Blog Post

Moving to Mac: The Trackpad

One of my biggest concerns with my move to Mac (s aapl) was adjusting to a touchpad interface. I’ve used IBM ThinkPads (s ibm) for years and have grown accustomed to the TrackPoint. TrackPoints are getting scarce, though, and the Trackpad on the MacBook is a highly lauded feature. My friend Christelle even went so far as to call it “life-changing.” With praise like that, my expectations were high. How well does it stack up?

Apple TrackpadThe first thing one notices is that there are no buttons — the entire pad is clickable. I found my natural inclination was to tap-to-click rather than a full click on the whole pad, so I’ve adjusted that in System Preferences. I also previously had a two-finger tap set to bring up the right-click menu. I’m a big fan of the contextual menus that appear with the right-click but I had to adjust this behavior as I was accidentally triggering it far too often. For now, I am using a two-finger full-click in the lower right of the trackpad.

The most compelling feature about the Apple Trackpad is the built-in gestures, predefined touch movements that trigger certain actions. They’re really handy for navigation and browsing, and are very smartly implemented.

The key to using and remembering the gestures is to know that the pad recognizes how many fingers are on it and responds accordingly:

  • One finger is for regular movement of the cursor.
  • Two fingers in either an up-down or side-to-side motion functions like the scroll bar allowing for easy navigation within an application, on web pages and in other documents. For browsing this is really super-handy, although I notice that it stalls when it reaches a video and other embedded objects. I have to move around the object to continue the scrolling. A turning of your fingers rotates objects such as photos while a pinching motion will zoom in or out on the page or object.  While I find these really handy when I need them, they can also be really frustrating when they get triggered inadvertently.
  • Three fingers swiping side-to-side works like as forward and backward navigation and is just outstanding for web browsing or even navigating around within the Finder.
  • A four-finger swipe side-to-side brings up the application switcher, but I find hitting Cmd-Tab to be a much more useful way to access it. Swiping up clears the screen of all open windows for easy access to the desktop, while a swipe down opens up the Expose view of all open windows.

Apple’s Trackpad is made of glass, but I don’t feel that it’s any smoother or easier to navigate than others I’ve previously used. It is larger than most trackpads, which is nice, although I find myself resting my palm on it more often than I would like.

Overall, I think I’m adjusting well to the Trackpad. For casual browsing it’s really tremendously useful but for heavy keyboard work like data entry or even typing, I do miss the convenience of having the navigation so easily accessible like it was with my TrackPoint.

Are you a fan of the Trackpad? Share your tips and tricks in the comments.

Editor’s note: If you’ve just moved to Mac, check out TechUniversity: Mac Video Tutorials & Screencasts.

9 Responses to “Moving to Mac: The Trackpad”

  1. Duncan Taylor

    Interesting article. I have used both, but my use of the IBM Trackpoint is more limited (being a full time Mac user since 2006!). I got my MacBook Pro in April and the trackpad is great. I’ve actually downloaded a Beta utility called ‘Better Touch Tool’ and I highly recommend it. Apple’s implementation of the gestures is fairly limited and this application opens it all up – for instance, a four-finger swipe up opens a new tab in Chrome (and only in Chrome) and four down closes it.

    It allows for programme-specific gestures. Great when you’re a heavy user of some fairly intensive creative applications (in my case, Logic Pro and Max/MSP) and also for web and file-browsing. It also has a lot more gestures built in than Apple and in my experience is accurate and mostly stable.

    Just thought it would be worth mentioning if you’re having any thoughts about opening up the functionality! Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

  2. Steve

    Scott, how are you doing after a month? As a longtime ThinkPad user, I’m on the fence about moving to a Macbook, mainly due to this issue.

  3. I always loved the TrackPoint device, every single notebook PC had one, including my present Vaio P. However, when I started using Macs, I started to love the TrackPad. On my PowerBook the two-finger scrolling was so easy, now with my MBP there’s a lot more input options which is convenient.

    The TrackPoint will always have a soft-spot in my heart because they fit nicely on ultra portables, but I don’t think I’d want to replace my MBP TrackPad anymore, and actually enjoy using it more than an optical mouse.

  4. Johan

    I agree fully that the Mac trackpad is ‘life changing’. And to top it, the new Magic Mouse is almost as magnificent when used with an iMac!

  5. Teena

    I was a track ball fan and thought it would be difficult to get used to the Trackpad, but honestly, after only a few days of use, I didn’t know what the trepidation was about.

    As a writer, I do a lot of research through web browsing, so the Trackpad has proven to be one of my most valuable assets. Being able to use just two fingers to scroll up and down on a web page and not having to exert even the smallest amount of energy to move the track ball just feels more ergonomically correct to me (even if it really isn’t).

    I will admit it was a little disconcerting at first getting used to the two finger click to bring up the right click menu, but after a little over six months of use, that has become second nature.

    What I am sure I could not get used to quickly is Apple’s Magic Mouse. After trying it on a friend’s iMac for a couple of days I was convinced the thing was pure evil. It shouldn’t take that much work to actually do your work.

  6. I think its an all or nothing approach you have to take, I hate the tap to click “feature” personally and can’t use the trackpad with it turned on. But turn push to click on and it’s a dream setup. Love how it works :) I have said for a long time they need to do a trackpad to replace the mouse on desktop machines either built in to the keyboard or as a separate unit. Looks like that may happen soon as well! :D

    • Maybe I need to give it a shot, it just seems so unnatural to not tap.

      I’ve long thought that navigation separate from the keyboard is a silly concept.I My keyboard has been an IBM with the TrackPoint built in so for my desktop or in dual PC mode I’ve been strictly mouse-less for as long as I can remember.

      Thanks for the comment.


  7. I, too, was skeptical about moving to a Macbook. So I tried one out for a full month. After that? I sold it and went back to a Lenovo ThinkPad X200. Love this little device… and my TrackPoint.