorknob, you turn the doorknob, you see the doorknob move. Yeah, you pushed a button on a doorbell and the button goes in and you'll see it move. But when you push a key on a keyboard, you see the key move, but you don't actually see the result of it unless you look somewhere else. And that's, I guess, the sort of thing is a disconnect between what your finger is, what you think is actually pushing and what that push results in. And it's sort of, you know, we kind of extended that, right, with the mouse. And I know it was Xerox PARC and then it was, you know, the Macintosh was the first one to be mass produced that used a mouse and it certainly popularized it. And the idea is, of course, you can push a little icon around the screen and you can select those items visually a whole lot faster than using a cursor and arrow keys on a keyboard. You know, that's really slow and really cumbersome, right? So, the mouse was a step in the right direction, but it was still abstraction. You know, you're using a device that's not connected to what you're moving. And that level of abstraction means that you're sort of disconnected from what you're doing. It's subtle, but it's annoying. We kind of did it because we had no option. We had no alternatives. So, I was really excited, you know, when it was the late 80s, I think it was, when light pens came around because I thought, oh, that's so cool. You can touch the screen. But you... Yeah, I never used any of those. I saw them, I was aware of them, but I never actually used them. I was pretty young at that point. Yeah, I played with one of the last light pens that I can recall. It was actually used on a control system at the Stanmore Power Station. station and they had light pens there. That was in 96, 1996, and it was already very, very old at that point, and the technology was almost abandoned at that point. But the way it worked was that you had a cord that connected into the special adapter for the computer and it had a light sensitive tip on it. And as you would... And the... Yeah, so like it had a hole at the end of the pen and a circle around the outside that was a slight spring load. So what you do is you'd sort of like press that on the screen. And as you pushed it down, it had closed a set of contacts and signal the interface card to send a flash onto the screen. And what it did is it did a rapid scan horizontally and vertically. And as soon as the light pen saw like that light indicating back into the light pen, it figured out the time delay X and Y and figured out where on the screen the light pen was. So, yeah, it was kind of cleverish, but the problem was, of course, you're affected by the scan rate and the accuracy, and it was also a little bit sluggish. So it was sort of cumbersome. It was tethered. It never really took off. So resistive touch sort of was the first real attempt to do it properly, but The problem with resistive touch is that, you know, you could only touch one spot at a time. So, but that was that was okay. If you didn't mind maintaining pressure, you want to drag something around the screen or draw a line, you just had to keep pressure on it while you did it. And, yeah, that was annoying, but it kind of worked. I had a few phones with that technology. It kind of sucked. Yeah, it did kind of suck, didn't it? I had a Palm Pilot and I had a Palm Xy 71 and, yeah, they both had touchscreens and I also had a Cassiopeia, Cassio, Cassiopeia, yeah. The only phone that I recall that even had anything remotely cool using that technology was the wife once had It was some sort of LG phone I don't remember the model number, but it had this goldfish that would come to your finger That was about the coolest application I saw with that technology that worked reliably Everything else about the interface sucked The virtual goldfish was nibbling at your finger Yeah, that's kind of cool. It would come to your finger and that worked reliably. The rest of it kind of sucked. Is that like the world's first goldfish that actually you could command and say, you know, like, come here, like you would with a dog? Come here, goldfish. It's possible. That's crazy. Well, that's kind of cool, but I'll admit I haven't played, I didn't play with that sort of stuff, but fine. But I mean, we totally agree, though, that it sucked, right? It was pretty shocking. But it sort of laid the groundwork, I think, for the next step, which is where it really took a leap. And that was when capacitive touch really took off. And that was just because you didn't need a stylus. And it was just the simplest method. It was the most natural method of interacting with a computer because it was intuitive, because you can put your finger on the spot on the screen and it will respond to your touch, you know. And I mean, I say it doesn't need a stylus, but the Apple Pencil's proven that that a powered or active stylus can be invaluable and makes it even more useful than a resistive screen. with a good stylus. So, you know, I suppose the whole point of it was, though, it's the it's a direct you're directly interacting with what you see, which is just like in the real world. In the real world, again, come back to the door handle, you put your hand in the door handle, you turn it and it turns with you, just like on a screen. You put your fingers on the screen, you turn it around and photos will rotate. You know, it's very natural. It's just it feels like that's just the way it was meant to be, you know. So anyway, I suppose the problem, though, with touch input is it comes back to data entry, is it may well feel more natural, but in terms of data entry, you lose the ability to, you know, do things rapidly. So you can't enter information very quickly. So you lose that speed that you can get. And this is the thing is that people say, oh, well, you know, touch is more natural. Yes, it is. But a mouse is a lot quicker because and so is a keyboard, right? So you can actually use a mouse to move that from one corner of the screen to the other in a fraction of the time it takes to lift and move your hand if it was a touch surface. And that's just by virtue of the fact that the mouse, all you're doing is pushing against a light bit of friction and it amplifies the wrist and hand movements so that you can traverse the entire screen with hardly any effort. And that's the sort of thing that even though touch is better and more natural, you just can't get past the fact that your meaty lump of a limb, because it has mass and momentum, it takes time to accelerate it, slow it down, touch, and then accelerate, slow it down, out of the way again. You're never going to beat it. never going to beat a virtual mouse and indirect disconnected action. It's just not going to beat it for speed. Keyboard same problem or similar problem because your fingers are dangling over the keyboard and you can type a lot faster than that. And even though I've managed to get pretty fast, the touchscreen keyboard, the tactile feedback of knowing where your fingers are going to be, you can't beat it. You're always looking down at your keys. It's just you can't get away from it on a touchscreen and it will slow you down. Not too much, but enough that it's annoying, right? So, this is the whole problem. You've got direct interaction and indirect interaction. But more about the mouse, I guess. The downsides of a mouse are, comes back to things like, I guess you could call it visual acquisition. So, you see the mouse on the screen, right? But you know, it's static, it's not moving. And if you've got a complex background or you've got a lot of crud on your desktop or it's sitting on top of a white window or something like that. You know, sometimes, you know, you find yourself wobbling the mouse so you can find a cursor. Yeah. Yeah. I like that new feature that makes it big. That is actually a really cool feature. But that said, Microsoft figured that out like a decade and a half earlier with mouse trails, which I actually thought mouse trails were. But the point is that, you know, that's to address that problem. You know, whereas if you put your finger on a touchscreen, it's not an issue, it's instant acquisition, right? Yeah. So, yeah, that that wiggling the finger on the trackpad in the- I think when they introduced that, was that El Cap? I think it was El Cap, wasn't it? It was before Sierra. Kind of feels like- Are you sure? I was thinking maybe it might have been a Sierra feature. No, it's not a Sierra feature. No, it's been around longer than that. I think it was El Cap. It seemed like I've been using it for a year. OK. Well, I don't think. No, I'm pretty sure it was. I don't know if it was before LCAP or not. But in any case, I guess once your eyes are on the cursor, you don't have to look away anymore. But yeah, but then again, once your hand is on the mouse, you can at least feel where the mouse is and you can move it around. Yeah. So then another form, another input device that has indirect action reaction with a mouse pointer is a trackpad. And I like- I used to hate track pads, but that was before I'd use an Apple track pad. Yeah. Yeah. And it's just chalk and cheese, isn't it? Yeah, it really is. So good, those Apple track pads. So, they're kind of unlike a touchscreen because the whole area has no specific like location specific feedback. So, it doesn't matter where your finger is on that area. If you take your finger, put it down and draw a stroke for like one inch left, right or up or down within the confines of the trackpad, it has the same impact on the mouse cursor. So, the mouse cursor moves the same distance. So, you don't actually have to look where your finger is on the trackpad before you touch the trackpad. As long as it's in the general area, as long as your finger is roughly in the middle-ish area of the trackpad, you're fine, you know. So, you don't have to go looking for the mouse, as long as you have a rough idea where the trackpad is, you can sort of hover your hand above it and just move that mouse around, wiggle it and away you go. And that's really great, you know. Yeah. So, just so then on the keyboards, right, this is all the stuff that's indirect, right. So, this is all our advantages, the indirect and indirect on keyboards are sort of touched on briefly, but it's more about, I think, the locator keys, you know, like the J and the F keys. With that little, that little divot, it's either a divot or it's a slight rise, a mound on those keys, helps you to find them when you're not looking, right? So, it never changes, always in the same spot. So, you know where to find your keys without having to look. And that's the key. That's the killer, right? Is it having to look. As soon as you take your eyes off that screen and you go and look somewhere else, that kills speed and it kills efficiency. Well, you can't rely on your muscle memory anymore. No, well, that's I mean, exactly. Because once you go to a touch screen, you know, you can't do that, right? Because you've got to look down the touch screen because you're directly interacting with what you're touching. And that brings us to the touch bar itself. So a little bit about the touch bar first. So it's a new feature that's been added to the MacBook Pro line, the high hand models only. And I mean, high end. I mean, I really mean high end because it carries a price premium. It's at least it's a minimum of 23% more than the nearest specced MacBook Pro. And the ATP guys coined that the MacBook Escape. I actually I laughed out loud when I think Marco called it that because he because I thought, oh, yeah, it escaped the touch bar. That's not why he called it that. I'm pretty sure that's not what he had in mind there, John. No, it's not. I know it's not, but that's what popped into my head. So, yeah, it's the one that escaped. Anyway, so the actual touch bar itself. So if you haven't seen one, imagine the function row key on your MacBook Pro has been replaced by a very long, narrow touchscreen. So this thing is like 60 pixels wide, but it's actually a 2X resolution. So in reality, it's really only 30 pixels wide, but it goes the entire width of that keyboard. Points and pixels, Sean. Points and pixels. Points and pixels. I'm sorry. 30 points, 60 pixels. There you go. And the length, yeah, and the length is 2170 pixels or 1085 points. So it's essentially a very long, narrow strip of an iPad screen, essentially. So the concept is no longer do you have a row of a narrow row of function keys that have a fixed function and reality is they didn't have a fixed function anyway they had multiple functions so you that would either the function keys like f1 to f12 or whatever if you had the full length you got to f19 you know and you could configure them to do whatever you'd liked or you could have them just as function keys or if you had a virtual machine running windows that you could have them set just as function keys. A lot of them had dual purposes like forwards, backwards, play, pause, volume up, down, mute, eject if you actually had something that you could eject, which I haven't in a long time but you never know. And then there's things like mission control and screen brightness and keyboard brightness. But obviously the other one key. Don't forget dashboard. Dashboard, yeah that's handy. And of course escape right on the top left corner. So all those keys then gone and now you've got a touch surface. So that's what it is. But the thing that makes it interesting is that it's of course now that it is a screen, it's fully configurable. And because it's a touch screen, you can make the touch screen not just display information, but you can have it represent touch controls of any kind. kind. It doesn't have to be a button. It could be a slider. It could be, well, a bunch of different things. But, you know, the point is they're virtual buttons and it's like a virtual toolbar. And it looks really cool. I mean, there's no question at all. I think it looks amazing, certainly in the imagery and the photos and everything. But yeah, I guess the thing that I have to say is that when I saw it in real life for the first time, in fact, pretty much every time I saw it and played with this thing, I thought it looked a little bit fuzzy, you know, in real life. Yeah, it doesn't look as sharp as it looks in the photos. I don't know if that's just a trick in my eyes, but it just doesn't look as sharp. So, I'm not sure why that is. It should. I haven't seen it at all personally, but I would think it should look pretty crisp. It is retina resolution, I think. Yeah, I know. I'm not sure why. Maybe the backlight, maybe there's a treatment on the front, maybe it's a matte versus glossy thing. I'm not sure, but it just doesn't look quite as sharp. I have heard some people in their reviews, either in podcast or in print, one I can't remember, but I have heard some people say that it's not very glossy, it is kind of matte. Yeah, maybe that's what I'm thinking. Maybe that's what I'm seeing. that in the past I have seen anti-glare screen shields for iPhones and stuff and I actually used to use one myself back when I was using just the 3G and as soon as retina screens came out I stopped using them because it just like really muddied up the retina. Yeah, it does something to it. So I'm not sure if that's what it is, maybe it is but in any case, so that's the concept of the touch bar and I don't want to just talk about the touch bar because I'm talking lot about touch. So I just want to quickly touch on those track pads. Touch the track. Touch. It's a lot of touching, John. I know I got to stop it. Hands to yourself, John. OK, so these track pads on the new MacBook Pros are huge. I mean, they are seriously huge compared to the old ones. Now, I had a 15 inch MacBook Pro only as recently as three or four months ago. And then I also had a MacBook Air 13 inch before that. My wife still has hers. And honestly, these track pads are enormous. So just to give you an idea of size, the Magic Track Pad 2, that's the actual standalone Magic Track Pad, the newer one, which is bigger than the original Magic Track Pad. That is 160 millimeters or 6.3 inches wide by 115 millimeters high, and that's 4.5 inches high. - Yeah. - So the 13-inch MacBook Pro Escape or 13-inch MacBook Pro Touch Bar have identical size track pads. So they are, yeah, they are identical. So 134 and a half millimetres, which is 5.3 inches wide and 84 millimetres or 3.3 inches high. Now that's 46% bigger than the previous MacBook Pro's generation's touchpad by area. And the 15 inch MacBook Pro touch bar is... Bigger, right? Yes, it's 160 millimetres or 6.3 inches wide, which is exactly the same width as a Magic Trackpad 2 and it's 103mm or 4.1" high which is just short of the Magic Trackpad 2 and by area it is 100% bigger, in other words it's twice the size, twice the area of the previous 15" MacBook Pro. As I said before it's essentially the same size as a Magic Trackpad 2 so you can now get effectively a Magic Trackpad 2 in a laptop in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. I think that that is a fantastic idea. It's great, you know, and I look at it now. It looked pretty sweet. Yeah. Especially if you're into the multi-touch gestures and stuff, the four finger swipes and the spreads and the pinches and. Yeah, exactly right. And it's because you don't have to search for it. You know, it's like it's your thumbs, either hand, fingers, doesn't matter. you know where that thing is going to be. You don't even have to move your hand that far away from the centre line of the Mac in order to actually get to the trackpad and do whatever gestures you want or move the mouse or find the mouse. I think it's great. And honestly, because I figured out palm rejection, I think pretty reliably on iPads. I've read a few reviews about it, and in my experiences, I tried to trip it up. I rested my hands on it while I was typing. No problems. You know, the palm rejection work pretty much of the time. I think maybe once it looked like it wiggled the mouse. Yeah, honestly, I mean, you shouldn't be resting your palms on the damn on that part of the keyboard anyway. It's bad for your RSI. Or if you don't have RSI, maybe it'll give you RSI. Anyway, I'm sure it happens a lot. Yeah. Naughty people. And I sometimes when I get lazy, do it. Naughty John. Sorry. That's a-- I'm apologizing to myself, all my wrists, all my carpal tunnels. Anyhow, so that larger-- the larger area, it's just so much quicker and easier to acquire what you need to get to that mouse pointer and use gestures and everything. And digitizers, you know, for the trackpad, they're not as expensive as they used to be, you know, so covering that big area, really not that much extra money. And frankly, I think in the long term, they should just make the entire section below the keyboard a bloody touch sensitive trackpad. Why not? You know, what's stopping them? That would be kind of cool. It'd be awesome. I'm a trackpad. I like trackpads, so I would be really into that. Yeah, but again, it's sort of like it's like the modern mouse, you know, because it's an indirect method of manipulation. It's not direct like a touch screen, but it is sort of, I think it's more or less the pinnacle. But you'll get people that use a mouse and say, oh, you know, a mouse is still quicker than a trackpad. and that's probably true if you're going from one side of the screen to the other. But then again, the larger the trackpad you've got, you know, you can actually... because one of the things I found with the trackpad is you'd have to... sometimes you would have to use like three fingers click. So three finger clicks and hold and then you drag your window or your mouse or whatever, whatever you're dragging, sorry, or a single finger drag across the screen. If you have drag lock on or if you're trying to, you know, you know, cast a window or something like that around something, you know, sometimes I'd reach to the end and I'd have to like hold my thumb on and then I'd drag another finger across, you know, just, you know what I mean? To continue to touch on it. I don't know if that makes any sense. I think it does, but anyway, but on the big track pad, you wouldn't have to worry about that. So in any case, I guess if I was looking for the ideal portable device, it would have the fastest method of data entry, which is a keyboard, like a physical keyboard, it would have the most precise method of positioning and selection. And I think that is actually the trackpad. I actually think that is true. It may not be necessarily the fastest, but I think it's very precise and it's really, really easy to use. And the bigger the trackpad, the better. But then I thought about what would the next thing be, you know, Because if you think about it, the keyboard itself, like the alphabetical part and the numerical part of the keyboard, spacebar, shift, maybe tab, you know, delete and the arrow keys. Beyond that, you've got a few modifiers in there, like your command, option, alt, control, that sort of thing. But beyond that, yeah, I can see why they ditch the function row, you know, because how often do you really use the function row? You don't use it often. You certainly don't use it when you're touch typing. you know? So if you're going to pick a row to get rid of, you'd get rid of that. In fact, if you're going to get rid of another row, you know, how many people do mass data entry on the numeric keypad row? Yeah. And how many people are actually, you know, using you know, like dollar hash percent and all that stuff as a regular part of touch typing? I'd put to you that most people don't. You know, so if they really wanted to go and as minimalistic as possible, ditch that row too, you know. Yeah. Have you seen that GIF that's floating around the internet of Macbook Pro keyboards disappearing one row at a time until it turns into an iPad? Yes, I have. Yes. But you see, I know that's a joke, right? I get it. It's kind of funny, but the reality is that that's bad for another reason. And see, I thought for a second, you know, would it be better to have an all touch like trackpad on the bottom and an all touch touch screen on the top? And I thought, well, that's just that's stupid because, you know, if you don't do that, you'd have a touch display on the bottom and a touch display at the top, you know, or a touch display at the bottom and a non-touch display at the top. But then you're back to I don't have located keys, I don't have- how do I switch my interaction models. You know, it's like you can't you can't really have the best of you can't really have both. So if you were really going to make the ultimate portable device that has the fastest data entry for key typing, the best trackpad for indirect motion, like indirect manipulation, plus have touch capability. Would you would your answer be the touch bar, you know, like ditching the function row and ditching the numeric row, because I wouldn't. Because I don't think that actually having to look down at that touch bar and figure out what key is in what position. I mean, if you're going to have to do that anyway, you accept that your function keys, you've got to do that anyway, right? The problem I've still got is that you can't memorise it. So you can't memorise where escape is because, well, I mean, escape might always be in a very similar sort of position. But the truth is the width of that escape key, the exact position that it starts, you know, it's like... And I do sometimes actually touch some of the function keys, like volume, for example, I'll touch that by, you know, by feel, not by sight. But if they're changing all the time, you don't know what's going to be there, so you can't trust it's going to be there, which means you got to look. And if you got to look, it'll slow you down no matter what. So, I thought to myself, okay, if I touch those buttons, do they respond to my touch? And what I mean is like, do I directly manipulate what's underneath them? If they're normal buttons, you don't because your finger covers the button. Yeah. You know, so that's no good. You can't click and drag very much on it. I mean, I think you can shuffle the indications around and you got these little slidy things on it. But most of all, what you're doing when you're using it normally and you're not configuring it is you're actually indirectly messing with what's on the screen. Yeah. But that's what the trackpad's for. And that's what I don't I don't think makes sense. It's like I don't think the touch bar should be part of the keyboard. You know, I think that the touch bar can still exist, right? That's fine. But it should just be part of a touch sensitive area on the bottom of the screen, because I have to look at the screen. And if I want to do direct manipulation of what I'm modifying, I don't want to move my eyes off the screen. So why not have the touch bar at the bottom of that screen and have a strip that's touch sensitive at the bottom that you can actually move those things around and watch them? Because I'm actually looking at the screen, I'm touching the screen, I'm modifying it on the screen. So this whole look, touch, drag, as opposed to just touch, drag. You know, so the thing you're touching is on the same display, you can touch and drag it. But now- But the current touch bar, you've got to look, then touch, then drag it and then look back up again to see what it's doing. And if your finger slides out of position, you're out of luck, you've got to look back down again. But if it's all on the screen in front of you, you don't. It sort of would end up being a blend between an indirect and a direct action. So, my finger's directly interacting with what I'm seeing, whereas the touch bar, it's indirect, but I still have to look at it before I touch it. Well, I think within the context of the MacBook Pro, your argument doesn't-- I wouldn't say it's wrong, but I'm not sure it's as applicable because it is practically part of the screen. I mean, it's only off by an inch or so. As far as people saying that in order for this to really get mass adoption and for people to really start using it and integrating it into the way they work, there needs to be some sort of option that accommodates desktops. I would say you're probably definitely right. It should be more close to being part of the screen than attached to like most people I've seen say they want to, you know, a new magic keyboard that's got it integrated into it. Yeah. But the problem of course, is that you can't guarantee that that keyboard and that touch bar is going to actually be anywhere near the screen. Yeah, exactly. That's what I was saying. I think your argument really holds up in that context. Because most of the time, you know, and most setups, I would imagine, probably 95 or better percentage of them, the keyboard is probably usually going to be at least a good foot away from the screen, if not more. Yeah, exactly right. So, the thing is, then, if that's true, then the only thing keeping that touch bar there, the only device it could work on is a laptop, a notebook. You know, that's the only thing it could work on. Yeah. So the thing that the thing I've got a fundamental issue with, though, is that, you know, if you're saying, well, I have to look down at that part of my laptop anyway, if I had the touch bar on the vertical plane as opposed to the horizontal plane, it's not much more of a stretch to look, oh, I don't know, an inch or two slightly downwards. Yeah. Or upwards. It doesn't make too much of a difference, but it's not so much about that. It's about the fact that if I'm looking down, I can sort of peripherally see at the very top of my eyesight what's going on on the screen. But if I'm actually looking up, the closer I am to that vertical plane, the less peripheral it is, and it's almost in my main field of view. Yeah. And think about this weird thing about, you know, dragging icons onto that touch bar when you're doing that whole configuring thing. And it's like you drag them down towards the bottom screen, they appear and everything. It's like, well, just imagine that would actually work perfectly if it was all on the same screen or if it was stitched so it looked like it was all on the same screen, even though they're two separate ones. Yeah, that would just be so much better. So the question is, you don't want to drag buttons down to a detached keyboard a foot and a half away. Well, that doesn't make sense either, right? So this is my point is it should be part of the screen, not part of the keyboard. Yeah, but Apple's not making screens anymore, John. Well, that's their fault. That's obviously their fault. It's their choice. Good or bad or otherwise. Or routers either apparently. Well, I've been rebooting my Apple TV, my time capsule that much lately. I have to reboot about once a month because it locks up and there's nothing I can do about it. That's okay. Nevermind. Mine's still a trooper. I hardly ever have to touch it. Lucky you. My Airport Express still works. I've got one of the older ones that's still kind of flat though. I don't have the tall tower shaped one. No, I'm in the same boat. I've got the side of the flat square one too. But just back on this again, I guess my problem is that it's just, it's like, what exactly have we gained here? We've gained a little bit of flexibility, but I mean, is it really that much? You know, it's just, it feels like we just haven't gained very much. If you really wanted to save space, I mean, what are we trying to, let's say we're trying to optimize this. You take the keys that you touch the least and that's obviously the function keys, get them off the keyboard. I still think that most people wouldn't care too much about losing the number keys. They might get a bit annoyed, maybe it's one of those CD-ROM, DVD-ROM decisions, you know, like it'd take courage or something. I don't think you could call it a pro laptop without number keys, John. Well, I don't think you can call it a pro laptop without number keys. that would argue you can't call it a pro laptop at all anymore but you definitely could without number keys. I think that the people that would miss those number keys is a little higher percentage than you think. Well yeah okay but I mean my point is that you would if you I still think you could and I think you could ditch them and I think you'd be back to basically four rows and if you move those four keys further up that would mean you could make this an enormous area all on the bottom half of that of that laptop. All of that would be a trackpad. So you're thinking like a touch bar trackpad? No, I'm thinking about no, I'm thinking about you put the touch bar at the bottom of the screen near the hinge and then you would put a keyboard and you move those four rows starting at the QWERTY row up as close as you can to that hinge. Maybe a little bit of space for the speaker line, perhaps, or cooling vents or something. And then at the bottom, you'd have an entire touch surface area for a trackpad that goes edge to edge. or maybe not edge to edge, maybe with a slight border on it, but essentially width-wise of the laptop minus a few fractions of an inch, let's say. And I think that that would be the ultimate expression because what you'd have is you'd have this enormous area for indirect interaction, you'd have an area at the bottom that was a shared space that you could configure the buttons, and you could do whatever you wanted with it, and you could have your less used keys there, and then you would have the normal screen. But of course, that is also sort of ignoring what a lot of these full touch screen laptops are doing right now, you know. So, I guess I want to talk a little bit about that. So, and in case you think that I think that Microsoft are doing it right, I mean, they're not. But because their trackpads, for example, if you look at the Surface Pro or the, you know, Surface Book, the trackpads are horrible. Yeah, the tiny, the awkward, there is an annoying as hell. The keyboards don't sort of offload the rarely used keys to the touchscreen when they potentially could. And Windows 10 still has this idea that either in touch mode or mouse mode, when in fact, the difference between the modes is so marginal, it's essentially pointless, except reality, you know, and your compromise that you've made with your user interface already. Yeah, hardware battery doesn't last, you know, it's just anyway, the The bottom line is that, you know, it's also Windows and my newest Microsoft Windows gripe is enforced updates. Don't get me started on that. Maybe next episode. But anyway, the whole problem with the touch bar is that you need to look before you touch. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a solved problem. It's called physical buttons. So if you want to ditch physical buttons, you would make them virtual buttons. If you're going to do that, you would go to a more direct interaction model. But the problem is Apple made their choice. they said, you know what, iOS and OS X are not going to cross paths in that interaction model. But they've sort of started to do that with a touch bar. My argument is simply that the position of it doesn't make sense on the keyboard plane. That's all. But if you want to have a reconfigurable keyboard, then you should use a touchscreen. And that's a solved problem. It's called an iPad. So, you know, and if you want the best, absolute best mouse point device, mice have gone pretty much as far as you can and you can't make them portable as part of the laptop. So trackpads ultimately are still your best bet and they're still very good except for the last thing about speed. The trackpad was already really good, making it bigger is great provided you get palm rejection right, looks like Apple have, so that's awesome. So if there are ways you can offload really used keys, then use a soft touch screen area. I think that's your best bet rather than making your users look too much further down at the keyboard playing to see where they got to touch. And I just think it's inefficient and I think that they got it wrong. That's what I think. But then again, the flip side of that is if you imagine a screen that's got a strip along the bottom that's touch sensitive and 95 percent of it above that is not touch sensitive, that is also confusing. Yeah. You know, that's also confusing. So, I don't know ultimately whether or not the touch bar actually makes sense. And the thing is, Apple aren't stupid. You know, Apple, obviously, they believe very strongly in this. They put a lot of money behind the touch bar. They didn't just do it on a whim. You know, they actually believe that this is a good thing. But I'll be honest, man, when I used it, it just didn't it didn't click for me at all. I don't see that the utility has much beyond novelty. Yeah. And it is novel. I don't know. Like I said, I've never played with one, so I'm not going to pass any judgment on the object we're talking about or your judgment of the object we're talking about. But I know most of the reports I've seen from people that are using them, they seem to like them, John. Well, that's fine, and they're welcome too, but I would suggest that that isn't going to last. And I would suggest that ultimately, in terms of user interface design, it's one of those confusing crossovers that has some kind of novelty appeal. But the thing is if it's stuck on laptops, if they're the only things that are ever going to use it, you're ignoring your desktop market. And OS X is a desktop operating system. Yeah, I would definitely agree with you on that. I think that they do need to, if they really want this to be a viable option for the masses, they have to figure out a way to accommodate the desktop. They absolutely do. And it's not just, and the other thing that also occurs to me is that I know, you know, sort of saying, oh, this is never going to work if you've got a separate keyboard. And if you've got a desktop, you have a separate keyboard. But on a laptop, you're always going to have your laptop keyboard. Well, yeah and no, because whenever I use my laptop, if I was in a meeting, if I was on the train and I don't take the train anymore, but if I was, I'd use it in laptop mode, in which case I could use the touch bar. But if I was ever at my desk, I would never, ever use that keyboard. I was always plugging into an external keyboard. And I had my laptop opened up on an elevation stand so that I had that as a screen and I had an external keyboard plugged into external display. So I had three screens. Yeah. Some people clam case them, but I don't like doing that because of heat dissipation problems. So ultimately, as far as I'm concerned, at least, it just makes no sense because it's a feature that's worth 23 percent more than the MacBook Escape model. And I would only use it a fraction of the time. So, I don't, it's just, yeah, and I go, yeah, it's my use case is all that matters. No, it's not, obviously. And I think that if people are using it, that's great. I'm happy for them. But and if they like it, that's awesome. But honestly, for me, I think it's just it's confusing, you know, it's like it's like it's a strange hybrid that that genetically speaking Darwin will take care of. That's what I feel. It's just not. Yeah, I don't think it's long for this. You know what I think I'd like to see for it? What's that? A standalone touch bar device. Just introduce a third accessory. You know, you've got your wireless keyboard, you've got your wireless mouse, and I think that they should consider a wireless touch bar. And it's just maybe some sort of wedge-shaped thing that could sit nicely on the desk or maybe even some fancy magnet tech so that if they hypothetically still had an Apple display, they could make it so that it just perfectly stuck right to the bottom of that screen in a nice place and people could put it where they wanted to. I think that would be kind of cool. I think that would be cool as well, but I'm reasonably sure Apple's never going to do that. Yeah, I'm reasonably sure they'll never do it too, but I think that would, that's what I'd like to see. I mean, you could use that with any, you could use that, you know, if you're lap, if you've You got an iMac, you could use it. If you've got a Mac Pro trash can that doesn't seem to get updated, you could use it. If you've got a laptop that's in clamshell mode, you could still use it. Yeah. Yeah, I understand. Yeah, it's an interesting idea, but, you know, it just, I guess, because I was looking at the tear down of this and the amount of time and effort that Apple's put into designing it. It's got its own processor that deals with it. It's basically an Apple watch built into the laptop, I think. It's what I've heard. Yeah, I mean, it's they put some serious engineering into it. And I look at it and I just think to myself, well, frankly, why? And recently I was recording an episode of Analytical that will come out in a couple of weeks time. And it's about focus, you know. So if you're not listening to Analytical, you should be listening to it. Have a look at Anyway, and I was doing research on this and I went back to that Steve Jobs thing, the Q&A session he gave famously after WWDC in 1997. So he'd just come back to the company and he'd gone and like trashed a whole bunch of stuff, you know? And he gives this three-minute spiel about focus is saying no, which is something that The first moment I heard it, I was like, it stood with me in business, in life pretty much since hearing that. It's one of those things that he said that's really resonated with me. And, you know, he goes on this rant about how, you know, someone asked about OpenDoc and he's like, yeah, what about OpenDoc? It's dead, right? Like I killed it, right? It's gone. And there's a lot of people that are upset about that, you know. And it's like he said, well, engineers were going off at Apple doing in different directions, doing arguably interesting things, but there was no level of management that's saying in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't make sense, this doesn't fit, you know. And individually, they made sense, but overall, they made no sense. And this feels very much a lot to me like Apple is sort of heading a little bit back that way. You know, it feels like they're starting to hybridize things and look for something that isn't there, like they're spending time off on a tangent and it's not working out. And I feel like, I don't know, I'm not I'm not a panic stations yet, but, you know, I did sell I sold my MacBook Pro, doesn't work for me anymore. I had I got a better offer in a sense. Maybe I should talk about that next episode. But the truth is that I feel like something just doesn't sit right about this touch bar. It hits all the cool buttons, but just doesn't hit all the practical buttons. And I just don't think it's worth it. It's just not worth the money. And that's it. I don't have anything else really to say. Any other thoughts or comments? I'm eager to try playing with one and I'm curious to see what it's like. I don't know how I feel about having one because I had kind of decided that my dream machine was going to be an iMac that might possibly get updated one day and be modern current hardware. It's not too out of date compared to some of the other stuff but I was drooling about iMacs and a 5k display for that and then the touch bar came out and then I'm like well maybe I need to think about another MacBook Pro again so I don't know. Well if the MacBook Pro remains the only way you can have the touch bar to play with, I'll probably end up going that route. Yeah. Just because I'd like to have access to it. But I think we'll see what happens. I've heard the argument that, you know, I'm going to have I'm going to have a touch bar because Apple's invested a lot of time in it and it looks like something they're really keen on. Yeah. It's like that's that's an interesting argument to put down an extra, what, five, six hundred dollars for no other benefit. It's like it's quite a chunk of change just for, yeah, we're doing it because Apple looked like they're keen. Yeah. You know, and I refer people back to OpenDoc. They seem to be keen about OpenDoc. I mean, I know it's chalk and cheese and I know the different things. I get it. I get it. I totally do get it. But seriously, I mean, I guess time will tell. I mean, in two or three years time, maybe it'll be everywhere. Maybe everyone will love it. And all the other machines out there will look like dinosaurs because of it, because they don't have it. But I don't know. And then I guess I'll leave my words at that point. And, you know, claim chowder and whatever. But I don't know. Claim chowder. Claim chowder. Yeah. So I don't know. We'll see. I mean, not doom and gloom predictions, just yeah, I don't know. It just feels off. Anyway, if you want to talk more about this, you can reach me on Twitter @JohnChijji or you can follow @PragmaticShow to see show announcements and other related stuff. Pragmatic is, of course, part of the Engineer Network, and you can check out the network and all of its shows at Engineer.Network anytime you like. Causality has really taken off. It's a solo podcast that I do and it looks at cause and effect of major events and disasters that have occurred in history. If you're a fan of this show, you may like it as well. Make sure you check that one out. I mentioned Analytical before, both Causality and Analytical episodes, they're about 10 to 30 minutes each. They're pretty easy listening, easy on the ears, so not a huge time commitment. Why don't you go check them out when you get a spare 10 or 15 minutes. If you'd like to get in touch with Vic, what's the best way for them to get in touch with They can find me on Twitter @vickhudson1. Fantastic, and if you'd like to send any feedback about the show or the network, please use the feedback form on the website. That's where you'll also find show notes for this episode. If you're enjoying Pragmatic and you want to support the show, the best way that you can do that is to back us on Patreon. Like one of our backers has, Chris Stone. He and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon and you can find it at So if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, it's all very much appreciated. A special thank you to our patrons and a big thank you to everyone for listening and as always, thanks for coming on Beck. Thanks for having me John. No worries mate. Now, stop touching that bar. [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music] You don't know what I'm touching here. Oh, God. You took it to the next level again. I really do. I really would like to see that standalone touch bar. They're not going to do it, man. I don't think it'll ever happen. I know it's a pipe dream, but that's what I'd like to see. It's like totally a pipe dream. Pipe dream. Bream, pipe, tripe, dike, gah. I know what you said, I just, my mouth, my mouth lips didn't cover around the word thing. I can't get no focus.
Duration 52 minutes and 46 seconds Direct Download

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Vic Hudson

Vic Hudson

Vic is the host of the App Story Podcast and is the developer behind Money Pilot for iOS.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.