MacBook Touch Bar: The special touchscreens built into MacBook Pro models, explained

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The Touch Bar is only available on the high-end MacBook Pro models. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
  • The MacBook Touch Bar is a thin touchscreen above the number keys on MacBook Pro keyboards that offers versatile functionality.
  • To use a Mac’s Touch Bar and its library of digital icons, you can tap, swipe, and slide along the bar.
  • Some Touch Bar buttons change depending on the app you’re using, while others remain constant.
  • You can open your Mac’s System Preferences menu to change some of the Touch Bar’s settings.
  • Visit Business Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

Introduced to MacBooks in 2016, the Touch Bar is a small touchscreen located above the number keys on MacBook Pro keyboards.

The Touch Bar was built to replace the function keys — the numbered F1 through F12 keys that come standard on most keyboards. Despite this, the Touch Bar actually has a variety of features and tools that change depending on what app you’re using.

As of this writing, the Touch Bar is only available on 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models. However, this might change in the future.

How to use a MacBook Touch Bar

As its name suggests, Apple’s Touch Bar is activated by touch, and as such responds to gestures like tapping, swiping, and sliding. You can use these gestures to adjust the brightness and volume, activate Siri, access function keys, and more depending on the app you’re using.

For example, if you’re checking your email, you’ll see actions to reply or flag emails on the Touch Bar. Image editing apps might let you trip or crop with a touch. And a calculator will display the standard adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing symbols.

Try using different apps and watch how the Touch Bar changes to match them.

This Apple Support page shows which buttons pop up when you select a file in Finder (including Preview and Share) and when you view a picture in the Photos app (including Rotate and a slider to quickly navigate through photos).

Apple macbook pro touch bar
Apps have specific Touch Bar commands. AP

An advantage of the Touch Bar is its ability to customise which buttons appear. For app-specific functions, you can customise the buttons to include commonly used tasks. To change your Touch Bar’s settings, open System Preferences, select “Keyboard” and the “Keyboard” submenu afterward, then choose and adjust among the variety of customisable options available for the Touch Bar.

And if something appears on the Touch Bar that you want to save for later, you can take a screenshot of just the Touch Bar.

The Control Strip

While the buttons located in the centre of the Touch Bar will change depending on the app you’re using, the Control Strip, which is located on the right side, doesn’t change. Here, you’ll find buttons to activate Siri and adjust settings like brightness and volume. To expand the Control Strip, tap the left facing arrow button.

In the expanded view of the Control Strip, you can also adjust keyboard brightness, control video or music playback (with pause, play, rewind, and fast forward buttons), and more.

Macbook Pro with touch bar
Once you get used to it, the Touch Bar is easy to use. Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The function keys

Function keys (F1 to F12) are standard on most keyboards, meaning that you’ll likely still need them.

For Macs with a Touch Bar, the function keys are accessed via the Touch Bar. To find them, press and hold the Fn key or Globe key (whichever one you have) on your keyboard.

If this doesn’t work, go to your Mac’s keyboard preferences to ensure this shortcut is enabled. You can find your keyboard preferences in the “System Preferences” app.

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