Shoppers buying one of Apple’s shiny new Thunderbolt-equipped iMacs are faced with a choice before they check out: Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, or both?
Each input device normally retails for $69, supports multitouch gestures, and can handle all your cursor-control and pointing-device needs. So how do you choose?
Easy: You don’t. Let Macworld choose for you.
Senior Associate Editor Dan Moren (DM) and Staff Writer Lex Friedman (LF) decided to debate the pros and cons of each Apple accessory in this point/counterpoint—which didn’t quite go as expected.
LF: Let me start by saying this: The Magic Mouse places itself on a “best-of-both-worlds” pedestal, but it’s a scam, a sham, and another word that rhymes with “scam.” It’s a decent mouse, but its multitouch features are sorely lacking. So the mere fact that you would even attempt to defend, let alone celebrate, it here is truly unthinkable. Rebuttal?
DM: Mr. Friedman, I notice you launch your argument by attacking your opponent, rather than by discussing the benefits of your own chosen input device—which, I should add, are many. (Also, I believe the third word you were looking for was “flimflam.”)
LF: Wait a second. If I’m reading you right, you’re implying that you, like me, feel that there are numerous benefits to the Magic Trackpad. Am I reading you right?
DM: Don’t change the subject. The fact remains that the Magic Mouse incorporates not only a multitouch surface that allows users to easily scroll, zoom, and navigate their Mac, but also acts as a pointing device with pinpoint laser accuracy. And, have I mentioned, it’s a sharp-looking accessory to any Mac?
LF: You have now. And you’ve nailed the two best points of the Magic Mouse—it uses lasers and it looks nice. The Magic Trackpad, I’ll grant you, is a rather dull-looking slab, and it’s sadly laserless—but what it lacks in style, it more than makes up for in sheer awesomeness.
DM: Look, everybody knows how to use a mouse. But a trackpad? They confuse, befuddle, perplex. They’re, dare I say, downright un-American.
LF: I can admit, I was hesitant about my decision when I first bought the Magic Trackpad. But that hesitation lasted only a few seconds, until I realized that I used a pseudo-Magic Trackpad almost every day, courtesy of the lovely glass surface resting below the keyboard of my trusty MacBook Pro. And whenever I used any other input device—a trackball I relied upon for a while, a Mighty Mouse, and others of that ilk—I missed the delicious shortcuts a MagicTrackpad (and only a Magic Trackpad) can offer. Not to mention the fact that if you can find your way around an iPhone, you can handle a Magic Trackpad, too.
DM: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you saying that a Magic Trackpad is the same thing as the trackpad on my MacBook?
LF: I am very nearly saying that. In fact, I’ll take it one step further: The Magic Trackpad is better than the trackpad on your MacBook—because it’s bigger.
DM: Huh. Tell me more.
LF: That’s my second-biggest knock against the Magic Mouse as a multitouch device. The multitouch surface of the Magic Mouse is crippled by its narrow width. And Apple admits as much, by limiting what multitouch gestures you can use on it: The device doesn’t support any of the Magic Trackpad’s three- or four-finger gestures (which can be used for dragging, triggering Exposé, and swiping between applications).
DM: You know, it’s almost as though the Magic Mouse is some kind of Trojan, er, Mouse, designed to inculcate touch gestures in us, preparing us for a future in which we’re all subjected to an autocratic requirement to use only Magic Trackpads.
LF: Well, Dan, I’m glad I paid you to write that paragraph. Because I think Apple knew just what it was doing when it introduced the Magic Mouse: Creating further future demand for the Magic Trackpad. But really, Cupertino’s clear goal in launching multiple multitouch Mac peripherals was to prepare us for an OS that embraces such gestures to a greater and more powerful extent than Snow Leopard already does.
DM: You’re speaking, of course, of Apple’s Mac OS X Lion. The forthcoming 10.7 reportedly integrates improved support for multitouch gestures throughout the operating system, thus making a multitouch input device almost a necessity. Certainly, it would seem that if you don’t have one, you’re missing out on an entire layer of functionality.
LF: Indeed. I only ordered my Magic Trackpad after my first dalliances with Apple’s initial Lion developer preview. It’s an operating system that begs to be touched, with good reason. iOS devices foster an intimacy between users and their screens that Macs thus far can’t recreate. And since we all know that a touchscreen Mac ain’t ever gonna happen—with good reason—the notion of leveraging multitouch through an external interface is a good one.
DM: I have a confession to make… I’ve been using a Magic Trackpad for more than a year now, and I can’t imagine ever going back to a mouse, Magic or otherwise. In fact, when I helped set up my cousins’ recently purchased iMac, I felt a deep sense of physical—well, is revulsion too strong a word to use?—at using the Magic Mouse. Truly, it’s a poor simulacrum of the Magic Trackpad’s superior experience. Using many multitouch gestures on the Magic Mouse is cramped, awkward, and often downright uncomfortable.
LF: I have a confession to make too, Dan. Not to you, but to our readers. I knew full well going into this point/counterpoint that you, like me, adore the Magic Trackpad and would never recommend that anyone purchase a Magic Mouse instead.
DM: So when you were dropping those words like “scam” and “sham” above, you were really talking about us, weren’t you?
LF: Guilty. In fact, when I polled Macworld’s editorial team to find someone to defend the Magic Mouse’s honor, I couldn’t find a single soul willing to take up that cause. And I think I understand why. The Magic Mouse is cool, but if you want multitouch gestures—and believe me, if you intend to upgrade to Lion, you really want multitouch gestures—you should go with the device that supports more of them, in a more natural manner. And that device is a Magic Trackpad.
DM: There’s no reason to be afraid, either. Frankly, most Mac users these days have at least a passing familiarity with iOS devices. And really, the Magic Trackpad just extends the operating metaphor of iOS devices to the Mac in a logical way.
LF: And frankly, once you’re relying on multitouch gestures like two-finger scrolling, and sliding all your windows away with a four-finger swipe, it’s easier to keep using your finger to slide the cursor around, too, instead of suddenly dragging your entire multitouch surface around, Magic Mouse-style.
DM: Well, despite our arguments to the contrary, you can buy a Magic Mouse if you really prefer it or have a strong affection for lasers. If you can’t quite make up your mind, well, it should be obvious that we think the Magic Trackpad’s a better buy. And for the love of all that is good, don’t buy a Magic Trackpad and a Magic Mouse. Unless you’ve got a Magic Cat that really needs feeding.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.