Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

Summary: I do a lot of writing and video editing. So I wasn't sure Apple's new Magic Trackpad would work for me. It isn't for every workload, but the advantages are real and useful if you need them. Here's why.


I do a lot of writing and video editing. So I wasn't sure Apple's new Magic Trackpad would work for me. It isn't for every workload, but the advantages are real and useful if you need them. Here's my review.

Why bother? I work on 2 1920 screens, side by side. Moving the cursor across 3800 pixels takes some mad fast swiping. I don't use a mouse because it requires too much desktop real estate and repetitive wrist motion.

Instead I use the fine Logitech Trackman Wheel: intuitive, ergonomic; sturdy; and easy to clean. Balling all day is no problem. But it isn't perfect.

The wheel gives vertical scrolling, not horizontal. When inside a web page, spreadsheet, timeline or mindmap, the trackball doesn't help.

Not a huge problem, but it's nice to be able to use gestures to move between web pages and applications as well as scrolling.

MT set-up The MT arrived Friday. It requires the latest version of the Mac OS (update: 32 & 64 bit XP, Vista & W7 drivers are available too), and needs a driver and preferences software for full function - software you have to download. A few minutes to download, install and restart, plus a painless pairing, and I was good to go.

I have experience with gestures from my MacBook and iPhone. But the MacBook is my travel machine. Using a trackpad all day, every day is a big change.

Experience As I'd hoped the MT has replaced my trackball because the gestures allow me to do more: pinch webpages and pdf's; move between webpages with a 3 finger swipe; scroll vertically & horizontally through documents and Final Cut Pro timelines. Cool.

The biggest problem is physical clicking. The MT doesn't float on a frame the way it does on a notebook. Instead, 2 feet on the base are switches: press the pad and they click. But the feet are on the low edge of the pad, so the pressure required to click them varies from the top of the pad to the bottom. After a few hundred clicks you notice the difference.

Also, the buttons are stiff. It takes much more force to click the MT than on a MacBook. You won't notice it at first, but after a few hours your wrist will.

Fortunately, you can select tap-to-click in the preferences and ignore the stiff switches. Tapping is much easier and I found it easy to learn.

The Storage Bits take All in all, a fine product and a modest but real advance in desktop man-machine interaction. If you like the gesture interface on an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or MacBook you'll like the Magic Trackpad. If not, save your money.

But it isn't for everyone. Gamers won't dump their controllers for it. It supports multiple ways to perform right and left clicks and select and drag, but dedicated buttons work better when you're moving fast.

The same can be said for hard working video, audio and photo pros. If you've got a fast mouse/keyboard workflow, the learning curve and loss of hardware buttons may not work for you. I like it for Final Cut Pro, but I'm not pounding FCP all day either.

Magical? No. Useful? Yes. That's good enough for me.

Comments welcome, of course. FWIW, I bought the MT with my money.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • Why not use both cursor devices?

    My home system incorporates a dual screen setup using a 24 inch monitor attached to my MacBook. I have been using a Magic Mouse with third party multitouch gesture support with great success.

    Last week I purchased the MT and have sinced been using it in tandem with my mouse. The two devices compliment each other. Of course having both a mouse and the MT together is quite unnecessary but it doesn't hurt to have the other multitouch gestures available.

    It should be noted that the Apple Magic Tackpad is available with 32 and 64 bit Windows drivers as well. (Downloadable from Apple's support site)
  • Here's an idea

    With those two 1920 screens side-by-side, why don't you use an operating system which lets the menus follow the apps instead of being glued to the top of a single screen? Much less cursor movement that way ;-)
    • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us


      Trust me, your point really isn't an operational hinderance on a dual screen OSX setup.

      In almost all situations, the App that you are using at the time will be positioned on the "primary" screen while the other opened apps will be positioned on the "secondary" one.

      Plus, OSX uses "right mouse click" button program content associated actions .. just like Windows and Linux .. that compliments the single top screen menu bar options.
  • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

    I find gestures to be quite annoying. A friend bought a new laptop recently and it had gestures, kept resizing the screen and everything so I very quickly disabled those. With all the swiping, pinching, and other arm movements your more likely to hurt yourself and develop RSI. Gestures aren't for me, way too annoying and work when you don't want them to.
    Loverock Davidson
  • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

    Using gestures on my Macbook Pro has been a great experience, and once you get use to it, it really does speed up how you work with the machine. In fact, when using my older G4 tower, I now find myself starting to gesture, only to then remember that I don't have that functionality with the G4--and apparently, never will with Apple's new trackpad: you have to have Snow Leopard installed, and the G4 can't go beyond 10.5.8.

    It's disappointing that only Snow Leopard users can use this--and I would have bought one too.
  • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

    I have to say, gesture-based PC control is not my thing. From my experience with a gesture-enabled Asus Eee PC netbook, the gestures are too imprecise when compared with a mouse with scroll wheel and programmable secondary buttons. Even the touchpad by itself is more trouble than it's worth when using some of the available gestures.

    Given what I've read in reviews of the Magic Trackpad, I think I'll stick with my Microsoft mouse.
    • Comparing Asus and Apples

      I don't know what gestures Asus defines, but the gestures in OS X are simple, easy, and actually very precise. The very first thing you notice is that the number of fingers on the trackpad instantly defines the "subset" of gestures you will be using such as navigation, history, Expose (similar to AeroPeek in some ways), zoom, and scroll.

      Since the gestures themselves are based on the OS and the hardware involved I don't think you can use them on one system and apply that expectation directly to another. I use trackballs on my Windows laptop and my Mac Pro, a Microsoft Curve mouse (excellent product) on my Asus desktop, and Apple's gesture based trackpad on my MacBook. I prefer the trackpad overall.

      The final thing I would add is that the trackpad itself is crucial. Apple's are large and nearly frictionless with their glass surfaces (MUCH smoother than the iPhone screen). That makes all the difference. If I could use the exact same gestures on my Windows laptops, I absolutely would not do it. The textured plastic on one and the friction inducing plastic on the other would make the experience unworkable. The 3 or 4 default gestures that are programmed into each are horrible, not because of the gesture, but because of the hardware. I don't use them on those machines.

      When it comes to gesture input, the whole is decidedly more than the sum of it's parts.
    • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us


      You know, a lot of this probably has to do with the following:

      1. a poorly written track pad driver
      2. a poorly designed/insensitive track pad on your Asus Eee PC netbook

      What a lot of people forget is that the same listed features on different computers does not mean the same experience. So, just because a PC laptop has "gestures" and a Mac laptop does too doesn't mean that the implementation on either machine are exactly alike.

      On my Mac, I use some gestures but not all of them. The ones I used the most are swiping left and right, and up and down. I also use the rotate and zoom motion for photos or when reading PDF. That's about it. There are other gestures that I don't use and turn off. So, another point here is that just because a trackpad comes with gestures doesn't mean you have to use all of them. Pick the ones most natural or meaningful for you to use and turn off the other ones. Simple.
  • To Gesture of not to Gesture

    Well, I guess it's okay, if your're wanking, and there's certainly nothing wrong with wanking. It's absurd for any kind of serious production, which leads to another problem of perception. Not only do I look even sillier than normal when gesturing, but I'm broadcasting to the world that I'm wanking, which is even worse for those wankers who believe their wanking is actually productive! They didn't realize how silly they looked, or how silly they WERE with the "ear cells", and these same unfortunates have no idea how silly they look when gesturing. So I'm sticking with my cordless trackball. It's a style/privacy issue...
    • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

      I had no idea anyone was looking at me while I was using my computer. But then, I don't really mind, if that's what they want to do. And I don't think I look silly...
  • RE: Magic Trackpad: gestures for the rest of us

    I have arthritis, dupuytren's contracture, and trigger finger all in my right hand. Using a mouse all day long leaves my hand throbbing and useless. I loved the Magic Mouse, still do. The gestures are intuitive and there's no trackball to gum up.
    I had never really liked trackpads on my Macs. Shifting to the center of the keyboard just didn't feel right. However, having the Magic Trackpad where my hand would normally be resting on a mouse seems very natural. I can open my hand and relax the tendons and still be productive. I've had it a week now and consider it the next wave of user interface for personal computers. Anyone with any physical issues with using a mouse should give it a test drive.