How to use MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar on an external display

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How to use Touch Bar on any Mac
Don't lose your Touch Bar when your MacBook Pro is closed.
Image: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

If you’ve grown to love your MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar and all the tools and shortcuts it provides, you likely miss it when you have your machine hooked up to an external display. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s how to bring the Touch Bar to any screen so that you can continue to use it even when your MacBook Pro is closed.

We know a lot of MacBook Pro fans hate the Touch Bar. Recent rumors claim Apple may even kill it with a future MacBook Pro refresh. But for now, it’s sticking around, and some users have grown to appreciate what it does.

Whether you use it to scrub through YouTube videos, to quickly access common tools in apps like Photoshop, to access emojis inside Message, or simply to adjust system volume, the Touch Bar can be incredibly handy.

But what if your MacBook Pro is hooked up to an external display and difficult to reach, or closed up entirely? Well, thanks to a free app called Touch Bar Simulator, you can use the Touch Bar on any screen. Here’s how.

Take MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar anywhere

Touch Bar Simulator is exactly what its name suggests — an app that simulates the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. What’s great about it is even though it’s a third-party app, it functions exactly the same as a real Touch Bar.

So, all the shortcuts and tools you’re used to seeing, even your custom Touch Bar layout, will appear in Touch Bar Simulator just as you would expect. And it even works on Macs that don’t have a Touch Bar built-in.

To get started, download Touch Bar Simulator. If your Mac refuses to open the file because it’s from an “untrusted” source, follow these steps:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click Security & Privacy.
  3. Under General, click the Open Anyway button.

The file you just downloaded should now open. Drag Touch Bar Simulator to your Applications folder, then open it. The app will appear at the bottom of your screen in its own window, but you can move it anywhere you like.

How to use Touch Bar on any Mac
Drag the window to put Touch Bar Simulator anywhere.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Using Touch Bar Simulator

By default, Touch Bar Simulator will slightly transparent, so you’ll be able to see onscreen content behind it. To adjust its transparency, or disable it completely, use the slider in the top-right corner of the window.

To interact with Touch Bar Simulator, simply click its buttons with your mouse pointer. Click and hold — just like you would on a real Touch Bar — to access things like the volume and brightness sliders.

How to use Touch Bar on any Mac
Right-click Touch Bar Simulator’s menu bar icon to access preferences.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

Right-click the Touch Bar Simulator icon in your Mac’s menu bar to access preferences. You can choose whether to display the app on all desktops, to have it hide and show automatically, and to launch it automatically at login.