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The Mac Trackpad

Getting to Know Your Mac's Trackpad


Apple trackpad preferences

The glass trackpad on a new MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air is certainly fun to play with in the store. An Apple salesperson will quickly show you how to scroll, zoom, and right-click. But once you get your new Mac notebook home, some of the things you remember doing in the store may not seem to work the same way.

It's not you, but it's not really the Apple saleperson's fault, either. The difficulty lies in how a Mac is configured by default vs. the way most people end up configuring the trackpad. If you would like a few tips on configuring your trackpad, or you just wonder whether there's an option or two you may have overlooked, read on.

Configuring Your Mac's Trackpad

  1. Launch System Preferences, either by clicking its Dock icon or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.

  2. Click the Trackpad preference pane.

Adjusting Tracking Speed

The speed at which the cursor moves across your Mac's screen is a function of both how fast you move your finger on the trackpad and the tracking speed you select.

You set the tracking speed, from slow to fast, using a slider. Setting tracking speed to the Slow end of the slider will require you to move your finger further along the trackpad surface in order to move the cursor. Using a slow setting allows for very detailed cursor movements, but it can also cause maddeningly slow cursor response. It may even require multiple swipes of the finger across the touchpad to move the cursor completely across the screen.

Set the slider to the Fast end and the smallest amount of finger movement will send your cursor whizzing across the screen. My own preference is to set the slider so that a full swipe of the finger across the trackpad causes the cursor to move completely from the left side of the display to the right side.

Trackpad Single Click

By default, a trackpad is set for a single click to be achieved by physically pressing down on the glass trackpad. You can actually feel the glass trackpad being depressed.

You can also configure the trackpad to accept a single finger tap as a single click. This makes it much easier to produce the single click. Put a check mark next to Tap to Click to enable the single finger tapping option.

Trackpad Secondary Click

The secondary click, also referred to as a right-click, is turned off by default. This is a holdover dating back to the original Mac, which had a single-button mouse. But that was so 1984. To move into the modern times, you'll want to enable the secondary click functionality.

You can use two different methods for secondary clicking. You can either use a two finger tap to produce the secondary (right-click) function, or configure the trackpad to use a specific corner that, when tapped by a single finger, produces the secondary click. Try each one out then decide which works best for you.

To enable a two finger tap as a secondary click, place a check mark in the Secondary Click box under the Two Fingers column.

To enable a single finger secondary click, place a check mark in the Secondary Click box under the One Finger column. Use the dropdown menu to the right of the check box to select the corner of the trackpad you want to use for the secondary click.

Trackpad Gestures

There are two basic categories for gestures. Universal gestures are gestures that all applications can use; application-specific gestures are only recognized by some applications.

Universal Gestures

Scrolling is performed by dragging two fingers in the direction you wish to scroll. You can scroll up, down, and sideways.

Application-Specific Gestures

Two Finger Rotate is an application-specific gesture; not all applications will recognize this gesture. To rotate an object, place two fingers slightly apart on the trackpad surface, then rotate your fingers in the direction you wish to move.

Two Finger Pinch is an application-specific gesture; not all applications will recognize this gesture. The two finger pinch lets you zoom in or out on an object. To zoom in, place two fingers slightly apart on the trackpad, then bring the fingers together (pinching). To zoom out, place two fingers together on the trackpad, then spread the fingers apart.

Three Finger Swipe allows you to page through documents or images, moving from one page or image to the next. To perform this gesture, place three fingers on the trackpad, and swipe left to right to move forward a page, or right to left to move backwards.

Four Finger Swipe is used for Expose when swiping up or down, and for switching between open applications when swiping sideways.

The four finger Expose swipe will hide all windows and reveal the desktop when you swipe up with four fingers. Swipe down and Expose will display all open windows in a nice tidy row.

Those are the basics for using the glass trackpad on a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air. Try out the various possibilities to see which configuration options you like best.

Also, be aware that when you see instructions for using your Mac, including here at About: Macs, they will usually reference mouse clicks. Here is the translation for a trackpad.

Mouse click: Primary trackpad click or single finger tap.

Right mouse click: Secondary tap, either a two finger tap or a single finger tap to a specific corner of the trackpad, depending on how you set your preferences.

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