I'll admit, I have a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar and I actually use the feature. I use it all the time. In fact, I find the interaction with the device much improved because of this. But I'm always looking to further my experience. And so when I set out to discover how to better the Touch Bar, I came upon a single app that opened my eyes as to what the feature can do.
BetterTouchTool is a simple app (not found in the App Store) that allows you to tweak not only the Touch Bar, but:
- MacBook Trackpad
- Magic Trackpad
- Magic Mouse
- Siri/Apple Remote
- Normal mouse gestures
- Normal mouse buttons
- Keyboard shortcuts
- Key sequences
- BTT remote triggers
Anyone who's serious about customizing the input devices on their Macs will be quite happy with how this tool improves the efficiency of interaction. Let's install it and see how it works. Before we do, know that the app isn't free. You can use it with a 45-day trial. Once the trial is over, the app costs $6.50 for a standard license. To learn more about the difference licenses, check out this price matrix.
There's really no need to offer a step-by-step walk-through of the installation. You download the file, open Finder, navigate to the Downloads directory (or wherever you saved the file), double-click on the saved file, and answer a few quick questions (most of which are in the form of "Are you sure you want to open this file?"). The last steps of the installation involve clicking Continue at the privacy statement and then either allowing or disallowing the collection of anonymous usage and crash reporting (which will help the developer improve the app).
Once the installation is complete, a new window will open, explaining why the app needs permission to the Accessibility API (Figure A).
To take care of this, click on the Open System Preferences button in the BetterTouchTool warning window. In the resulting window (Figure B), click the lock in the lower-left corner, type your password, click the Privacy tab, and then click to enable BetterTouchTool.
Once you've taken care of the permissions, open the tool. The main window gives you a good indication of the flexibility BetterTouchTool offers (Figure C).
I'm going to show you how to add a couple of handy buttons to the Touch Bar, allowing you to navigate virtual desktops and then launch an application. To start, click on the TouchBar tab. In the resulting window (Figure D), click +Touch Bar Button.
In the bottom pane (Figure E), type Desktop 1 in the Touch Bar Button Name section and then click the Predefined Actions dropdown. From here, select Navigating Spaces/Desktops | Switch to Desktop 1.
Next, we need to create a button to switch to Desktop 2. Repeat the same action as above, but name the new button Desktop 2 and select Navigating Spaces/Desktops | Switch to Desktop 2 for the Predefined Action. You should see the new buttons appear immediately in your Touch Bar.
You can make this a bit cleaner by creating Button Groups. To do this, click + Button Group, give the button group a name (such as Desktops) and then drag/drop the newly created buttons into the group.
It is also possible to add application launch buttons to the Touch Bar. To do this, click + Touch Bar Button, give the button a name, click the Predefined Action drop-down, select Controlling Other Applications, click Launch Application, in the resulting window (Figure F) select the application to be launched, and click Open.
And that's how you can improve on the default usage of the MacBook Touch Bar. You can do quite a bit more, but this gives you a good start.
Power user's delight
If you are a MacBook power user, you'll be pleased at how BetterTouchTool empowers the Touch Bar. With just a few clicks you can add options previously unavailable. Give this little app a try and see if you're not immediately hooked.
- How to permanently display the function keys for certain apps in the MacBook Pro Touch Bar (TechRepublic)
- How to customize the Apple Touch Bar to add efficiency to the macOS desktop (TechRepublic)
- How to fix macOS Touch ID after High Sierra update (TechRepublic)
- 5 tips to make macOS more efficient on the go (TechRepublic)
- Apple to replace some MacBook, MacBook Pro keyboards due to problems (ZDNet)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.