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.)

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