Apple Magic Trackpad

On January 15, 2011, in General, by Neil Stevens

I have two computers on my desk. I have my iMac (20″, 2.4 GHz Core Duo) that I use on a daily basis, but then also I have some Compaq laptop I use for development purposes, when I need access to other operating systems. Up until now, as a rule I’ve used my old trackball on the new laptop. Well, in general there’s a reason my old trackball is my old trackball: it doesn’t work well anymore. And I’ve gotten tired of the old one not working well, in this case my (second) Kensington Orbit trackball.

Well, I’ve been interested in the Apple Magic Trackpad. It’s a fascinating concept to me. It’s genuine innovation and I hope it succeeds well. So, I bought one to try out with my laptop. Oops: this miserable Windows box doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth support, something I’ve grown accustomed to in Mac land. I’d already spent the money, so I got bold: I attached my beloved Kensington Expert Mouse (complete with buttons 3 and 4 configured to activate Expose and Spaces respectively) and put it on the laptop, then configured my Magic Trackpad to use with my iMac!

I had to give it a fair try.

The first thing I noticed is that I was much slower with it, yet had less precision. That seems odd, given that one uses a fingertip to use it, but contrast that with my Expert Mouse, which is a large, comfortable trackball that I control with two or three fingers typically. That slowness was particularly embarrassing when I was on a conference call last week, and kept fumbling to unmute it to answer direct questions.

I did fall in love with two finger scrolling, though. That I did. No focus change being needed was such a fascinating concept to me, and it made the feature interact well with keyboard use. Other gestures were handy as well. The ability to activate Expose with one swipe was a feature that matched the Expert Mouse, and I’m confident some future update will allow equally quick Spaces activation. But there’s one thing I’ve had trouble with: Dragging.

There are actually three ways to drag with the Magic Trackpad. The first is the standard way: As the entire surface is a button, that can be pressed like any button, one can drag by holding down the button and moving your fingers. This to me is problematic because I find it difficult to drag my finger on the surface sometimes while applying enough pressure to hold down the physical feature. But that’s why there are two other, optional drag features: one is a one-finger double tap and drag option. I discarded that one quickly because I was accidentally dragging too much when I meant to click (with a tap, not with a full press on the surface button) or double click (with a double tap). So I disabled that and tried the third method: swipe with three fingers. That failed for me, and created accidental drags as well, because it’s easy to swipe with three when one means to swipe with four, to activate Expose as above!

Well, I noticed just how bad this problem was tonight, when I found that for a full day I was failing to get email from a mailing list because Friday night I had inadvertently moved the mail folder away with a quick attempt to open Expose. That’s dangerous, to have accidental drags I never even noticed. So I’m switching back to the Expert Mouse.

Now I just have to decide whether to get a Bluetooth adapter for the laptop and use Magic Trackpad with it, or just pack Magic Trackpad away for now and just buy a new trackball for the laptop. I don’t regret the experiment though. It has a lingering effect on me: I now have an appreciation for a feature of my Expert Mouse I never used before: the scroll ring. After trying two finger scrolling on the Magic Trackpad, I expect to use that going forward.

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