Apple put a touch screen on their keyboard, but they don’t want developers using it as a display. No sir.
To quote their Human Interface Guidelines for developers:
The Touch Bar shouldn’t display alerts, messages, scrolling content, static content, or anything else that commands the user’s attention or distracts from their work on the main screen.
So that’s what the most powerful company on earth wants. But you know what? Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.
Here’s to the people who looked at Apple’s Touch Bar, thought to themselves “I can put something stupid on there,” and then did.
Developers always experiment with new platforms, doing things just for the sake of doing them. These experiments can be profoundly stupid, but also important in a way: they show future developers what does and doesn’t work.
With this in mind, we searched the web for the dumbest possible uses of the Touch Bar, all of which utterly fail to meet Apple’s standards. You can install these programs yourself, even if you don’t have a Touch Bar, by checking out this software version of the Touch Bar. But only the Touch Bar itself can truly capture the pointlessness of these apps, so we recommend you purchase a $2,000 laptop before reading this article.
Done? Okay, let’s get started.
Wish Games Were on a Smaller Screen? Good News!
Apple told them not to, but multiple developers wanted to use the 2170 by 60 pixel Touch Bar as a display for games.
It doesn’t work.
Perhaps there’s no example better than Pac-Bar, which turns Pac-Man’s famous maze into a straight line.
You can jump from one side of the “maze” to another through an opening…and that’s about all there is to this one.
Someone else brought the suicidal characters from Lemmings, a classic 90s puzzle game, to the Touch Bar, and appropriately named the result Touch Bar Lemmings.
This may be the best app I've ever built pic.twitter.com/Z9WJi7e74G
— Erik Olsson (@valross2) December 11, 2016
Literally all you can do is tap the bar to add a Lemming, and tap them again to make them stop traffic. It’s barely a game but it’s cute.
Next up is TouchBarDino, which does something no one asked for: brings the hidden dinosaur game from Chrome to the Touch Bar.
We can confirm that this is a game, and that it is playable, and that’s about the extent of our comments.
Looking for some new IP? There’s SpaceFight, in which you use the arrow keys to fight oncoming ships.
Again, it’s not much of a game, but it does put the extremely wide aspect ratio of the Touch Bar to work.
The problem with all of these games is simple: the Touch Bar is not designed to be a display. Looking down at your keyboard while playing is awkward, and the long display doesn’t lend itself to any gameplay at all. This space is designed to control applications, not house them.
Which brings us to the one touch bar game we found that kind of works: TouchBar Pong. It’s Pong as you’ve always known it, but the gameplay is on the screen and the Touch Bar is used only to control the paddle. Why? Because.
Stupid Decorations for Your Touch Bar
Many developers weren’t ambitious enough to put a whole game on the Touch Bar, instead opting to just put…something there. For example, there’s NyanCat. It does exactly what you’d think it does.
There’s also KnightTouchBar2000, which is a presumably hilarious reference to a 70s TV show I’m too young to understand.
We could go on. There’s TouchBar Santa, which puts Santa on the Touch Bar and plays Christmas music. There’s SL on Touch Bar, which brings a Terminal joke to the Touch Bar for no discernible reason. And there’s Touch Bar Party Parrot, because everyone loves party parrot.
I don’t really feel the name to explain why these are useless: they literally do nothing, and the pictures they show disappear as soon as you switch applications.
There’s really only one application in this category that’s even potentially useful: Touch Bar Preview. With this app you can temporarily display any image on your Touch Bar, which will come in handy if you’re prototyping something. It’s only useful for developers, sure, but useful enough that it’s worth mentioning.
Press Button; Hear Sound
The early days of the iPhone brought several applications that made a noise when you pressed a button, and did absolutely nothing else. The most notorious of these apps made fart noises, and it seems history is repeating itself with TouchFart. It does pretty much what you’d expect, and I’ll leave it at that. There’s also Touch Bar Bar, which makes the sounds of drinks opening when you press buttons.
Those apps are both pretty clearly dumb, but there was one push-button-hear-sound app we found somewhat compelling: Touch Bar Piano.
The Touch Bar’s display doesn’t have near enough vertical space for any serious instrumentation, but it’s fun to occasionally try to peck out a tune. Plus you can change the instrument to a number of MIDI standards. If you had a digital keyboard in the 1990s you’ll feel all kinds of nostalgia.
I wouldn’t call this useful, but it’s the least useless app in a very useless category. Give it a shot.
The Touch Bar is Not a Display
Apple’s design guidelines make for hilarious reading: why are they being so dictatorial? But the more I looked at these apps, the more the Touch Bar directives made sense. The Touch Bar is not a good display, because it’s not designed to be a display. It’s designed to be an input device.
Which brings me to StockBar, an app that turns your touch bar into a ticker of current stock prices.
You might think this is useful. It isn’t. For one thing, the stocks only show up when StockBar is the currently open application: you can’t leave it running in the background while doing something else. And if you’re not doing anything else, why are you looking at the touch bar instead of your main display?
But even if this could run in the background, looking down at your keyboard to see stock prices isn’t a great experience. Any kind of movement on the Touch Bar distracts from the primary display, which makes using the computer worse.
So as heavy handed as Apple’s dictates can be, in this case I can’t think different. The Touch Bar is best as a supporting player, and at its worst when it tries to steal the show. But I could be wrong, and it will be fascinating to see what developers come up with.