On July 27, 2010 Apple released the Magic Trackpad, the first radical new pointing device in a long time. Instead of dragging a mouse around your desk, you simply have a slanted metal trackpad that you drag your finger around on. Push down to click and the feet beneath the trackpad create a true ‘clicky’ feeling. All the multitouch gestures found on the iPhone and iPad can also be found on the Magic Trackpad, especially when used in conjunction with Mac OS X Lion. You can pinch, rotate, drag, flick, and more. It’s like a touchscreen computer, but better.
For the longest time people have been speculating that Apple would release a touchscreen desktop computer. When Steve Jobs announced the Magic Trackpad though, there was no loner any speculation. Apple’s stance on touchscreen desktop computers was clear. It was the Magic Trackpad.
How so? As Jobs went on to explain, a touchscreen desktop requires you to keep your hand in an upright position pointing forward the whole day. It causes fatigue and becomes difficult to use after a short time. In a word, and in my opinion, it’s ridiculous. I dreaded a day when Apple would create a touchscreen computer for those very reasons, and I’m so glad that we now know they never will.
Instead, they proposed the Magic Trackpad. It presents a touch based interface to interact with your computer, but is at the level of your hand. All the advantages of touch - fluidity, ease of use, simplicity, power of multitouch - without all the stupidity - fatigue and all that goes along with it, mainly - associated with an actual touchscreen desktop. Best of both worlds, right?
Backing up a bit, the Magic Trackpad really isn’t quite that radical. We’ve had them on laptops, also due to Apple, for years. It’s bringing that model to the desktop that is so radical. It was right in front of us all, but I would have never thought to use a trackpad to control a desktop. But it does make sense. A lot of sense. We’re clearly moving in the direction of touch interaction, and a trackpad is far and away better than reaching forward all day to tap a screen. I still can’t believe that anyone thinks that’s a good idea. The Magic Trackpad is indeed how touch should be, but that’s not to say I don’t have my issues with it.
Say what you will about Apple and their recent use of the word ‘magic’, the Magic Trackpad is indeed somewhat magical. The way in which you can manipulate the screen using just your fingertips is, well, there’s just nothing else like it. Except for the iPad. I remember the first time I saw the iPad demoed, and how ‘magical’ I thought the way you interacted with it was. Specifically the photos app. The pinching and rotating. With the Magic Trackpad you get the same magic on your desktop.
Gestures and Speed
Gestures are what make the Magic Trackpad. They truly do speed things up a ton - once you know how to use them all. Some are more gimmicky, and some are impossible to live without. The best resource I found to learn just about every gesture there is is this article over at Macworld.
Also, a word of caution, many gestures were switched with the move to Lion. The most noticeable of which is the Exposé gesture which is now enabled by a three finger swipe up as opposed to the four finger swipe down of old. On that note, most every gesture is highly customizable in System Preferences.
I’m just going to cut to the chase here when it comes to the downsides of using the Magic Trackpad: I feel like it’s far slower than a mouse. I tried using only the Magic Trackpad for weeks, and while it did get somewhat better, it still didn’t feel nearly as good or as fast as a real mouse. Nor, by the way, did it feel as accurate.
Maybe it’s the strangeness of not actually physically moving anything while using the Magic Trackpad. Maybe that’s just how it is supposed to be. But as John Siracusa has said, I feel like I would be able to beat anyone using a Magic Trackpad with my Magic Mouse on both accounts of speed and accuracy.
I feel impeded slightly with the Trackpad. Slowed, hampered, if you will.
I actually find the Magic Trackpad less ergonomic than my mouse. I think it has to do with the fact that I feel the need to hover the rest of my hand over the Trackpad so that I don’t accidentally hit it, and make a move I did not want to make. It’s one big slab of touch sensitivity - it feels far more likely to do something by accident than a mouse. Regardless of whether or not that’s actually true.
What’s super interesting is that I never felt any of this with the trackpad on my MacBook. I never felt slowed, nor the strange ‘don’t let another finger touch the trackpad’ phenomena.
Maybe it’s the positioning, or the size of the smaller trackpad and the size of the smaller screen. I’m just not sure. But to me, the trackpad feels best suited for a laptop.
Tap To Click
I have Tap To Click on. This way I don’t actually have to press down on the Trackpad to make a click. Just tapping will do. Just like on an actually multitouch device. I just find it easier this way.
If you look on the underside of the Trackpad by where you insert batteries after the cap is removed, you actually can see two small painted batteries facing the direction they need to be placed inside. It’s a real nice touch. Love it.
The Magic Trackpad is clean and people really love it. It truly is magical, fluid, and just downright cool. For me though, at least for now, my Magic Mouse remains my primary pointing device. I do still keep the Magic Trackpad on my desk to use on occasion, and would recommend that anyone do at least that. It is the future, like it or not.
And again, that is not to say that I don’t like it. I just don’t love it - and definitely not as much as I love my Magic Mouse. And you see, I get the Magic Trackpad. I really do. But I still just find it a tad slow for my taste for speed.
The Magic Mouse is the perfect cross between a plain old mouse and the Magic Trackpad, just like the Magic Trackpad is the perfect cross between touch desktops and mice. I guess I hope they both stay around.