Say for example I want to use Touch Bar for time tracking, or todo list application. It'd be super useful to have something that's always there no matter which application I'm viewing.


The Touch Bar is not meant to show background and/or system wide notifications.

Apple has put out a document called macOS Human Interface Guidelines which is intended to communicate to developers how UI elements should be implemented; there's a section specifically about how the touch bar should function.

Under the Design for the Touch Bar Section, it provides guidelines as to how the Touch Bar should be utilized within the context of an App.

Design a contextual experience. Make the Touch Bar relevant to the current context on the main screen. Identify the different contexts within your app, and consider how you can expose varying levels of functionality based on how your app is used.

And more specifically to your question, because "background/system wide applications" would provide notifications and it's UI and to the screen (via Notifications most likely), not through the keyboard:

Use the Touch Bar as an extension of the keyboard and trackpad, not as a display. Although technically it’s a screen, the Touch Bar functions as an input device, not a secondary display. The user may glance at the Touch Bar to locate or use a control, but their primary focus is the main screen. The Touch Bar shouldn’t display alerts, messages, scrolling content, static content, or anything else that commands the user’s attention or distracts from their work on the main screen.

(emphasis mine)

  • 1
    Of course unrelated to the question, which is fully answered here. But I have to say, that's a pity. Helper apps would make perfect sense on the touch bar. E.g. when color picking with drop (app store), you want the clipboard with your picked colors to stick around precisely after you changed the focus to the target app. Else, you can't paste. Or, simply the clipboard, alfred's or pastebot's multi-clipboard: makes perfect sense if they could be tied to the touch bar. Just sayin'. – Urs May 3 '17 at 9:23
  • Also, Facetime pops in when a call comes in, without being actually running in the foreground. So maybe there's still a chance for the mentionned scenarios – Urs May 3 '17 at 18:05
  • How does Spotify work in this regard? – Guido Jun 1 '17 at 21:41
  • @GuidoGarcía I would imagine Spotify follows these guidelines, but you would have to check with them for an answer to this question. – Allan Jun 1 '17 at 21:52

Apple's developer API reference for NSTouchBar explicitly states how the contents of the Touch Bar are determined (emphasis mine):

On supported MacBook Pro models, the Touch Bar, above the keyboard, shows instances of the NSTouchBar class from the front-most app.

macOS itself regulates what is shown on the Touch Bar at what time, and as noted above, this changes when the front-most app does.

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