One of the comments people have been making about the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro is that it will be irrelevant to those professionals who mostly use their Mac at their desk with an external monitor and keyboard. Unless Apple can offer an external keyboard with a Touch Bar, the feature may not see much use.
So does Apple have a plan to offer an external keyboard with a Touch Bar? To offer an Even More Magic Keyboard … ?
My immediate reaction to the idea was that this would prove impractical, due to battery life. The current Magic Keyboard typically goes 2-3 weeks for me between charges. Adding a display that is designed to be always-on would seem likely to slash that life dramatically.
However, the display is OLED, which is far more power-efficient than LCD. Power is only needed for the lit pixels, so you don’t get the power wastage of backlighting even black areas of the display. We’d still see a significant battery life hit, but perhaps one we could live with.
Another option would be a wired keyboard, but I can’t honestly see this happening. Apple has been pushing wireless solutions for years now, and a wired keyboard would look like a backward step.
If the Touch Bar is merely a gimmick, as some are suggesting, then it doesn’t matter. It can remain an optional feature that MacBook Pro owners will be able to use when working directly on the machine, with others not having access to it.
But if the Touch Bar is a genuinely useful innovation – as Apple appears to believe – then the company has a strategic problem if only a fraction of Mac users have access to it. So perhaps it does indeed have a plan to bring it to a future Magic Keyboard?
More generally, Apple does seem to have broader interest in dynamic keyboards, Jony Ive recently commenting that the company is working on other things in this area.
One obvious solution – even if it’s a little un-Apple-like – is to make the keyboard thicker in order to add more battery-life. While some do carry external keyboards around with them, typically they spend their life on a desk, so weight isn’t a particular issue. Or, given Apple’s obsession with thinness, it could instead make the keyboard a little larger – increasing the size of all the keys to retain the current look of edge-to-edge keys.
A second possibility is simply to accept the reduced battery life and require people to charge the keyboard more frequently. So long as the Touch Bar did actually prove appealing in real-life use, people might accept say weekly charging as a price worth paying.
If I had to guess, it would be a mix of the two: making the keyboard a little larger to include a higher-capacity battery, and accepting the need for somewhat more frequent charging – maybe twice as often.
Latency is another possible issue raised by my colleague Benjamin, who wondered about frame-rates when the graphics data has to be sent wirelessly. But given Apple’s guidelines calling for a relatively static display, that may not be too big an issue in practice.
Finally, there’s price. The current Magic Keyboard costs $99, and OLED touchscreen displays aren’t cheap. Adding one might even double the price of the keyboard. Would that be a price worth paying?
What are your views? Would you like to see a Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar? Would you accept a significantly higher price, reduced battery life or both? Take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.
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