MacBook Pro Touch Bar Hurdles, Aristotle and Human Behavior

Is there a connection between the Touch Bar and Aristotle? I believe so.

The Touch Bar is a wonderful tool that felt victim to many human biases. It was a radical change to being with (we hate changes). This is why Apple introduced M1 laptops with no external changes. Any possible design issues would be associated with the M1.

The Touch Bar was presented as a financial and functional choice (high price or less ports). It seems a rational thing to do but that decision led to a status conflict. It signaled status or lack of it for power and pro users. The same way new colors do with new iPhones.

The placement of the Touch Bar surfaced a challenge for peripheral vs central vision (peripheral seems to be more important). Living in the periphery of the screen led to distraction at first. Complete ignorance later on.

Any use cases Apple engineers and PR ingeniously created, fell into void. It’s the same reason “we are trained” to ignore or close banners in the corners or a laptop / desktop screens. There is more.

Constant eye movement between the screen and the Touch Bar is tiring. How tiring? Very much so. That’s why we optimize for line length in copy. Moreover, the Touch Bar requires full attention (central vision) because it lacks tactile feedback.

Tactile feedback is a hack we use to verify our choices as fast as possible and reduce cognitive load. This is why developers were going bananas with the non physical Esc key.

All in all, people challenged themselves to pay attention or not to the Touch Bar and learn the new UI. This increased cognitive, visual and motor load. A hefty mental fee to pay.

Unfortunately the cognitive load became even higher. The Touch Bar had to compete with deeply established cognitive and motor patterns. We like to call them: shortcuts. The natural reaction to pain and challenge is to avoid it. That’s what happened.

Aristotle said “έξις δευτέρα φύσις” which translates to something like “habit is our second nature”. That’s extremely relevant and dear to Apple power and pro users. The very users who buy the more expensive, more ports MacBook Pros with a Touch Bar.

I like the Touch Bar and i love the concept behind it. The hard work that went into it is phenomenal. Apple engineers and other Apple teams, BRAVO! This thread is not criticism, not even a critique. I know shit about what everyone went through to make this happen.

It’s a self note for product design and behavioral science. I’m old enough to remember when phones were half covered with plastic keys and then the iPhone happened. Keep pushing for more Touch Bar concept.

This post was originally shared as a Twitter thread.