Those of us anticipating MacBook Pro upgrades have had precious little to get excited about lately, but rumors of a redesign continue unabated, and the most interesting among them is the idea of a new OLED touch bar at the top of the keyboard. We saw it conceptualized by a fan this week, and it looked both fun and functional. As it turns out, though, that concept isn't all that new, since another Mac fan had expressed it in a video almost two years ago.
Łukasz Majer got in touch with me this week to show me a video he'd sent to Apple back in September of 2014, showing off the exact same touch-sensitive display above the keyboard that is now making the rumor rounds. He's uploaded a fresh version of it, omitting the personal details he'd included in the private video sent directly to Apple, but I've verified that the original is indeed from September 21st, 2014.
The future, as envisioned in the past
Calling his idea iKeys, Majer sets out a number of scenarios where an adaptable bar of context-sensitive shortcuts can make itself useful. You already have keyboard shortcuts for Photoshop tools, for example, but the extra touch bar can give you faster access to subsets of tools. Microsoft's ribbon of Word formatting tools and settings can also be offloaded onto the touch bar, uncluttering the main display. And yes, the classic examples of off-screen notifications, download tracking, and music playback controls are all also there. I especially like the idea of the touch bar surfacing my most recently played music albums when I connect a set of headphones. It's that sort of context awareness that is growing in popularity in mobile devices and software.
One last fun aspect of Majer's video: it got 11 views in California initially, then fell dormant until this May, when it was viewed three more times. Now, I'm far from believing that Apple took a fan's uncredited idea and turned it into its next big laptop feature — we don't even know if this touch bar is going to be a real thing — but it does lend some credence to the idea that Apple is working on something like this if someone in the Cupertino offices is returning to this video concept. In any case, it's evidently an idea that more than one person has thought of, and it's cool to take a look back at it.