Hardware

How to customize the Apple Touch Bar to add efficiency to the macOS desktop

If you've found yourself unsure of the Apple Touch Bar, here are two ways to customize it, such that it will become an indispensable part of your work flow.

If there's been one polarizing aspect of the new MacBook Pro, it's the Touch Bar. What was supposed to revolutionize the world of laptop hardware found a mixed bag of reactions. I'll confess now to being skeptical. Even so, when I purchased my MacBook Pro, I went all in and included the Touch Bar.

There were a couple of reasons for this. First (albeit this one is a bit shallow of me), it just seemed like a cool idea. More importantly, it seemed like something that could be used as a pseudo replacement for the now forgotten Ubuntu Unity HUD. It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it's a way to gain a bit of extra efficiency while interacting with the desktop and applications.

What makes the Touch Bar a seriously viable tool is the ability to customize what it includes—some of this customization happens on a per-application basis. With that in mind, the feature actually becomes quite useful.

I want to show you two different ways to customize your MacBook Pro Touch Bar. Both are easy to do and can go a long way to make macOS even more user-friendly.

From within System Preferences

The first customizations you can take care of are from within System Preferences. Click on the Apple Menu | System Preferences. In the resulting window, click on Keyboard and then click on the Keyboard tab. Within this tab (Figure A), you can select what the Touch Bar shows.

Figure A

Figure A

Touch Bar configurations from within System Preferences.

There are three options to choose from: App Controls with Control Strip, Expanded Control Strip, or App Controls. The App Controls with Control Strip offers the most options, so I recommend selecting that from the drop-down. The Control Strip offers buttons and options that interact with hardware (such as screen dimming, volume, Siri, etc.) These are buttons you will not find within app configuration.

If you've opted to include the Control Strip in the Touch Bar, click Customize Control Strip near the bottom of the window. The resulting popup (Figure B), allows you to drag any of the available items to the Touch Bar.

Figure B

Figure B

Adding Touch Bar buttons.

To add a button to Touch Bar, click and drag it from the bottom of the screen to the Touch Bar. To remove a button from the Touch Bar, move the cursor down to the Touch Bar, click on the button you want to remove (the cursor won't actually show in the Touch Bar, instead the buttons will highlight as you move the cursor over them) and drag the button to the screen.

When you're finished customizing the Control Strip, tap Done on the Touch Bar and your choices will be saved. Personally, I've removed Siri and added both Screenshot and Spotlight to the Control Strip.

From within apps

Close out of System Preferences and open an app. From the app menu, click View | Customize Touch Bar. The available Touch Bar customizations, for that app, will appear on the screen (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Touch Bar options for the Finder.

Adding app options to the Touch Bar is handled in the same fashion as are for the Control Strip—drag whatever you want from the available options to the Touch Bar and, when you're done, tap Done on the Touch Bar and you're good to go.

Where do you side?

As I said, I was skeptical at first. However, after a bit of customization, I've come to depend upon the Touch Bar to help bring even more efficiency to the MacBook Pro. If you've yet to find yourself on the positive side of the Touch Bar, make a few customizations and see if you don't wind up using it more and more. It might take a bit of tweaking to get it exactly as you need, but eventually you'll find that sweet spot and the Touch Bar will become your most efficient BFF.

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Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

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.

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