Improving the MacBook Pro Touch Bar

When I got my MacBook Pro M1 in early 2021, I thought the Touch Bar was going to be a real improvement to my daily use of the keyboard. Custom buttons for apps? An easily accessible Emoji bar? Yes, please!

The reality was the Touch Bar became a constant nuisance, being tapped accidentally numerous times during any coding session, sometimes with unexpected and sometimes unfortunate results. Accidentally going “Back” in a browser window, or switching between documents – that type of thing.

After the Apple announcement in October 2021, where they revealed the new MacBook Pro M1 which did away with the Touch Bar, I realized there had to be something better than being frustrated every day with a device I use constantly. I went back into the Keyboard settings and started to look at what options I had. In the end, I was able to come up with a solution that actually improved how I used the Touch Bar, and removed almost all of the accidental key taps I was experiencing.

The first key to my success was changing “Touch Bar shows” to “Expanded Control Strip”. This means that instead of showing custom buttons by default depending on which app you’re using, it shows a consistent set of commonly used actions. I realized that I wasn’t really using the custom buttons, and they were the ones causing me the most problems.

Second, I changed “Press (Function) to” to “Show Emoji & Symbols”. With the expanded control strip, the need for the actual F1, F2, … keys isn’t really necessary, and since I enjoy using emojis, this provides easier access than Control-Command-Space.

Third, I changed “Press and hold (Function) to” to “Show App Controls”. This allows me to still get to those custom controls when I need them. There are a few situations where the Touch Bar buttons are convenient, so I can still see them when I want to.

All of these changes really made things better, but there was still one problem, and that is the fact that most of my accidental Touch Bar taps were with my left hand. I needed a way to completely resolve that, or none of the other changes were going to matter. Clicking the “Customize Control Strip…” button allows you to drag and drop buttons between the screen and the Touch Bar. It’s actually really cool how they did that.

By limiting the Touch Bar icons to only what I absolutely need, and adding a spacer on the left, I was able to come up with this.

The result is an excellent combination of useful options in the Touch Bar, with almost no negative impacts of accidentally hitting buttons. After some time in actual use, I’ve found the number of negative interactions with the Touch Bar has been reduced to only the occasional one.

Customization is a huge bonus of modern software design, so take advantage of what Apple has provided and create a Touch Bar setup that works exactly the way you want it to.