How to Get a Hardware Escape Key on MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
The new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar model includes a Touch Bar screen in lieu of the standard hardware function keys and escape key. Removing the Escape key may not be a big deal to some Mac users, but for many pro users having no hardware escape key could be considered a major frustration or nuisance.
Before you get too bummed out by not having a hardware escape key on your fancy new MacBook Pro, know that the latest versions of MacOS allow you to modify a select group of other keys to become a hardware escape key instead.
For what it’s worth, this trick to modify a key to perform a hardware Escape function works not only on the newest MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, but also with other Mac models without Touch Bar as well. The only thing you need is the latest version of macOS system software, so be sure you update Mac OS first if you have not done so already.
How to Remap Escape Key on Mac
- Go to the Apple menu and choose “System Preferences” and then go to the “Keyboard” preference panel and choose the “Keyboard” tab
- Click on the “Modifier Keys” button in the lower right corner
- Choose the key you want to remap and modify to perform the Escape function: Caps Lock (our recommendation), Control, Option, or Command
- Select “Escape” from the dropdown list corresponding to the key you want to remap as a hardware Escape key then click “OK” to set the change
Now you can press the Caps Lock key (or the Control, Option, or Command keys) to use as a hardware escape key. Yes that will mean relearning your deeply ingrained Escape key location in the upper left corner of the keyboard to the new location which you chose (granted the virtual escape key will still be visible sometimes depending on the application in use on the Mac, and assuming the application is not unresponsive), but it works, and it serves the purpose of having a physical hardware escape key on the Mac which can be helpful for force quitting apps and other tasks which are best served with a hardware escape key.
The Caps Lock key is arguably the most useless key of the hardware keys, so it makes a good for replacing the Escape key on MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It is probably not recommended to replace the Control, Option, or Command keys, as those keys are used frequently on the Mac for many purposes, and thus would be largely inappropriate to remap for most Pro users.
Keep in mind this has no impact on the indented virtual Escape key that appears on the Touch Bar with some applications and when you have the Touch Bar shown in the default mode. The indented virtual Escape key will still work as usual, assuming the application is not unresponsive anyway.
Escape Key Alternatives on MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
The Touch Bar and virtual escape key can be a real challenge for many touch typers with the MacBook Pro Touch Bar models. Aside from no longer having haptic feedback of a pressable key, the indentation of the virtual Escape key, and having to re-train yourself to use a tiny touch screen can be frustrating. For many MacBook Pro with Touch Bar users, this takes considerable adjustment, and some never quite adapt. You can learn more about using the Escape key on Touch Bar Macs, and we’ve also discussed separately how to force quit with the Touch Bar, which can be another difficulty for some. So what are the alternatives?
- Remapping the ESC key to another key, like Caps Lock as detailed above
- Using “Control [” as a key sequence for Escape may work for some Mac users (will not work on all Macs however)
- Using an external keyboard with a hardware Escape key in the normal position of an Escape key
If you have a Touch Bar on your Mac, did you remap the Escape key or are you satisfied with the virtual escape key? Let us know in the comments.