The Touch Bar has had a turbulent existence. The feature arrived as part of the 2016 MacBook Pro series. Instead of fixed function keys, the touchscreen OLED panel was a convenient shortcut for various functions.
It sounds like a great functionality, but its success is disappointing. Users could only display a few function keys on screen at a time, and the operation was af a tad unreliable. So it’s not surprising that almost all current MacBooks feature physical keys.
Do you miss the Touch Bar? Then use these 5 alternatives
The return to physical buttons is nice, but there were also definitely advantages to the Touch Bar that we miss today. Fortunately, with the help of some simple alternatives, these can still be used. We’ve listed the best ones for you.
1. Learning shortcuts
Perhaps the cheapest and most obvious alternative to a Touch Bar is to teach yourself shortcuts. In fact, almost all apps on macOS offer some form of keyboard shortcuts for commonly used actions. In many cases, you’ll find them in the menus of apps. Shortcuts are not just limited to apps, however. macOS itself also has a wide range of lightning-fast shortcuts. Apple made a list of the most common ones. Becoming a master of shortcuts takes time and practice, but is more than worth it.
2. Sidecar for iPad
Sidecar is a feature that has been around for a few years. It allows you to turn your iPad into an additional screen for your Mac or MacBook. You enable the feature by connecting via USB or wirelessly. While the main benefit of the feature is turning your iPad into a portable screen for your Mac, there is also another side benefit: a software Touch Bar. It appears at the bottom of the screen and works exactly the same as the “old” equivalent. This video shows you exactly how it works.
3. Elgato Stream Deck
Normally, the Elgato Stream Deck is associated with game streaming. However, the accessory offers a handy selection of buttons that can serve perfectly well as a Touch Bar. Three versions are available: one with 6, 15 or 32 buttons. You can set up the Stream Deck to perform a variety of shortcuts. All at the touch of a button. You can customize each individual button quickly and easily. It’s a simple way to get something done with minimal effort. The feature also has a mobile version that you can download from the App Store.
Elgato Stream Deck. (Image: Elgato)
4. Touch Bar Simulator
If you like the Touch Bar interface, but aren’t keen on touchscreen, then this free app might be for you. Touch Bar Simulator for macOS mimics the Touch Bar experience on your Mac’s desktop. It works just like the real thing, but without touchscreen controls. The simulator is visible as a floating window at the top or bottom of your screen.
Touch Bar Simulator (Image: Sindre Sorhus)
BetterTouchTool is an application for macOS that allows you to customize the different inputs available to your Ma. For example, the trackpad, Magic Mouse, Magic trackpad and standard mouse and keyboard. The tool also includes features to customize the Touch Bar for MacBook Pro models that do have one.
However, an update from early 2022 adds a new feature for users without a Touch Bar. The developers call it the “Notch Bar. Basically, the Notch Bar works the same as the Touch Bar Simulator. However, the Notch Bar has two different modes: a widget and menu bar mode. In both modes, you can display different categories and shortcuts.