Photo Corners

A   S C R A P B O O K   O F   S O L U T I O N S   F O R   T H E   P H O T O G R A P H E R

Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.

The New MacBook Pro Conundrum Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

28 October 2016

Be careful what you wish for. Yesterday's introduction of the new MacBook Pro answered prayers for an updated model. But, as Apple can't seem to resist doing, it also removed a feature or two from the package.

On the plus side is the new Touch Bar, a Retina screen that runs across the top of the keyboard where the function keys used to be.

Right, no more function keys. And no more SD slot. And only Thunderbolt 2 ports (if three of them).

Connectivity. Add $200 to replace all this.

So there's your conundrum: give up the SD slot and non-Thunderbolt ports for the new Touch Bar or not?

You can go for the new iron and hang onto your old non-Thunderbolt peripherals by buying adapters or, more cost-effectively, a Thunderbolt hub like the $218.9 OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock with USB, FireWire, HDMI, Ethernet and audio ports. But read on for the $30 answer.


Apple certainly had a problem with its function keys. Any keyboard manufacturer has the same problem.

Function keys can't be blank because you'd never be able to tell them apart easily enough. And labeling them F1 to F12 or so, while it helps, doesn't impart any information about their function.

But, as Apple has shown recently, adding an icon to them isn't a permanent solution. Every MacBook Pro we have uses different icons for the function keys depending on the OS current when it was purchased.

Then there's the Fn key that shifts the function keys to a whole new level of meaning. Which you will have to remember.


Enter the Touch Bar. Now the OS and applications can draw their own function keys (and other things) on the little high-resolution touch-sensitive screen. No more F1 to F12. You get a button with an icon.

In its human interface guideline About the Touch Bar, Apple explains to developers how best to use the thing. A few tips caught our attention:

  • Design a contextual experience.
  • Use the Touch Bar as an extension of the keyboard and trackpad, not as a display.
  • Provide controls that produce immediate results.
  • Respond immediately to user interaction.
  • Avoid using the Touch Bar for tasks associated with well-known keyboard shortcuts.

Sounds like function keys to us. "Don't be cute, make function keys," in short.


How would this work for something like Photoshop, you might wonder.

Photoshop has an extensive list of commands that former product manager John Nack once bravely fought to simplify with Configurator, a palette construction kit.

Many of those commands have keyboard equivalents (rather complex ones, admittedly) and the application lets you change those keyboard triggers to anything that works for you, duly noting any conflicts.

So it won't surprise you to learn Adobe has been working on Touch Bar tricks and even had a beta to show off how Select & Mask might work, providing 1) a simple Touch Bar key to access the mode and 2) subsequently showing a slider to change the size of the selection brush.

Neat-o, as cool kids will one day say.

Adobe has intimated that Photoshop will be optimized for the Touch Bar by the end of the year. But why wait?


Our $30 solution is Keyboard Maestro, which runs on your current MacBook Pro but gives you a row of real function keys you can define however you want (even in Photoshop).

How would that Select & Mask trick work with Keyboard Maestro? Pretty simple, really.

Let's see how it stacks up to the Touch Bar:

  • Contextual. Keys can be defined to be active only when a specific application (or set of applications) is active.
  • Keyboard Extension. Well, they're still keys. No other option there.
  • Immediate Results. Actually they can be quite sophisticated, even presenting a form for you to set options. But they tend to be more straightforward than that. Either way, though, there's no confusion because you (the user) makes them.
  • Immediate Response. No issue there. They're keys and they act like them.
  • Avoiding well-known keyboard shortcuts. Well, you would. Why redefine F1 as Control-C? Who has time for that?

In short, the function keys are keys. They just need a purpose in life. And Keyboard Maestro can help you give them a purpose meaningful to you.


How would that Select & Mask trick work with Keyboard Maestro?

Pretty simple, really. Define a function key as the trigger for the menu selection of Select & Mask (no matter which keyboard equivalent has been assigned to it.

You're done.

Tap the function key (with a modifier, if you prefer) and use the traditional [ and ] keys to change the size of the brush (as always).

And you still have your SD card reader and ports for your peripherals.


To help us remember our Keyboard Maestro macros, we've standardized on the use of one particular key chord. In our case, it's Control-Option and any key. Control-Option says Keyboard Maestro to us.

So, for example, we use Control-Option-F3 to fire off our ingestion script. F3 has an icon that looks like a screen with little windows in it, which reminds us of photos.

For system controls we use the function keys directly. F5 (Dim) and F6 (Brighten) don't do much for us, so we've assigned them to capture a window or the full screen with a Keyboard Maestro macro. Yes, there are utilities for that but it turns out Apple's built-in Terminal commands are just as powerful.

We always have the original key functions available just by including the Fn key modifier.


So Keyboard Maestro has harnessed our function key row much as Touch Bar promises to make itself useful as more applications take advantage of it.

But Keyboard Maestro isn't limited to that row of function keys. One of the more powerful things it can do is built palettes of commands.

Here's a simple example.

We read Ric Ford's Macintouch daily to avoid problems and collect solutions. There's a wealth of command line solutions that you have to run from Terminal.

In Terminal or iTerm, we can hit Control-Option-T to pop up a palette of those command line solutions. Whenever we find another one we like, we just add it to the palette.

When we're not in Terminal or iTerm, Control-Option-T does nothing at all.


We have nothing against the inevitable march of progress. But we do get annoyed when we have to give up useful things like DVD writers and SD card readers to get a new feature, not yet supported by the applications we rely on.

It makes a problem into a conundrum.

Fortunately there's a solution. Peter Lewis has made Keyboard Maestro both easy to use and powerful. We've been through a major OS update without breaking it and continue to rework our automation tools to take advantage of its user interface. We use it every day and recommend it highly.

And you can get it for under $28.80 (regularly $36) using our affiliate link.

BackBack to Photo Corners