How to Fake the Touch Bar on an Old Mac

By David Nield on at

Hey did you see those new MacBook Pros? One of their big new features is the Touch Bar, an OLED strip that morphs into pretty much whatever button or slider you need it to be. Well, you don’t have to shell out thousands of pounds to get the Touch Bar experience anymore: here’s how to test it out today.

As spotted by the fine folks at 9to5Mac, a couple of helpful developers have uploaded a Touch Bar demo app to GitHub, so you can give it a whirl yourself for free. You can either run it on macOS and access it via the Function key, or run it on an iPad connected via USB to your laptop.

In the case of macOS, you need to make sure you’re running the very latest build, macOS Sierra 10.12.1 build 16B2657 or above. This has the Touch Bar functionality written into it, and earlier versions won’t work. Download the latest zip package and extract the contents into your Applications folder and run the app (you may need to Ctrl+click and choose Open to override the macOS security settings).

Tap the Fn key and hey presto, the Touch Bar appears, changing dynamically based on the app you’re using. Your Mac obviously doesn’t have a touchscreen, but you can select the various features by clicking on them. It’s admittedly a long way from the full and authentic Touch Bar experience, but it’s a fun way to test out Apple’s newest tech on your current machine.

The iPad version is perhaps more interesting and a bit more fiddly to set up, because you need to side-load the app onto iOS and keep your tablet plugged into your laptop via a USB cable. If you’re prepared to put in the legwork then you can control a virtual Touch Bar on your iPad that affects what’s on screen on your Mac.

While this demo app isn’t as helpful or as intuitive as the real Touch Bar, you can see which apps support it and which functions you can access without too much effort. It might be enough to tempt you to upgrade your MacBook Pro this Christmas after all.