By: Darden Copeland

Are you thinking about purchasing a new Apple MacBook Pro with the newest Touch Bar technology? Are you in law school?  If you answered yes to both of these questions, you might want to think again about which of Apple’s machines you want to purchase, depending on your jurisdiction.

Many state bar associations have decided to ban or restrict the use of Apple’s latest and greatest MacBook Pro equipped with the “revolutionary” Touch Bar for fear of bar examinees using the Touch Bar to cheat.[1] Some states are banning the use of laptops with the Touch Bar altogether, while some other states are merely requiring that the feature be turned off during testing.[2]

In October of 2017, Apple unveiled its newest generation of the MacBook Pro notebook computer with multiple options available, including several options with the new Touch Bar.[3]  Located just above the number keys where the traditional function buttons (F1,F2,F3…) would normally be located, the Touch Bar is a 2170 by 60 pixel OLED display touch screen with Retina resolution, optimized for users’ viewing at a 45 degree angle.[4]  The Touch Bar replaces the standard function keys with an with various shortcuts and functions depending on which app is being used on the MacBook Pro.[5]  For example, when using a word processor such as Microsoft Word is being used, the bold, italic, and underline functions to name a few, show up on the Touch Bar, but when browsing the web on Safari, the Touch Bar allows the user to simply touch or swipe to navigate between open tabs.  When typing in most apps, the Touch Bar uses the same wordsmithing technology that the iPhone Messages app uses to guess the words the user is trying to say based upon keyboard input for faster typing.

So why are states banning this ironically named technology for bar examinees?  Examsoft, one of the testing software programs used to administer the bar exam in some states provided that, “by default, the Touch Bar will show predictive text depending on what the student is typing, compromising exam integrity.”[6]  This concern is rooted within the fact that predictive text relevant to the words being typed on the test could be added ahead of examinees’ test date simply by way of the Touch Bar’s software picking up on frequently typed words during studying, or by savvy examinees finding other ways to tamper with the software to input helpful terms.[7]  Some states have offered less explanation when banning MacBook computers with Touch Bars. For example, Colorado banned them citing that the feature is not compatible with the security features of the exam software.[8]

It’s not all bad news for those of you who opted for the high-end Touch Bar option on your new MacBook Pro.  According to Computer Services Coordinator Kim Edwards from the University of Richmond School of Law: in Virginia, the Exam4 software that is used to administer the bar exam initially banned all laptops with the Touch Bar technology for the February 2018 test because the Touch Bar was released after the exam software was written, so Exam4 didn’t have a chance to vet the new hardware and adjust its software effectively.  Now that Exam4 has been able to write software that comports with the Touch Bar, allowing it to be disabled, test takers are able to use their MacBooks with Touch Bars on the Virginia bar exam, after it is temporarily disabled by the Exam4 software.[9]  North Carolina will also allow Mac users with the Touch Bar to use their computers during the bar exam, provided that the feature is disabled.[10]  It is likely that those states that have banned the Touch Bar computers will follow suit and use software that is compatible with it in the coming years.

 

[1]See Don Reisinger, Apple’s Touch Bar-Enabled Macbook Pro Is Barred from Bar Exams, Fortune(Jan. 31, 2017), http://fortune.com/2017/01/31/apple-macbook-pro-bar-exam/; see also Andrew Dalton, Macbook pro Touch Bar Banned from Multiple State Bar Exams, Engadget(Jan. 30, 2017) https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/30/macbook-pro-touch-bar-banned-from-multiple-state-bar-exams/.

[2]See Kelly 846, Feb Bar Exam: No Macbook Pro with Touch Bar Function, Bar Exam Wizard  (Jan. 28, 2017)  https://barexamwizard.wordpress.com/2017/01/28/feb-bar-exam-no-macbook-pro-with-touch-bar-function/.

[3]See Don Reisinger, Apple’s Touch Bar-Enabled Macbook Pro Is Barred from Bar Exams, Fortune(Jan. 31, 2017), http://fortune.com/2017/01/31/apple-macbook-pro-bar-exam/.

[4]See Daniel Eran Dilger, Everything You Need to Know About Apple’s Touch Bar and Touch ID for Macbook Pro, Appleinsider (Nov. 15, 2016) https://appleinsider.com/articles/16/11/15/everything-you-need-to-know-about-apples-touch-bar-and-touch-id-for-macbook-pro;see also Carl Straumsheim, Touch Bar Barred From N.C. Bar Exam, Inside Higher Ed (Jan. 31, 2017) https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2017/01/31/touch-bar-barred-nc-bar-exam.

[5]See Don Reisinger, Apple’s Touch Bar-Enabled Macbook Pro Is Barred from Bar Exams, Fortune(Jan. 31, 2017), http://fortune.com/2017/01/31/apple-macbook-pro-bar-exam/.

[6]See Brian Heater, Touch Bar Macbook Pros Are Being Banned from Bar Exams Over Predictive Text, Tech Crunch (March, 2017) https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/31/no-bar-touch-bar/.

[7]See Natt Garun, Macbook Touch Bar Barred from Bar Test Takers This February, The Verge (Jan. 30, 2017) https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/30/14445638/macbook-touch-bar-disabled-law-exam.

[8]See Id.

[9]Interview with Kim Edwards, Computer Services Coordinator, University of Richmond School of Law, (Mar. 25, 2019).

[10]See Joe Patrice, Multiple Bar Exams Taking Away Computers, Above The Law (Jan. 31, 2017) https://abovethelaw.com/2017/01/multiple-bar-exams-taking-away-computers/.

Image Source: https://furrygoat.com/be-a-geek-again-80f00f89bd57

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