Supercharge your trackpad

Four Essential Trackpad Tips

Trackpads are an awesome alternative to a mouse for Mac users. Trackpads require less energy and less force to move around, and they don’t need a flat smooth surface to operate on. You can also configure them to do much more than you expected. Here’s how…

If you have an Apple laptop there’s one built in of course, and desktop users can purchase Apple’s Magic Trackpad which is wireless and works like a charm with MultiTouch and VoiceOver.

Get Your Ergonomics Right

Even for those with a laptop, right in the middle between your hands is not the most ergonomic position for a trackpad. Consider purchasing an external Magic Trackpad to use when you are using your trackpad far an extended period.

If you’re already using an external trackpad, make sure it’s in the best and most comfortable position for you. If you have a disability, an occupational therapist might be able to help you with positioning.

Trackpad resting on a pure white cat who seems to be asleep.
Sleeping cats make fun trackpad supports but they do tend to leave at inopportune moments!

I also put large blobs of Sugru on the corners of my trackpad, as you can see in the photo, so that it doesn’t get cracked when I drop it. I’m somewhat clumsy so this happens many times a week!

Learn All Your Gestures

The first step to supercharging all your gestures is to open System Preferences > Trackpad and explore what’s there. If you hold the pointer over each setting you can see small videos of how each gesture is performed.

Screenshot of trackpad system preferences pane.
There are three tabs in the Trackpad preferences – “Point & Click”, “Scroll & Zoom”, and “More Gestures.” Make sure you check them all out.

Practice and learn these gestures – there are probably at least a few you aren’t familiar with.

Customise Your Gestures

Back in the System Preferences > Trackpad pane again, you can see that beside some of the gestures there’s a small downward pointing arrow, as shown here for the “Mission Control” gesture:

Screen shot of Trackpad preferences.
Customizing which gesture opens Mission Control on my Mac.

These let you choose which gesture performs the action that’s there. Some of them can’t be changed, but about half of them can be.

If you are fiddling around with these options, like I was writing this article, do take care – the preferences are “smart” and won’t let you assign the same gesture to two functions. So if you set one of the options to something that would double up, the old one automatically gets reassigned without really telling you!

You can also disable any gestures you want by clicking on the checkbox to the left of the gesture name. In the picture above, I have disabled ‘Swipe Between Pages’ because I kept hitting it by mistake instead of the notifications gesture.

System Preferences - Accessibility - Mouse and Trackpad

Another way that OS X lets you customize your trackpad’s behaviour is hidden in the accessibility settings. Open up System Preferences, then Accessibility then scroll the left panel down to “Mouse & Trackpad”. You can change the double-click speed, and click on “Trackpad Options” as shown here to set some scrolling and dragging options.

Supercharge Your Trackpad With 3rd Party Programs

If even your customized gestures don’t suit, or you’d like more gestures and more control over how your trackpad behaves, there are two major programs that OS X users can use to customize trackpad behaviour:

BetterTouchTool and JITouch

Both of these will let you add a bunch of new gestures and let those gestures do a bunch of new things, as well as configuring your trackpad in other ways. They do have somewhat different functions though so it’s worth exploring both to see what you like best. For those who make extensive use of their trackpad, these can save you a huge amount of time, energy, and hassle once you get used to them!

Don’t go overboard when adding new gestures – add one, get used to using it, get used to how it works, then add another one a week or two later. Otherwise you’ll find you aren’t using most of the new power because you’ve just forgotten what’s there, or you’ll trigger them by mistake and wonder what on earth is going on.

I love my trackpad to bits! Even after using it for years, having a great wireless multi-touch trackpad is still one of my favourite things about my Mac!

– Ricky

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