My latest MacBook Pro is of the Touch Bar flavor. When I ordered it, I had a week or so before it would arrive so I spent some time researching the opinions of others on various aspects of it. I have a tendency to do that out of curiosity and to help me get my expectations in order prior to spending time with the new hardware. I’ve found that it helps me get up and running faster but it also prepares me for potential shortcomings that I may need to deal with.
In the case of Touch Bar, I found a large number of folks who were adamantly opposed to the new keyboard add-on and declared it a “beginners” feature. But I’m afraid I need to disagree strongly and suggest that these articles are missing the potential of the Touch Bar. As an example, Touch Bar managed to be the sole factor in converting me from Gmail to Apple Mail for my email client.
For years now I’ve been a user of Gmail. I’ve loved using the web version and the keyboard shortcuts have saved me a tremendous amount of time. Throw in the ability to get a link back to any message and you have a powerhouse when it comes to email.
But after thinking about my use of Gmail from a keyboard stance, I realized that I loved Gmail because it was easy to act on emails quickly. I rarely used shortcuts to get from my inbox to my archive. My primary use of the keyboard was to archive, delete, or reply to messages. And Google is smart with how it set up single keystroke shortcuts to act on messages. It was built for a high volume of email.
Contrast that with Apple Mail. You can set up shortcuts for Mail but not single keystrokes like Gmail. So it has never been a contender for me when it comes to email. But with Touch Bar thrown into the mix, I now have a different function to work with.
A lesser known feature of Touch Bar is that you can often customize it much like you can a toolbar in a given app. Being a power user, I couldn’t help but give this a run. And it turns out that you get a couple different versions of Touch Bar, one for navigating messages and one for composing a message. I haven’t touched the latter and left it at the default. But the former I’ve altered heavily to look like this:
Now the thing to note here is the space I’ve added on the sides of these buttons. By giving them padding, I’ve set myself up for creating muscle memory for where these functions are located without worrying about hitting the wrong button. I know where each of these are and can treat them like a single keystroke shortcut. Which means that Apple Mail can effectively function like Gmail for me.
Like most, I see that there are design decisions in Apple Mail that are less-than-convenient for me. But there are a handful of those in Gmail as well. I’ve learned to deal with them in Gmail just fine and see no reason to complain about them. So far, I see no reason I can’t do the same with Apple Mail. I’m five weeks into this new relationship with Apple Mail. So far it’s been a great move.