Craig Federighi, Apple's top software engineering executive, shows how the new Touch Bar can be customized.
Also imbedded in that bar is Touch ID. "We're bringing Touch ID to the Mac for the very first time," said Federighi. The integrated fingerprint scanner works just like the one on iPhones; users can log in -- dropping account password typing -- and validate online transactions using Apple Pay by pressing a finger or thumb to the bar.
The Touch Bar, Apple emphasized, kept the input area near the keyboard, where the hands were, implying that's more efficient than reaching out to a touch-enabled screen. The Cupertino, Calif. company has rejected touch screens on the Mac, and defended its decision to limit that to iOS. But it's impossible not to see the Touch Bar as a touch-is-input enhancement, an addition to the well-worn Touch Pad and its library of gestures.
Whether Apple moves beyond the strip, and to the screen itself, is unclear.
"I've learned never to say never about Apple," said Milanesi. "Right now, Apple is saying that not every screen needs to be touch-enabled. But over time, perhaps this is a stepping stone."
Although Apple's own applications will have a jump on third-party software in supporting the Touch Bar, outside developers will be able to access it as well. Microsoft is working on supporting Touch Bar in its Office suite, and Adobe is planning to add support to Photoshop by year's end.
"What will be important is how much developers are going to push [supporting the Touch Bar]," Milanesi added.
Like the MacBook, the new MacBook Pros have ditched the traditional USB ports for a quartet of ports that serve multiple duty, including USB-C, Thunderbolt and charging. For many, that will require new adapters to fit existing peripherals -- external keyboards, printers and displays, for instance -- after a MacBook Pro upgrade.
Apple also dropped the 11-in. MacBook Air, leaving only the $999 13-in. version, and adding a less expensive 13-in. MacBook Pro that features the traditional function keys -- no Touch Pad -- a slower processor and only a pair of ports. The Apple online store also continued to list the 2015 versions of the 13-in. MacBook Pro ($1,299) and 15-in. MacBook Pro ($1,999) for sale.
The 13- and 15-in. MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar start at $1,799 and $2,399 respectively. Customers can pre-order those notebooks beginning today, but the systems won't ship for approximately two to three weeks, Cook said. The new 13-in. MacBook Pro sans the Bar is available immediately at $1,499.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.