MacBook Trackpad Takes Some Getting Used To
by Alan Zisman (c)
published in Low
December 22, 2008 ZisMac
released new MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook models in October 2008.
The new models follow up on the earlier MacBook Air with solid, carved
aluminum bodies and get in line with the iMac styling, with a glossy
black rectangle surrounding the display.
As with past product
introductions, Apple cleverly manages to make its own older models look
old-hat - even though Low End Mac has done a good job of pointing out
the "value equation" comparing on sale end-of-production older models
to the new models (and a 13" white plastic MacBook remains on sale as
the low-end model).
most users seem to be pleased with the looks of the new models, there
have been complaints; some users prefer matte displays to the highly
reflective glossy screens that are now the only option. And while
retaining a FireWire 800 port on the higher-priced MacBook Pro models,
Apple dropped FireWire entirely from the new-style MacBooks - something
that it had earlier done on the MacBook Air.
Queried about this,
Steve Jobs replied that pretty much all current-model consumer-level
camcorders now use USB connectors, making FireWire unnecessary on a
notebook aimed at the consumer market. That's true, but it ignores that
fact that many nonprofessional Mac owners have invested in recent
model, FireWire-equipped camcorders, hard drives, and the like - and
may be more reluctant to upgrade to the new MacBook line if it makes
all their peripheral hardware unusable.
The New Trackpad
new notebook models - both MacBook and MacBook Pro - also feature a new
style trackpad, which lacks the traditional separate button. On Apple's
website describing the new MacBook, they note: "amazing new trackpad
doubles as a button - just press down anywhere and consider it clicked.
No separate button means there's 39 percent more room for your fingers
to move on the silky glass surface."
Moreover, unlike previous
Apple trackpads (but like Apple's so-called Mighty Mouse), it can be
configured for right-clicking - just open System Preferences and go to
either the Keyboard/Mouse preference or, starting with Mac OS X 10.5.6,
the new Trackpad preference, and enable "Secondary Click". When you do
that, the lower right-hand corner of the trackpad acts as a right-mouse
The glass surfaced trackpad feels
smooth and responsive, and the ultra-large surface makes it nice for
the various multitouch features that are now available, though
supported on only a few Mac applications. (Note: these multitouch
features are also implemented on older Mac laptop models, though to
varying degrees; they're not limited to the new Fall 2008 releases.
I've gotten into the habit of using two fingers to scroll even on my
old 12" PowerBook G4, for instance).
But having treated myself
to a new, aluminum MacBook, I'm finding that it's taking me a while to
get used to the new trackpad. It's requiring me to break old habits -
and is making it harder to move between my new MacBook and other Mac
and PC laptops.
pages, for instance, magically get larger or smaller text when using
the new trackpad. Contextual menus pop up unexpectedly, and other
seemingly random mousing around is taking place.
Here's what I
think is going on. When I'm typing (like right now while writing this
article), my natural hand position has my thumbs over the space bar,
while my other fingers move around the keyboard. After years and years
of computing, this is a very natural hand position.
When I need
to use the mouse, it's simple to just move my right hand down to the
trackpad while keeping the same basic hand position. My thumb wants to
rest on the trackpad button for clicking, while my index finger moves
around the trackpad, in much the way it easily moves around the
But on the new MacBook, resting my thumb on the
clickable area of the trackpad as if it was a physical trackpad button
causes problems. The system correctly reads that I've got two fingers
resting on the trackpad . . . so if I move the pointer with my index
finger, it assumes that I'm making a pinching motion.
news is that most software currently ignores this multitouch gesture.
But Safari interprets it as a command to zoom in or out, depending on
which direction my index finger is moving. Text and images enlarge or
Similarly, the optional two-fingered Secondary Tap too often misreads
my finger motions. Hence the undesired contextual menus.
trying to learn to keep my thumb in the air when I'm mousing around the
trackpad, only lowering it when I actually need to click. But that's
less comfortable than letting my thumb rest on a physical trackpad
Problems with Boot Camp
not the end of the story. I've installed Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux
onto the MacBook using Boot Camp. Neither of them are entirely happy
with the new trackpad. Neither recognize right-clicks in that area of
the trackpad, for instance, and even standard left-clicks seem a bit
iffy. An Apple Knowledge Base article
confirms these sorts of problems, noting that users may find the cursor
fails to select the intended item, shakes slightly, or "unexpectedly
release" when dragging. Another article
notes that right-click support may
be missing even when enabled.
Apple has released a "Multi-Track Update for Windows
to deal with both of these problem areas, though installing it didn't
seem to make any difference that I could notice on my system. I suppose
I should just plug in a mouse when booting my MacBook into Windows or
Ubuntu. (I also installed the new Parallels Desktop 4.0. The good news
is that when I start up these same Windows and Ubuntu installations as
virtual sessions, the secondary click features work just fine.)
Apple refers to as "the amazing new trackpad" is stylish and cool . . .
but it's not without problems - both for Boot Camp users and even when
working within OS X. I'm sure I'm not the only user of a new MacBook or
MacBook Pro who's having to relearn old habits in order to make it work