Thoughts on Apple’s MacBook Pro touchscreen plan

How will Apple deploy this feature?

Apple, WWDC, iOS, OS X, Mac, MacBook, Touch, MultiTouch, Control, Function strip
Credit: Sarah/Flickr

Putting a little more iOS in macOS, Apple intends introducing a MacBook Pro equipped with a responsive OLED function control strip, according to Bloomberg. Why will you use this?

Ch…Ch…Changes

As described, the new OLED strip replaces the Function control strip you find on current MacBook Pros. What makes the strip interesting is that it will change the keys available to you to reflect the context, so if you are in a movie-editing app you may be presented with a different set of Function keys than you’ll find in iTunes, and these will change again if you enter a different app.

There is ample evidence Apple has been working on this for some time. The company holds a keyboard-related patent for in-key displays. Filed in 2009, the patent describes a laptop with touch sensitive controls.

[Also read: macOS Sierra: What’s new in System Preferences]

I have a few questions about these plans.

Developers

Given the control strip will be contextualized to reflect the needs of different apps, which apps will be supported? Will these be limited to Apple-only apps, or will the company introduce an API developers can use to implement support for their own Function toolkits in their apps?

TouchID

The report also claims TouchID support in these machines. This will enable Apple Pay, online payments and support for third party apps supporting TouchID authorization. Will Apple create API’s to enable Mac support for such features ported over from iOS? Not only this, but is Apple planning to introduce TouchID support across every Mac, if so, how? (Apple Watch may be one way to enable such features through older Macs).

Proliferation

In the unlikely event Apple locks third party developers out from building in support for their apps in this virtual control strip, how will the company proliferate support for this feature in other products? Will it launch an Apple Keyboard with its own built-in touchscreen control strip in future? Doing so would dovetail nicely with its Magic Trackpad product.

Extensions

Do Function keys always need to be available? Is it possible Apple could display some Notifications across the new control strip when a Mac user is working in full window mode? Will Apple enable these keys to replace the Dock? Will it enable app developers to field more iOS-like behaviors in Mac apps?

One more thing

The report adds: “The display also allows Apple to add new buttons via software updates rather than through more expensive, slower hardware refreshes.” This rather begs the question of what kind of additional control elements the company intends deploying in Macs (A Siri key, for example?)

September’s fashion parade

The report otherwise seems to confirm some of the recent speculation about Apple’s Mac and iPhone plans. It names September 7 (a Wednesday) as the likely special launch event date for OS upgrades and iPhones, with new Macs at a subsequent point, and states these new computers will deliver much improved graphics capabilities. (With VR in mind it is interesting that graphics performance is Apple’s focus across its product range).

While Mac user’s will be interested in the new OLED control strip on the MacBook Pro, Apple remains under some pressure to take a few more steps back to Mac.

Whatever Apple does announce, it seems clear that its new touchsensitive, contextual control strip is yet another bridge between its two computing platforms, Mac and iPad Pro. That’s something that will generate spirited discussion among Mac users seeking reassurance concerning the future of their platform.

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