Blog Post

Multi-touch on the MacBook Pro

A rumor surfaced on the internet this weekend hinting that the next revision of the MacBook Pro will have the same multi-touch abilities as the Air. That’d be logical, after all – the MacBook Pro’s haven’t been updated in a while, and that would be a nice feature, right?


The only problem with that is that they’ve already got it. Doubt me? Check out the page on Apple’s website discussing the various multi-touch gestures. (For everyone’s convenience, I’ve copied that picture here.) There are ten gestures, outlined below.

Scroll: This gesture is simple; place two fingers on the trackpad and slide them around. Easily done on the MBP. (It even does sideways and – in Leopard – diagonal scrolling, provided the appropriate checkbox is ticked in System Preferences > Keyboard and Mouse > Trackpad.)

Swipe: This seems like scroll – two fingers and sliding. However, in the demo, it is used to slide quickly between images. This one, I cannot get my MBP to do; it will scroll happily to the right or left of the selected image, then stop.  Further study does make this look like three fingers.

Pinch and Expand: The name is pretty explanatory – pinch to zoom out, and expand to zoom in – and the gestures look just like the iPhone! Sadly, also a no-go on the MBP.

Rotate: Again, obvious.

Screen Zoom: Hold the control key and slide two fingers forward and back on the trackpad. The MBP does this perfectly.

Tap: I don’t know why Apple even bothered listing this as a multi-touch gesture, but okay. Again, the MBP is more than capable of it. (It needs to be selected in System Preferences.)

Click and drag / click, drag, and lock: Two gestures on the Apple demos, one on here, and again, the name is explanatory. The MBP can do both of these, provided the user has checked the appropriate boxes in the Trackpad preference pane.

Secondary click A / secondary click B: As was discussed in another article’s comment thread, all Intel laptops and certain PowerPC ones can support a right click by tapping on the trackpad with two fingers. There also seems to be a correlation between Leopard and this functionality; older iBooks running Leopard have this feature, while newer ones that are still using Tiger do not. (This also requires selecting non-default options from the Trackpad preference pane.)

Now, according to my calculations, the MacBook Pro can do seven of the actions that Apple describes as ‘multi-touch gestures.’  Those seven are scroll, screen zoom, tap, click and drag, click, drag, and lock, secondary click A, and secondary click B. The other three gestures – swipe, pinch and expand, and rotate – do not. Seventy percent of a feature that it doesn’t even supposedly have isn’t bad in my book.

However, only one of the unsupported gestures requires more than two fingers, which the MBP has already shown that it can handle.  As was noted by one commenter on this article – thanks, James! – it can detect the difference between two fingers and three.  This, then, makes me assume that we will see the full palette of multi-touch gestures on the MBP – but not as a hardware update. That, in turn, is further supported by the appearance of some limited multi-touch abilities in older PowerPC machines running Leopard – perhaps Leopard even contains the frameworks for all of the above gestures, just waiting to be unlocked. There are also certain third-party utilities, of which SideTrack may be the most well known, that can add some of these functions.

10.5.2, anyone?

(All of this research was performed on a 2.16Ghz MacBook Pro specimen, birthdate April 2006, running Leopard 10.5.1, with no third-party enhancements that would affect trackpad functionality. I attempted to duplicate the Apple demos as closely as I could. I opened a folder of pictures in Preview and tried the same finger motions. The presence or absence of gestures was secondarily tested on a 867Mhz iBook, also running Leopard 10.5.1, and also without enhancements.)

19 Responses to “Multi-touch on the MacBook Pro”

  1. Te queria asegurar que tu post me parece muy agradable, felicidades, ademas estoy browseando por aqui por azares del destino, tuve un poco de suerte porque estoy buscando articulos como los tuyos y al fin lo logre encontrar, estoy pensando en ocurrir mas seguido por tu web. Saludos desde Montevideo

  2. On’s website, the take-apart of the Macbook Air showed a touch controller board, same as in the iPhone and iTouch…so even if they can make the MBP existing line capable, it won’t be precision like the Air…

    Pinch would be more than enough for me…

  3. Its a pretty cool feautre. If it is only software based, then maybe we could get this upload also for the CoreDuo based Macbook Pro? I am hoping, because i dont feel like upgrading.


  4. Stephanie Guertin

    @Rishi – The link is to the page explaining the Air’s gestures because I’m comparing the ones that are possible on the MacBook Pro to those gestures, and I need a reference for those of us who don’t own an Air. The point is, however, that the MacBook Pro *does* have hardware multi-touch capabilities, if not the software to back all the gestures.

  5. The link posted directs us to the MacBook Air features page…not the MacBook Pro’s. Nowhere does it mention anything about the MacBook Pro having multi-touch trackpad. I’m confused. Please clarify. Thanks.

  6. @chase: “Even the least computer savy people have at least browsed through system preferences (where all the trackpad options are easily accessed.)”

    I’m afraid you’re simply just wrong there. You’d be surprised by the number of emails we get asking how to do tasks infinitely easier than changing some system prefs.

    So while the article might not have been helpful to you, please don’t write it off thinking everyone else feels the same or thinks the same…they don’t.

  7. I don’t mean to contribute to the recent negativity seen in the comments of the last few articles… but all I thought during this article was a resounding,”ummm duh”. Even the least computer savy people have at least browsed through system preferences (where all the trackpad options are easily accessed.)

  8. What you describe is also already available on my black Macbook. And the “swipe” feature also requires three fingers, which the trackpad is capable of registering. How we know is is that the scroll requires two fingers to work, and ONLY two fingers. Try the same thing with three fingers, and scrolling doesn’t happen.

    I don’t know much about the mechanics of the trackpad, but it suggests to me that if the trackpad can register three fingers as a command other than scroll, even if it is a non-command, then software can be written to make use of this feature.

    I’m less sure about pinch and rotate, since that requires a calculation of where the two fingers are in relation to each other, and that might require more nuanced mechanics. But, I agree, if it is possible for Apple to add additional functionality to the trackpad, they should do so. Or some enterprising third party should do it.

  9. I don’t understand the point of this article. The premise in the first two paragraphs is that, according to rumors, the “MacBook Pro will have the same multi-touch abilities as the Air,” but you assert that “they’ve already got it.”

    At the end of the article, you say that swipe, pinch/expand, and rotate do not work. These are the three *new* gestures that apple has been touting; in fact, they’re the only three mentioned in the blurb on the page you link to. The other seven are alluded to on the MacBook Pro page.

    Seventy percent of a feature that it doesn’t even supposedly have isn’t bad in my book.”

    But the MacBook Pro *does* have those features; if you type “trackpad” in the search box at the top of this page, you’ll find references to many of them in other posts on this site.

    I don’t mean this to be inflammatory – I agree that having these features on the existing laptop line would be useful and easy to implement, but this article is about being thankful or surprised that we have great trackpad gestures that have been around for a while.

  10. This article could (and should) have been a lot better researched. For example, it has been widely noted on the net that the “swipe” gesture is a three-fingered gesture, so saying that “none of the unsupported gestures require more than two fingers” is just false. It took me <15 seconds to find the Engadget screenshot that shows this…

  11. i agree that it wouldn’t *require* a hardware update, however i wouldn’t be surprised to see a larger trackpad introduced to help emphasize and make better use of these features.