Apple‘s 2021 MacBook Pro brings a lot of good to the table, though it has one big missing feature that’s been on the last few generations — a Touch Bar. With the big MacBook Pro redesign in 2016, Apple introduced a few controversial design changes. It made the laptop considerably thinner, removed many of its legacy ports in favor of USB-C, and added the iconic Touch Bar above the keyboard.
On most laptops, the top section of the keyboard has a set of function keys used for various shortcuts. It’s a setup that’s worked incredibly well over the years, but Apple envisioned a more modern approach with the Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is a small OLED strip along the entire width of the keyboard that changes based on the application being used. In Safari, the Touch Bar shows the URL bar, website shortcuts, and other helpful info. In an app like Apple Mail, it offers quick access to compose, forward, and archive buttons. Users can still bring up virtual function keys if they wish, but the idea of the Touch Bar is that it can be more adaptive and interactive than laptops without it.
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That’s what makes the 2021 MacBook Pro so peculiar. In most ways, it’s a considerable upgrade over MacBook Pros that have come before it. It has a more modern design, nicer display, additional ports, and faster performance. Upon closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that the Touch Bar is MIA. Despite being present on every MacBook Pro since 2016, the 2021 MacBook Pro doesn’t have the Touch Bar at all. Instead, it has a row of physical function keys just like any other laptop.
Why The 2021 MacBook Pro Doesn’t Have The Touch Bar
Although it didn’t spend too much time reflecting on the change, Apple did address the Touch Bar’s removal while unveiling the 2021 MacBook Pro. Early on in the presentation, Apple said, “Users value the full-height function row on the standalone Magic Keyboard. And we’ve brought it to the MacBook Pro.” Apple made it clear these keys replace the Touch Bar, saying they bring back “the familiar, tactile feel of mechanical keys that pro users love.” This is undoubtedly a move that makes most users quite happy, but Apple’s approach to the whole thing is pretty interesting.
When Apple first unveiled the Touch Bar in 2016, it hailed it as the next big thing for the Mac. It received ample stage time, was prominently featured in marketing materials, and was one of the biggest draws to the laptop at the time. While the Touch Bar had continued to be used on each MacBook Pro since then, it did seem that Apple was losing interest in it. When the M1 MacBook Pro was announced in 2020, Apple barely mentioned the Touch Bar at all. On top of that, it’s been a regular source of complaints from MacBook Pro users since its introduction. While not quite as game-breaking as the butterfly keyboard, the Touch Bar was regularly mocked for solving a problem that didn’t need fixing.
What The Future Holds For The Touch Bar
As it currently stands, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the only available MacBook that has the Touch Bar. If you buy the 14-inch MacBook Pro, 16-inch MacBook Pro, or the 13-inch MacBook Air, the Touch Bar is not included. That means the Touch Bar is still technically present in Apple’s Mac portfolio, albeit in a very limited fashion.
As we make our way through 2022, it remains unclear what’ll happen to the Touch Bar going forward. A new MacBook Air is expected to launch this year with a redesigned chassis, slimmer bezels, and a ton of fresh colors. What’s not expected, though, is a Touch Bar. Apple’s also rumored to release an updated 13-inch MacBook Pro in 2022. Some people believe the new 13-incher will get rid of the Touch Bar just like the 14 and 16-inch variants, though others claim it’ll have the exact same design as the current 13-inch MacBook Pro — Touch Bar included — just with a new M2 chip.
Right now, it’s difficult to say what Apple will do. On the one hand, keeping the old design for the 13-inch MacBook Pro and throwing an M2 chip inside of it would keep the laptop distinctly different from the more expensive 14 and 16-inch models. It’d give shoppers more choice, and it would let Apple keep pushing the more expensive 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros as its flagship models. On the other hand, shipping a new MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar just months after saying how much people value regular function keys would be odd. Apple’s Touch Bar is undoubtedly endangered, but it may not be fully extinct just yet.