Apple’s new T1 chip that drives MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar runs “eOS”, a variant of watchOS

By , Oct 28, 2016

MacBook Pro Touch Bar emoji image 001

If early impressions are an indication, the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro is definitely not a gimmick. The time-saving feature lets you accomplish common tasks faster without needing to memorize a bunch of app-specific keyboard shortcuts.

Instead or remembering a shortcut or wasting time finding it in the menus, you just touch one of the system-wide or app-specific icons that are displayed on the Touch Bar.

For the hardware geeks among us, the more interesting aspect of the Touch Bar is the Apple-designed silicon behind it, dubbed the T1. As developer Steven Troughton-Smith has discovered, the Touch Bar is actually a mini Apple Watch.

The T1 chip is apparently code-named “Bridge”.

It seems to run off of a special watchOS disk image, but it’s not the complete watchOS that’s required to run Apple Watch apps and the full user interface. The chip sends pixel buffers over USB for the display on the OLED touch strip.

The T1 silicon is a standalone ARM device (Apple’s A-series chips incorporate CPU cores that are also based on ARM technology). The T1’s operating system appears to be called eOS, perhaps a shortened version of “embeddedOS”.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar Photos image 001

This embedded operating system could allow Apple to do exciting things in the future. As Troughton-Smith speculated, certain iOS services like iMessage apps and iOS extensions may be able to take advantage of that chip if Apple allows it:

Today it might be similar to an Apple Watch in capability, but there’s so much potential for this to grow. The Touch Bar theoretically could run while the rest of the machine is turned off, so you get all the low-power and security benefits of an iOS device, without having to switch to ARM completely on the desktop.

Perhaps someday it could run a higher class processor, like Apple’s A-series chips, and allow macOS to ‘run’ iOS apps and Extensions, like iMessage apps, or manage notifications, system tasks, networking, during sleep, without having to power up the x86 CPU.

Apple said at yesterday’s event that the T1 also packs in a Secure Enclave and manages the security of input devices like the built-in Touch ID sensor, the Touch Bar itself and even the front-facing camera.

Troughton-Smith told The Verge:

From everything I can piece together, the T1 chip in the new MacBook Pro is a variant of the system-on-a-chip used in the Apple Watch. Running watchOS on the T1 lets the Mac benefit from Apple’s deep work on iOS embedded security, as the T1 gates access to the Touch ID sensor and, from the looks of it, the front-facing camera in the new MacBook Pro too.

He added that the T1 has no fixed storage, which is why it boots from a 25-megabyte watchOS ramdisk. “Granted, the ‘watchOS’ the T1 runs is presumably only ‘watchOS’ by dint of the CPU it’s designed for,” he said.

The T1 must be “very similar” to the original Apple Watch’s S1 chip, he added.

Apple S1 image 002

iOS hacker @iH8sn0w speculates that the T1 and Touch ID are factory-paired so you can’t replace one without the other—similar to how the Touch ID sensor and the A-series processor in the iPhone are paired together in the factory.

Theoretically, the T1 may even be able to power the Touch Bar while the Mac’s main processor is off similar to how the M-series motion coprocessors track your movement and device sensors when the main processor is idle or asleep.

I can’t wait for iFixit to tear this new chip apart and peek under its hood.

Source: Steven Troughton-Smith via The Verge

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  • Jose Rivera

    Actually the cable that connects Touch ID to the iPhone on the iPhone 6 and later doesn’t need to be the one that comes with your device. I’ve swapped screens with friends and he only thing I’ve swapped is the Touch ID sensor since I know for a fact those are married to the processor. You can use just about any cable on the 6 and later to connect Touch ID…

  • Chloe Elizabeth Wade

    U might wanna edit this article, you put ‘OLD Touch Strip’, instead of OLED.

  • Rolf Bause

    Touch Bar, definitely a gimmick. I can hardly imagine how this thing would save me time… But have to admit it: Surface Studio is no gimmick.

    • techfreak23

      I completely agree with you. It seems more gimmicky than anything for true power users. The only benefit I see from this is to help basic users that don’t know keyboard shortcuts or how to use their trackpads properly because a lot of the implementation I have seen so far seems pretty redundant.

      With all of the other “upgrades” (I’m talking complete strip down of ports), Apple is leaving Microsoft a lot of wiggle room for them to snatch some of the pro user marketshare back with their Surface line.

      • Rolf Bause

        Exactly. It’s sold as “the next big thing” and “pro” to basic users… for an absolutely ridiculous price on top…

      • IDK, the ability to customize the top row of otherwise near useless keys for every app to my personal productivity preferences I think will be huge (obviously only time will tell). While it’s great for not pros as you point out I think if done right this could be HUGE.

        As far as the strip down of the ports, if there was only room for 4 ports and you had to choose what would you put in there? Thunderbolt 3 seems like an obvious choice due to it’s unparalleled multithreaded throughput and it’s ability to literally become anything you need with adapters. Any other port would have been useless to someone. If you want the greatest flexibility with the most power for professionals putting 4 thunderbolts seems to be the absolute best way to move forward.

        Personally I plan on attaching a desktop grade graphics card into my Thunderbolt 3 port to power a lot of awesome thing 😉 Try doing that on any other computer Apple has ever made (desktop or laptop)

      • Rolf Bause

        So, you don’t use the Esc key ;)?

        And I’m not even ranting about the ports, although I think it definitely wouldn’t have killed them to build in at least 1 USB A port… I think this is acceptable (Thank god the dedicated Thunderbolt ports are finally gone). But different story with the SD card slot again. Why do they deliberately have to be such a pain in the ass, by eliminating all these features? It seems they rather nag everyone for years in the here and now, in order to give you the “future”.

    • Comparing Touch Bar with Surface Studio isn’t exactly a fair comparison… Comparing Touch Bar to the Surface Dial however would be a different story.

      Personally I’m excited for the Touch Bar as I currently have a row of keys at the top of my computer that I almost never use. Now things like my programing apps can give me access to tools and commands that weren’t as easily accessible as before. Since it’s customizable too as well I essentially should have the option to customize the top row of buttons for every application I run. That to me is going to be a huge productivity boost!

      Comparing the features of the two, I’d take the Touch Bar over the Surface Dial any day.

      • Rolf Bause

        The Surface seems to be the way more interesting input device to me. Actually, video editors use similar dials to cut already, musicians use knobs and dials in their software, I’m sure the digital graphics department will use them too… I think what MS showed there was the better concept, not ashamed to admit that… Why?
        Because it’s a very precise input device, way more precise than swiping on a small touch screen could ever be. And it’s not like we don’t have the ability to swipe… there’s a trackpad on every MacBook!
        And the problem I have with the Touch Bar is: you have to look down on the keyboard in order to tap sth. With a keyboard I never have to look up, I can feel where every key is. I think this is going to be more of a distraction, than a time saver. For everything not monofunctional you have a 13/15 inch screen right in front of your nose :)!

      • I know the wheel is a popular choice, but you’re incorrect in saying that it’s because it’s more precise. The advantage that a radial slider has over a linear one is that it isn’t limited in its range. You can slide along a circle indefinitely which makes it a great option for a lot of people. But in terms of control it’s not more precise.

        Also I find it interesting that we are both looking at these products for the same reasons 😛 I’m more excited about the touch bar because I wouldn’t have to look at it as much as the dial. Eventually I’ll memorize where buttons are in various apps, but on the dial I’m limited to one function at a time and changing them requires me to look at it as the touch screen menu on the device can’t possibly be used otherwise. Not to mention it’s support for interactions is inherently very limited.

        The Wheel can scroll indefinitely which is a plus. But it can’t provide a realistic method for things like auto correct choices, color selections, common programming functions etc. It’s great for an artist that is using a pencil and wants to easily adjust brush sizes regularly however! If you are using the Surface Studio as an artist then the dial is the perfect accompaniment! But in terms of day to day usage, the touch bar far exceeds the potential of the dial, doesn’t require batteries, isn’t limited to a few apps and functions, can allow users to do more than one thing at a time, doesn’t require you to take your hand off the keyboard to perform functions, can’t get lost, and ultimately can be used with muscle memory eyes free.

  • That at least solves the question “What about if you’re running Windows/Linux?” I’m guessing now that eOS will most likely default to simulating the old function key layout, instead of just being a useless extra screen replacing potentially useful keys.

  • george

    Tim Cooks apple is a sad reality.

    • Tim Cook unveils the most powerful and versatile laptop Apple has ever created and it’s a sad reality? For who?

      • george

        For morons like yourself who think this is the most powerful laptop.

      • I never said it was the most powerful laptop. I said it was the most powerful on Apple has ever created. Believe it or not, there actually is a difference between those two sentences.

  • Im surprised that they are using a separate OS to run what is essentially another screen. Especially after seeing them drag icons into it and how seamlessly it works with whatever the “other OS” is doing. Makes me wonder what the advantage is to this.

    • عبدالرحمن الشياب

      I think the answer is: to prevent the TouchBar from stopping responding if the whole machine do, so you can at least use the power button on it.