These 7 MacBook Pro tips will make that Touch Bar work for you

The MacBook Pro has a Touch Bar that can amp your day-to-day use.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
4 min read

The MacBook Pro's Touch Bar isn't going anywhere, it seems. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The MacBook Pro's Touch Bar can be a useful feature that puts common tasks opening a new tab in Safari at your fingertips. Not everyone loves the Touch Bar, and personally, I don't always remember to use it. However, with a few tweaks and customizations, it's possible to incorporate the Touch Bar into your workflow and feel like the fingertip-size display is providing value instead of being left untouched. You might just find that the Touch Bar gives you what you need to make your MacBook Pro work for you.

For example, with just a few clicks you can get the standard Mac shortcut keys back -- for good. You can also use the built-in scrub tool to find the exact spot in a video or song, or skip through video ads.

Below you'll find seven tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your MacBook Pro's TouchBar. 

Enlarge Image
GIF by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Just tap and slide to make adjustments

Save yourself a few taps when using either the volume or brightness control. Instead of tapping the button, then moving your finger over to the slider to make an adjustment, tap and hold on the respective button. With your finger still on it, slide to the left or right. The Touch Bar will treat the gesture as if your finger were on the actual slider and will respond accordingly.

This only works if you have the Touch Bar set to show App Controls, and not when you have Expanded Control Strip set (more on this below). 

View the Expanded Control Strip on demand

The standard Control Strip layout contains up to four buttons on the right side of the Touch Bar. You can customize which buttons are always shown by following the steps laid out here (we also outline those steps below). If you touch the < button to the left of the Control Strip, you'll see what's called the Expanded Control Strip. If it looks familiar, that's because it uses the same shortcut key layout that standard Mac keyboards use. 


You don't have to use the default view for the Touch Bar. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Made the Expanded Control Strip the default 

If you don't want the Touch Bar to change and morph its behavior based on the app you're using, giving you options to open new tabs in Safari or send emails in Mail, you can open System Preferences > Keyboard. Click the drop-down menu labeled Touch Bar shows and select Expanded Control Strip. 

The Touch Bar will change instantly, giving you a preview of the changes you've made. If you're happy with the expanded control strip, you can close the system preferences window.


You can, however, set a shortcut to keep viewing app-specific functions. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Use the Fn key as a Touch Bar shortcut

You don't have to fully lose out on any app-specific actions because of your new setting, but you'll need to make take an extra step to ensure the globe or function key works as a shortcut to briefly show app controls. In System Preferences > Keyboard screen, click on the dropdown next to Press and hold (globe/fn) to and select Show App Controls from the list. 

With that option set, whenever you're in an app like Mail and want to use its Touch Bar shortcuts, just hold in the Function/Globe key to view the app's respective controls and then tap the action on the Touch Bar. 


There are plenty of controls you can add to the Touch Bar. 

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Customize the Touch Bar to fit your needs

You're not stuck with the layout and keys that are placed on the Touch Bar by default. You can fully customize what actions are always available, and ditch actions you hardly ever use. 

Customize the Touch Bar by going to System Preferences > Keyboard > Customize Control Strip

With edit mode enabled, drag and drop the buttons you want down to your Touch Bar, or drag those buttons you don't want off of your Touch Bar. Yes, this means you can ditch the Siri shortcut, replacing it with something useful like the screenshot button.

Enlarge Image
GIF by Jason Cipriani/CNET


You can quickly jump ahead or back while watching a video or listening to music on your MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar's built-in scrub tool.

A button that resembles a bar graph will show up to the left of the Control Strip when scrubbing is available. Tap on it, then slide your finger over the scrub tool. If more than one app is available for scrubbing, an app icon will be displayed. Tap the app icon to switch between apps.

Bonus: If you use Safari, you can scrub through ads played before most videos.

Bring the function keys back when you're in a specific app

If you know you need to access the Function keys each time you are in a specific app, you can tell your Mac to always display them when you're in an app. Open System Preferences > Keyboard and click on the Shortcuts tab. From the list of options, select Function Keys, followed by the "+" sign to add an app to the list.

Henceforth, every time you use that app the Touch Bar will only display Function keys.

If you're just getting started with a Mac for the first time or are a longtime user, here are some handy features you need to know. The current OS, Big Sur, has a handful of useful features of its own. And, of course, there are hidden features we've found that are too good not to share.