Score another UI/usability win for Apple. They’ve done something I never thought anybody could ever do: not only get me to use a trackpad on a laptop, but to like it — to the point that I don’t miss the “eraser mouse” (sometimes called a trackpoint) that I’ve loved on my IBM Thinkpads. While we’re at it, Apple has also managed to convince me that life with one mouse button not only doesn’t suck, but can be fun and productive.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m now the proud owner of a new Apple MacBook Pro. It’s a very sweet laptop — all sleek burnished aluminum and lush styling — but when I first unpacked it, I was concerned because the only built-in mousing surface is one of those damnable trackpads. Bleh! I’ve been a confirmed member of the Church of Apocalypse of Trackpads for years, so I spent a few minutes of anticipation mourning the loss of my little red nubbin, nestled comfortingly between the G, H, and B keys.
Much to my surprise, I immediately found that I was able to live with the MacBook Pro trackpad for a multitude of reasons:
- The first thing I noticed was that unlike PC trackpads, Apple doesn’t have the default configuration set to react to heavy pushes as if it were a mouse button. Years of typing on a Focus keyboard have given me a heavy typing action, and on PC laptops I often find that I’ve put my finger down on the trackpad just a little too forcefully, causing the computer to interpret it as a left-click. My typical reaction is to disable the trackpad entirely (usually in Device Manager). On the MacBook Pro, you can turn this feature on if you want to….but it’s off by default, and you don’t really need to because…
- …there’s only one mouse button. This is a typical Apple-ism (at least until they finally capitulated by creating an optional multi-button mouse for those who just can’t live without that sweet sweet right-clicking action), but in the case of the MacBook Pro, it’s not a wimpy little button. Heck, no — this sucker is a good inch deep and five inches wide. It’s bigger than the space bar. This means you can easily depress it no matter where your finger is on the trackpad, which oddly enough makes it far superior to the typical split buttons on PC laptops. Only having to lift one hand off the keyboard to use the trackpad means that the other hand can hit the necessary keys to produce the shifted click combos necessary to duplicate the functionality of right-clicking. I’ve already caught myself trying to do it in Windows.
- The shape of the Apple touchpad also makes it easier to use, because it replicates the screen in miniature. It’s a big long rectangle, just like my screen, in roughly the same proportions. This means that with the right sensitivity settings, I can easily move the mouse across my entire screen without having to re-track my finger.
- Did I mention that Apple’s mouse sensitivity settings actually allowed me to find a setting that worked for me within one or two adjustments? On most PCs, I have to crank it to the maximum and even then, that pointer isn’t moving fast enough.
However nice all these reasons are, they’re nothing compared to the Big Kahuna: the scrolling feature. This, quite frankly, kicks serious a**. When I use a single finger, OS X moves the cursor over the screen as normal. When I use two fingers in tandem, OS X immediately detects that, figures out which screen region my mouse is in, and scrolls that region if it can be scrolled.
Yes, that’s right. Use one finger to move into my web browser, then put down a second finger and immediately scroll through the current page, without having to click to change focus. If I need to zip over and scroll the document in the window next door, I lift a finger, move the cursor, put the finger back down. And it works for both horizontal and vertical scrolling. This, my friends and readers, is Pure Mousing Heaven. It’s so easy to use that I have spent more time telling you how it works than you’d need to master it if you were in front of my MacBook Pro (and I were to let you touch it).
Genius, Apple. Genius.