Bugs & Fixes: Magic Trackpads and lazy thumbs

Regular readers of this column may recall my continuing saga with Apple’s Magical input devices. The previous episode concluded with me debating whether or not to exchange my troublesome Magic Mouse for a Magic Trackpad.

In the end, I did make the switch. How has the Trackpad worked out? Very well… after a period of adjustment.

As it turns out, I prefer a stationary Trackpad to a mouse that requires that I move it around—and occasionally lift it from—my physical desktop. The Trackpad’s Multi-Touch features are a welcome bonus. Essentially, the input device for my Mac Pro is now identical to what you get with a new MacBook. If you like how the trackpad works on a Mac laptop, you’ll like it with your desktop Mac as well.

Most significantly, I have had none of the lost connections that plagued my prior combination of Magic Mouse and Mac Pro.

However, as I said, there was a necessary period of adjustment. In particular, I had two frustrating problems during my first weeks of using the Trackpad. They weren’t entirely the Trackpad’s fault. The main culprit was… my thumb. Due to the Multi-Touch features of the Trackpad, you have to be especially careful where your thumb comes to rest. I wasn’t careful enough. If my thumb rested unintentionally on the Trackpad, as it was prone to do, the device would respond to the rogue digit if I had selected a Multi-Touch command.

The first instance of this error resulted in the Contextual menu popping up at times when I had intended only a single primary click. The symptom was linked to the Secondary Click option in the Two Fingers section of the Trackpad’s System Preferences pane. With this option enabled, if my thumb happened to be resting on the Trackpad when I clicked the device with my index finger, the action was interpreted as a “secondary click”—bringing up the Contextual menu. This is what was happening to me—happening way too often.

Rather than attempt to retrain my brain to be more careful about where I put my thumb, I disabled the option. I now depend on a Control-click (or the One Finger Secondary Click in Bottom Right Corner) to bring up the Contextual menu.

The second problem was a much bigger annoyance. Occasionally, when working on the Finder’s Desktop, all of my Desktop icons would—suddenly and inexplicably—get significantly larger and shift around to new locations. As I typically have several dozen icons on my Desktop, it took me several minutes to get everything back to its former state. When this strange symptom kept recurring, I remembered that I could use SwitchRes X to restore the icons to their former position. While this helped, the utility did not restore the icons to their original size. I needed to use the Finder’s Show View Options command to fix this.

Regardless, I wanted this behavior to stop altogether. At first, I had no idea what the cause might be. However, as the symptom had never occurred until after I installed the Trackpad, I was fairly certain the new input device was involved. Eventually, I figured it out: It was the Trackpad’s Two Finger Pinch Open & Close option. Sliding my index finger across the Trackpad to move the cursor, while my lazy thumb rested on the Trackpad, was interpreted as a Pinch action—resulting in the Desktop jumble. Once again, my simple solution was to disable the option, as I rarely used it anyway.

Eventually, I may work on getting my thumb to behave better so I can re-enable the two options. I’m in no hurry. As is, my Magic Trackpad is purring along just fine. My Magic device saga has at last reached its happy ending.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Large, Multi-Touch surface
    • Works identically to Apple's laptop trackpads
    • Rugged, portable design matches Apple's keyboards
    • Easy setup


    • Not as precise as a mouse or trackball
    • Not ideal for large screens or multiple displays
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