Apple has announced the second wave of Macs running Apple silicon, and has introduced two MacBook Pro models running faster chips than the M1 that Apple introduced last year. The company also announced third-generation AirPods, which offer spatial audio, and new colors for the HomePod mini. Apple announced that macOS Monterey will ship next week. And the company gave some clues about where it’s going in the coming years.
When I bought a new MacBook Pro last year, I was catching up to a new interface element that had been around for a while, but that I had never used: the TouchBar. This bar replaces the function keys with a set of dynamic “buttons,” allowing you to control certain things on your Mac. You can adjust volume and brightness, and different apps provide different virtual buttons on the bar.
There’s one app where it’s is really useless: Safari. On my MacBook Pro, with Safari frontmost, I have six tabs, but the TouchBar only shows two of them; that’s because the other four are “pinned tabs,” that are minimized at the left of the tab bar. There’s no way to use the TouchBar to access those tabs. (I’ve tried to scale the image so it looks about the same as what I see.)
And even if I did want to use the TouchBar to access different Safari tabs, there’s nothing on the TouchBar that helps me see what the tabs contain. Okay, I can see that the one on the left is Facebook, but what if I have a lot more tabs open?
I would have expected the TouchBar to display favicons, which would at least give a better idea of which sites are open in each tab. It’s clear that an option to do this would make it a lot more usable.
I have mixed feelings about the Touch Bar on Apple’s MacBook Pro. I think it’s a gimmick, and, while useful at times, isn’t useful often enough. As I type, I see predictive text options, but I’m not going to stop typing and tap the bar just because I see a word that I want to type next; it will slow me down. When I’m using Safari, some graphics sort of show what tabs are open, but they’re pretty useless; you can’t see enough to distinguish one tab from another.
The only thing I really use the Touch Bar for is the volume and brightness; adjustments that I made on previous laptops with F keys.
But this morning, the Touch Bar froze; at least the part on the right, the Control Strip. I couldn’t adjust the volume, or change the brightness. So I did some sniffing around and found what I needed to do to force quite the Touch Bar and relaunch it. It’s worth noting that this is the first time since I got this MacBook Pro in June that this has happened; and that there was a major macOS update yesterday. Coincidence?
Open Activity Monitor (it’s in your /Applications/Utilities folder), and click in the search field. Type “touch.” You’ll see one or more items.
Select TouchBarServer, then click the X button at the top left of the window. In the dialog that displays, click Force Quit. (Quitting might work, but force quitting should always work.)
I record podcasts and screencasts, and usually do my audio recording on my iMac, but recently I’ve been using my MacBook Pro (2017, sans touch bar) a bit. Since it only has two ports, and I needed to record something with my iPhone connected to it, I attached the dongle you see on the left: it has three ports, one is USB-C, one USB-A, and one HDMI. I bought this a few years ago to use with the crippled single-port MacBook, and while I don’t use it often, now that I have 100% more ports on my MacBook Pro, there are times I need it. The battery was running low, and I needed to connect a microphone via USB, so I used one port for the iPhone, and the other for the power and microphone.
I recorded about two minutes of audio for a screencast using Audio Hijack, and, as I always do, opened it in Rogue Amoeba’s Fission to check it and edit it. This is what I saw:
As you can see, there are some very nasty audio artifacts on the recording. Interesting, they only show on one channel, but they are very loud diginoise. I don’t know why this happens, but when I plugged the microphone directly into a USB-C > USB-A adapter, then into the MacBook Pro, the problem went away. Also, when the power cable wasn’t connected to the mammoth dongle, it worked fine. I can only assume that there’s something wrong with the larger dongle when it’s sending both power and data. I don’t think there’s any way to fix this, and I don’t really need to use this configuration often, but it’s worth noting if you do plan to do audio recording and need another peripheral connected to a Mac via one of these dongles.
Fortunately, I didn’t discover this after recording a podcast…