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How to: Get the most out of touch gestures on the MacBook

Touchscreens are becoming the norm on laptops as they add a new dimension for working with the system. MacBooks have great trackpads that make a touchscreen unnecessary when used properly.
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Essential touch gestures for the MacBook trackpad

The popularity of tablets is due in large part to the utility of working with them using the touchscreen. Touchscreens are moving to the laptop as a result, and some feel they are mandatory for a good user experience. This leaves the MacBook behind, as Apple has yet to bring touch to the laptop screen.

That’s not as big an omission as some may think, due to the good job Apple has done with touch on the MacBook trackpad. They have large pads that work without fault, and Apple’s engineers have developed good touch gestures that make using OS X productive and natural.

There are some basic trackpad gestures that most MacBook owners are probably familiar with, and others worth learning. Using the gestures in this collection will help any MacBook owner get the most out of the laptop and OS X.

The gestures as presented are for the integrated trackpad on the MacBook. Most should work using Apple's Magic Trackpad with other Apple systems.

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Page scroll

The gesture to scroll up and down in windows is most likely familiar to MacBook owners, but it's worth mentioning just in case.

Scrolling up and down in web pages and apps with scrollable windows is a simple process. Using two fingers, swipe up or down to move down or up the page.

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Switching between running apps

On the MacBook, apps run in windows that can reside on the screen at one time. It is possible to put two apps side by side for referring to them both at the same time.

OS X also lets most apps run in full-screen mode, which is particularly useful on the MacBook Air with the low-resolution display. This is my preferred method of working with apps on my 11.6-inch Air, due to the gesture for moving from one app to another.

Switching apps
Image snapped in transition between apps

 

Swiping to the left or right with three fingers rotates among running apps. The display fluidly transitions from one app to the next. Apps rotate in the order they appear in Mission Control, where they can be dragged to the user's preferred order. This can be done quite easily given the gesture to access Mission Control, detailed on the next slide.

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Launch Mission Control

Mission Control is a screen in OS X that shows an overview of all running apps (see image below). All workspaces are depicted in addition to all running apps.

To quickly access this overview, using four fingers swipe up on the trackpad. You can tap any thumbnail in Mission Control to go straight to that app or desktop. To stay where you were when you opened Mission Control swipe down on the trackpad with four fingers.

Mission Control
Mission Control in OS X

 

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Show desktop

Those who prefer running apps in windows are familiar with how crowded the screen can get with all those apps displaying at once. For those times you need to quickly get to the bare desktop, this gesture is for you.

Using the thumb and three fingers, spread them out toward the edge of the trackpad. This makes all windows disappear and instantly brings you to the desktop.

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Open Launchpad

OS X has a Launchpad (see image below) that shows all installed apps in a style similar to iOS on the iPad. It's a convenient method for finding the app you need. You can tap any app in the Launchpad to run it, and swipe through the multiple screens.

To instantly open the Launchpad, using the thumb and four fingers pinch in on the trackpad. You can return to the point you were when you opened Launchpad by reversing the pinch gesture.

Launchpad
Launchpad

 

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Rotate images in Preview

Preview is the multi-purpose app in OS X for viewing images and PDF documents. The pinch-and-zoom gesture previously covered can be used in Preview to good affect.

When you want to rotate images in Preview, simply perform a rotate gesture on the trackpad using two fingers.

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Move back and forth through web pages

When surfing the web it's common to use the Previous/ Next page buttons to go back and forward in the browser. OS X has a convenient trackpad gesture to make this possible without moving the cursor.

Swipe left or right using two fingers to slide through pages previously viewed. 

Note this doesn't work consistently in Chrome since the Mavericks update. It works well in Safari.

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Pinch zoom

Anyone who owns a smartphone or tablet should be familiar with using the pinch-to-zoom gesture to make whatever is on the screen get larger or smaller. MacBook owners shouldn't overlook the same capability using the trackpad.

It works the same on the laptop as on other devices. Pinch in with two fingers to make things smaller and spread them out to make them bigger. This works in most apps in OS X.

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Look up definitions in Safari

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Scrub video in QuickTime

If you need to move slowly forward or backward while working with a video in QuickTime (scrubbing), swipe left or right on the trackpad using two fingers.

Bonus tip for QuickTime —  To enter or exit full-screen mode in QuickTime, perform a two-finger spread or pinch on the trackpad.

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