You know, just as I thought the debate about the Touch Bar would wither and die just like the Touch Bar itself, it seems as though it just won’t go away. That is, not if Dell has any say about it.
Dell’s new laptop, the Latitude 9330, has a unique input device: it’s essentially a Touch Bar that seamlessly sits at the top of the trackpad. The laptop is built for the primary purpose of videoconferencing, so its trackpad has a set of controls for muting the mic, opening a chat window, sharing your screen, and turning on or off the camera.
There’s no indication that these trackpad buttons are programmable, which would make the laptop appealing to a wider customer base. It also doesn’t seem as if there’s a tactile difference between the trackpad and those buttons. It doesn’t seem ideal—I don’t think I want any buttons around the trackpad anywhere, and I’d probably move my finger over one of them as I’m moving the cursor and accidentally trigger one of them.
Decades ago, Apple laptops had a trackpad with a mouse button sitting below it. The button was made of a different material than the trackpad and it was raised a bit, so there wasn’t a chance of moving your finger over it inadvertently. In 2008, Apple introduced the Unibody MacBook Pro, which was the first Mac laptop with the button integrated into the trackpad.
Over the years, Apple has made the trackpad larger to a point where there’s just enough space for your palms to rest while typing and most laptop makers have followed suit. We don’t need to think about it, it just works.
But the Latitude 9330 is a different animal. Dell is going all-in on the videoconferencing aspect for the Latitude 9330, outfitting it with many features for that specific purpose—and including a couple that I’d like to see on a MacBook. It has Onlooker Detection, which can detect when someone else is looking at your screen and automatically dim it. And it also has SafeShutter, a physical barrier that covers the webcam when it’s not being used. But first thing’s first—let’s see Apple implement Face ID and Center Stage in a MacBook before getting carried away with other features.
Dell seems to love Touch Bar-like implementations. Back in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, Dell introduced the XPS 13 Plus, which has a true Touch Bar impersonator sitting at the top of the keyboard, above a set of function keys. That laptop has yet to ship. But if the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is any indication, it’s probably not going to catch on.