Apple's Design Language, 3D Touch, Touch Bar, and Dongles

Apple's Design Language, 3D Touch, Touch Bar, and Dongles

I've never owned a Mac computer, I've always been a Windows guy. I do keep up with Apple because I love technology and I couldn't live without my iPhone and iPad. Everyone tells me I should switch to a Mac but once again I'm glad that I haven't. 

The iPhone was the first Apple product I ever purchased. It was so incredible and so easy to understand, I instantly fell in love with it. At the time, a phone with only four physical buttons was unheard of but it simply made sense to anyone who picked it up. It's easy to overlook just how groundbreaking the original iPhone was because every smartphone has copied Apple's incredible user interface.

Each iteration of the iPhone has become more powerful with updated features and hardware. Everyone knows that each iteration of the iPhone has a better camera, but the last truly useful hardware update was the addition of the fingerprint reader. It's integrated in such a way that you don't ever even have to consider it. It just works.

3D Touch

Then 3D Touch was introduced to the iPhone. In my opinion, it's the first feature added to the iPhone that has actually made using the phone worse. When I first attempted to use Force Touch instead of intuitively knowing how, I found myself randomly mashing my thumb around the phone trying to guess when Force Touch was available. After a few days of trying I simply gave up using it altogether.

Here's a video of CNET trying to prove its value:

Being that most iOS devices don't have 3D Touch hardware, and this older hardware still needs to run current iOS versions, Apple is forced to keep 3D Touch as an almost useless feature. It feels like a neat trick, something that Apple can say "see what our phone can do that yours can't," but I'm not sure that it makes the experience of using the phone any better. At least not yet. Luckily, the addition of this feature didn't make the iPhone experience worse because Apple doesn't force you to use it. It's simply a feature that most iPhone users completely ignore.

The Touch Bar

This all leads to today's announcement of the new MacBook Pros with OLED "Touch Bar." The idea sounds great; to have a touchscreen built in to the top of a keyboard that changes based on the program you are currently using. So for instance if you were editing a video, you might be able to scrub through footage by sliding your finger across the Touch Bar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVPRkcczXCY

The biggest potential problem with this design is that most professionals who use a computer on a daily basis simply don't like looking down at their keyboard. Each time I have to take my eyes off the screen to try to find a key on my keyboard I am forced to lose focus on whatever I was working on. But perhaps the bigger issue is similar to my issue with 3D Touch: If the Touch Bar is constantly changing, you will always be looking down wishing that something useful would show up while it rarely will.

In their promo video, the user receives a phone call and the "answer or ignore" option doesn't pop up on the screen, it only appears on the Touch Bar. Does this mean that you have to use the Touch Bar? I know at times I like using my laptop with an external mouse and keyboard and I would hate to be forced to use a laptop keyboard for random tasks. But, on the flip side, if these tasks do not force the user to use the Touch Bar, I would assume the average person will just go back to using a standard mouse rather than leaning forward to see what option on the Touch Bar may or may not be available. Check it out in Photoshop. Does this really seem like a more simple option?

These design updates, where hardware and software are so intertwined, can't easily be added, removed, or updated. You wouldn't want to become accustom to using a Touch Bar on your laptop when that Touch Bar doesn't exist on your iMac. Apple also can't add super useful features to the Touch Bar that would destroy the usability of old devices without it. Because of this, for the Touch Bar to become actually useful it will have to be on every Apple device from now on. If it's not, I imagine it will die out completely, perhaps being replaced by a standard full touchscreen.

Of course there is a reason why Apple hasn't created a touchscreen laptop yet: current computer operating systems simply are not optimized for touch. I own three touchscreen Windows laptops and although I was excited with the new feature when I bought them, I've found that I almost never touch them. It's easier to use a mouse. The Touch Bar doesn't feel like an answer to this problem. It feels like a neat trick that will soon be replaced with something better.

Dongles

Don't get me wrong, I hate all of the different types of cables. I dream of the day that every device I own uses a single type of cable. Even better, I would love to see all cables die and for everything to be wireless. The problem is that we don't currently live in that world and a big contributor to this issue is Apple. Apple is the one who keeps changing these cables around. They are the ones who put a single USB-C cable on their new MacBook. They are the ones who removed the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and forced users to use the Lightning port for audio. Now they have removed every single standard USB port from the new MacBook Pro and replaced them with four Thunderbolt ports.

If Thunderbolt is the future, I'm all for it. Let's put a Thunderbolt jack on every Apple device from now on and let's never change the shape of the port. If it needs to be updated, make the new cables and accessories backwards compatible like USB 1, 2, and 3. If Apple did this I'm sure every other manufacturer would pick up this cable and it really could become the industry standard, but as long as Apple has multiple standards, nobody else is going to jump on board.

Perhaps the most humorous part of the MacBook Pro launch is that Apple supplies a pair of lightning headphones to use with the brand new iPhone 7 but they can't be used with the new MacBook Pro. If the headphone jack is "obsolete" then the entire Apple product line should reflect that, but Apple has once again failed to choose a standard and stick with it.

Update: It was pointed out in the comments that Thunderbolt 3 is a different size than Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are compatible. This is certainly good news because it appears to be the standard for all current Mac laptops and hopefully all computers and phones in the near future. Now they just need to swap out Lightning connectors for Thunderbolt 3 in iPhones and iPads and there will be one simple port across all Mac platforms. 

Conclusion 

This article may be a little strange coming from someone who doesn't actually own a Mac, but these decisions that Apple continues to make are the very reasons why I never left Windows. I want a better user experience, not just a sleeker one. 

I hope I'm wrong and that Apple's new Touch Bar is the future of computing. If it's implemented well, it certainly could be a huge step forward. I also hope that Apple can push the Thunderbolt port into the market as the new industry standard. I just don't want them to forget why we love them: their innovative products and unmatched user experience. Of course we like slick looking products too, but not at the cost of usability.

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64 Comments

Willis Lim's picture

Lee, the Thunderbolt 3 ports on the new MacBooks Pros are the same physical port as USB-C so these are compatible with USB-C cables and vice-versa.

Adam Ottke's picture

Yeah...Thunderbolt 3 IS the new USB -- for Mac AND PC and everyone...

Motti Bembaron's picture

Ah, finally Apple becomes universal...

Ahhh thank you! This makes much more sense. I'll update the post

Sebastian Erras's picture

and it get's better. According to support document from Apple only 2 of the 4 Thunderbolt ports on the 13"macbook pro support full speeds, the other two work with reduced speeds. They could have just made them normal USB 3 ports and everyone would be happy.

Too bad nobody uses it, nothing agains having 1 or 2 USB-C ports on my computer for "future proofing" but having no standard USB is just super inconvenient and it will be like that for many years.
Also, not having an HDMI port means you have to carry an dapter every time you want to connect your computer to another screen/projector.

What makes me angry is that the only reason they made that choice is for style and design purpose, instead of practicality that should be the number one focus on a product that is aimed to professional use as it's own name says...

Oh, edit: unles you are using an external SSD for storage you won't really notice an improvement over USB 3.0 since both connections have bigger bandwith than the one from the HDD.
In an ideal world everyone would be using Thunderbolt for everything, but that's not the case since USB has already plenty of speed for most applications and even Apple won't change that.

The external-storage comment isn't necessarily true. USB imposes more processor overhead than Thunderbolt (and Firewire before that). Thunderbolt can also be daisy-chained, which USB can't.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Admittedly, I am a bit leery abut having to look down at my keyboard, However, I've never committed to learning to hit the function keys without looking, simply because they hardly have any usage. With the new touch bar, although there might be a learning curve, it does bring functionality well beyond what that row of keys does for me at right now, which is virtually nothing. Only time will tel for sure, but I'm hoping I can adapt to using the Touch Bar at some point without having to look down at least for the pieces of software I use most.

As far as ports, I am quite frustrated that the new lineup will inevitably require many adapters and dongles for the time being. While its quite annoying, I think we all have to come to grips with the forward movement of peripheral. The reality is, someone is going to have to take the step forward to making universal ports a reality, and unfortunately for Mac users, it's Apple that has recently been the one to force everyone else hand, and we end up having to compromise until the rest of the industry gets in the game.

So ya, I'm going to be annoyed at the 10 adapters I have to carry around for HDMI, Thunderbolt, USB, and SD cards. At the same time, as much as I want to paint Apple as the big bad dictator, I'm not sure if any other company would take the risk and taking steps toward something like universal peripheral ports. In the end, its one step closer, and perhaps the biggest step so far, to making that a reality.

Rodney Turner's picture

I found some a hub for you. I feel a lot of manufacturers will be headed in this direction over the next few years. I like the benefits of USB C with TB3 capabilities. Camera makers will catch on next and follow Hasselblad to use USB C. USB C would make it easier to find the cable if you forget one while traveling.

Gypsy Frank's picture

You won't need dongles/adapters for the new Macbooks (other than SD card reader). As mentioned in the Keynote video the Thunderbolt ports all pass USB, HDMI and Display Port data as well as functioning as a charging port for the laptop.

Kawika Lopez's picture

Please explain how I will not need an HDMI adapter my monitor, a USB-3 adapter for my external hard drive or a Thunderbolt 2 adapter for my Pegasus 2 Array. Yes, all the ports support the functionality of HDMI, USB-3 and Thunderbolt 2, but you can't physically plug any of those peripherals in since the port is USB-C shaped.

Yeah Kawika! good to see you check this site out too. lots of adaptors for sure. but I'm looking at using a iPad Pro for in the field for editing and i got a Mac Pro for the office. one day everything is going to be wireless anyway. as for the displays, looking at the LG display with the usb-c port built in.

First I want to preface this and say I will miss the array of port types. However, with my year old MBP, I use a cable that is thunderbolt on one end and HDMI on the other to connect to an external monitor. Did the same with my previous MBP.

No adaptor or HDMI port needed.

Anonymous's picture

The woman doing the photoshop demonstration didn't look like she had any trouble not looking down. She seemed to use the touch bar pretty intuitively. I think you missed the part where it said it's customizable. So no you don't need to answer calls just on your keyboard i'm sure you can map it so its one or the other or possibly even both. We will have to wait and see on that one.

I think the touch bar is pretty great for photo editing. I love the idea of having quick access to tools on my keyboard. I know the quick key combinations but honestly i forget things easily. If Apple is going all in on this touch bar thing I'm betting a standalone keyboard with it is coming. I for one don't want a touchscreen computer but on a keyboard I'm all for it.

as far as the ports go I'm iffy but it seems like usb-c is getting more popular I don't really mind buying adapters until I'm using USB-C peripherals for everything.

No SD card slot sucks a whole bunch though. I always use the one on my iMac. When I used card readers I seemed to break them all the time so I was happy when I switched to fuji and had an SD card slot on my iMac and Macbook pro.

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Yeah, in my opinion the missing SD cad reader is the biggest annoyance. But it seems that to be innovating you have to remove things people use and never complained about. I think Apple is taking van der Rohe's statement "less is more" a little too seriously

Luca Rubino's picture

Excuse me, which is the difference between press "brush" button on the touchbar, with no tactic feedback, or press B key? How could it speed up my work?

marknie's picture

I agree. I have been building powerful PC's for gaming for more than a decade. Dollar for dollar, they out perform the mac in many ways. I like apples wiz bang products, but would not give up my PC for video and still and audio production for anything!

Dan Howell's picture

Let me get this straight...for more than a decade you have been building laptops that are dollar for dollar out performing Macs because that is what the article is about laptops, not desktops. If not, why interject here?

I too used to build pc's and believed the benchmarks that showed Windows boxes outperforming Macs. When Windows 8 came out I bought a MacBook Pro and I am no longer sure the benchmarks show the whole story.

When using function keys, do you do this without looking at the keyboard? If you do, then you have mastered a skill that I haven't.

If you don't, then a touch bar won't be any different.

But I almost never use the function keys. I'm currently on a Surface Pro and if I want to do something like raise the volume level I do have to look down to do that but other than that or "print screen" I don't think I ever use them.

I use them a lot in Lightroom to jump between modules as well as the volume and brightness controls.

Anonymous's picture

But i find this a very useful for video editing and stuff like this.
Imagine the touch bar like time frame bar, where you can slide across video clip and still you can tweak different values like saturation or so in real-time without moving cursor between two different functions. this i think can be very useful .Or this can be used like pitch for Dj ....or plenty of applications where you need to operate two sliders in the same time ....

Mike Kelley's picture

Everyone knows that I am (was) a huge Apple fanboy but as a working photographer they are trying to drive me further and further away every year with these updates. I hate dongles and connectors so much - I honestly loved the SD slot - why get rid of that?! It was so useful for backing up on location. Now it's a card reader, another dongle, two more plastic pieces of crap to lug everywhere. They sure are all about 'less is more' but often their 'less is more' motto inconveniences the consumer in order to make a sleeker device. Same with the headphone jack incident.

Felix Wu's picture

hate to say this update sucks big time.

As a Windows user/dev for over 25 years, I loved the switch to my iMac. I could finally focus on getting work done without having to constantly tweak, update and restart my computer. But the new hardware changes Apple has been making seem very much out of touch with reality and counter productive. OSX/MacOS has been more stable for me than Windows ever was, but the hardware is really starting to draw into question Apple's sanity. Yes, Apple is making hardware for the wireless future....but that future is not here yet. And that Touch Bar is such a lame gimmick. A programmable, touch screen interface for some applications (like audio/video recording/mixing) would be really helpful (perhaps, an iPad?), but the touch bar doesn't solve that problem as it is too small. It seems like a half ass step that needed a lot more feedback from real users instead of Apple R&D staff sequestered in the fallout shelter. As a someone that loves the stability and design of Apple's OS (mostly), this hardware update really fails.

I agree. I also really like your idea of making the touchpad a real customizable screen.

Gypsy Frank's picture

They got rid of the SD card slot because most people who use a standalone camera don't take their SD card out of their cameras, they copy images by just plugging in the USB cable that comes with the camera. Also the SD slot takes up additional room on the circuit board. Getting rid of it means they can make the circuit board smaller, which they did for the this and the last generation Macbook. And an SD card reader doesn't really take up that much space and you aren't using it for a large amount of time so it really shouldn't be a big deal anyway.

Nomad Photographers's picture

Well they might have done that for the reasons you have listed but I strongly disagree on it not being a big deal. Card readers are a pain, most of the time I wished I could just put either of my cameras next to my laptop and copy the content of my cards wireless ! At least the sd slot was less of a hassle imo

I too was an Apple fanboy for years. But they are wearing me down. I'm getting tired of upgrades that are, somewhat of a step backwards. They seem to be more concerned with displaying their arrogance than meeting the needs of their end users.

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