The Touch Bar on a Mac may sound mysterious. Oh, what is this bar, and why am I touching it? Is there a smart touch feature somewhere? The name is misleading. So before you go literally poking at your screen, the Touch Bar refers to the small rectangular keys above the numbers on your Keyboard. These include the escape button, brightness settings, and volume and playback controls.
The Touch Bar also houses the function keys, which are customizable shortcut keys. To activate them, hold down the fn key and press one of the function keys (from F1 to F12) at the same time.
If you try this and nothing happens, chances are you haven’t set them all up yet. However, there are a few default function keys that may catch you by surprise when your screen suddenly splits to reveal the desktop or a strange report panel pushes out from the side.
We can do much better than this. Let’s learn how to set your default function keys on the Touch Bar.
Setting Touch Bar Function Keys
You do not have to turn your Touch Bar into a shortcut wonderland. It is made to help you access functions you may not use all the time, but don’t want to go search for when the time comes to use it. For instance, you may not need to play Rollercoaster Tycoon every day, but wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to go scrounging around through applications to open it?
- First, go up into the top left-hand corner and select the Apple icon.
- Select System Preferences.
- Navigate to Keyboard> Shortcuts.
- In this view, you will see a few different categories that list a variety of functions. Some of these functions already have shortcuts assigned to them. This doesn’t matter; you can always change this default.
- Select the particular function you wish to assign a Touch Bar command to.
- Click the checkbox to the left of the option and then [add shortcut] to the right.
- In [add shortcut], input the key combination that will trigger the action. In this case, you will be holding down fn and the Touch Bar function key.
- Press Enter, and the new shortcut will appear. You can delete this shortcut and leave it empty if you change your mind.
Now it’s up to you to remember the shortcut you assigned. You can always go back into this setting to double-check.
Setting Function Key to Open Application
If you want to have a function key open up an application as opposed to performing a work function, go to the Apps Shortcut Option on your keyboard shortcuts view.
- Click on the + button.
- Select the All Applications drop-down menu and choose the application. If you don’t see it listed, scroll all the way to the button of the list and select Other.
- Fill out the rest of the information, including the function key shortcut.
- Click Add.
Note: you cannot assign Terminal to a function key.
Useful Touch Bar Commands
If you want to make full use of your Touch Bar, but aren’t sure which commands to assign them, here are some ideas. If there is an existing shortcut assigned, you can always change the default by clicking on the current shortcut and inputting your own Touch Bar function key combo.
In the Services category:
- Capture Full Screen
- Set Desktop Feature
- Reveal in Finder
In the Accessibility category:
- Invert Colors
In Launchpad & Dock category:
- Show Launchpad
In Mission Control category:
- Show Mission Control
Restore to Default
Oops! Made a mistake? Say you just assigned all of your Touch Bar function keys and now realize that’s not what you wanted to do. Go back into your System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and click on the Restore Defaults button. This will bring everything back to the way it was before you started fiddling around with the settings.
The wonders of the Touch Bar! It’s actually the wonders of Mac’s ability to assign shortcuts. Think of the Touch Bar as the place for secondary functions. These aren’t your formatting hotkeys. These are your function keys. It also helps that the Touch Bar is out of the way, this way you aren’t accidentally starting up a video game when you should be writing that paper that was due three days ago for class…or should you be? Hm, maybe you should turn those custom function keys back to default.