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Mac and iPhone News, Reviews, and How-Tos.

BetterTouchTool Puts the Magic into Apple's Magic Trackpad


This is Apple's Magic Trackpad. It's like a MacBook Pro's trackpad, only bigger, and designed for use with a desktop Mac. I'm using one with my iMac and after a couple of days getting used to it, I'm hooked. I think you will be too.

The Magic Trackpad has a couple of big advantages compared to the mouse. First, you don't need a lot of room on your desk to use the Magic Trackpad. In fact, you don't need any room on your desk to use the Magic Trackpad. Just place it on top of the giant pile of stuff where your desk used to be and the Magic Trackpad is ready to go.

Second, the entire surface of the Magic Trackpad is clickable. That's a big target, which means you don't have to put your clicking finger into any particular position in order to click. Your finger(s) get to move around. This reduces repetitive motion, which is what tires out your clicking fingers. Also, you can program the Magic Trackpad to click with just a tap instead of a full-on "click," reducing effort.

The Magic Trackpad is wireless, comes with batteries, and is $69 (list price). You can save a little (and support this blog) by getting it at Amazon.

You get to customize the Magic Trackpad's settings to a certain degree using Apple's Trackpad Preference Pane in the System Preferences. It defaults to having everything turned on, but you'll probably want to turn a few things off, at least at first, lest you inadvertently trigger some action by making an accidental gesture you didn't know existed. If you have a Magic Trackpad (or, come to think of it, if you have ANY kind of trackpad, including the built-in ones on the MacBooks and MacBook Pros), a careful review of the options available in the Trackpad Preference Pane is well worth the time. You might, for example, want to turn off the "two-finger double-tap smart zoom." That one drives unsuspecting users absolutely bonkers.

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 at 7.20.33 PM
I told you what to turn off. Now let's talk about turning something on: namely, the free "BetterTouchTool (donations accepted). With BetterTouchTool your Magic Trackpad will be ultra-configurable, super-programmable, and highly-personalizable. Here's how I've used it to configure my Magic Trackpad:

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 at 7.29.08 PM
That is, if I tap in the top left corner of my Magic Trackpad, the Contacts app comes to the front. Top center: Safari. Top right: Mail. At the bottom, I have a button to toggle the effects of Desktop Curtain (it hides all other apps, and also hides desktop icons, making it easier to focus). I also have buttons to toggle Mission Control and to show the Desktop. Sure, you can do some or all of this from the keyboard, but for me the trackpad is handier. The keyboard requires a firmer touch, and when you're switching between apps all day it's nice to do it without having to press very hard.

I also added a three-finger-tap-in-the-middle-of-the-trackpad gesture to automatically center the frontmost window. Very handy. I use it all the time. And, in case you're hungry for more, get a load of the things that BetterTouchTool can do:

Here's what BetterTouchTool looks like (these are the settings that I use). Note that it has sections for the Magic Mouse and the keyboard in addition to the one for the Magic Trackpad. Which means-- Dave-- that you could use BetterTouchTool to create a keyboard shortcut for moving windows from screen to screen on your enviable two-monitor rig.
Screen Shot 2012-08-20 at 7.45.30 PM
You might be wondering what took me so long to get on board with the Magic Trackpad. After all, it's been out more than a year. The answer is that I had grand ideas for programming one but hadn't found the software I needed to do it. Now, in BetterTouchTool, I have.

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Mountain Lion Hints and Tips

I've had Apple's $19.99 Mountain Lion installed here on an iMac (2.7 GHz Intel Core i5) for about two weeks, enough time to find a few niceties and doodads that you might be interested in. Here goes.

Address Book has been renamed "Contacts" (matching the iPhone and iPad apps) and it has some improvements. First, the no-one-understands-this-feature red bookmark is gone. Replacing it: a useful three-column view showing the Groups list, the current contacts list, and the current contract. Second, Contacts handles drag-and-drop of vCards better than Address Book did. You can click on a person's name in the contacts list and drag it to Now Contact and the person is added to Now Contact with no additional steps. Previously, the vCard had to make a temporary stop on the Desktop-- you could not drag straight to Now Contact. But now you can. I don't know whether it's because Contacts is better than Address Book, or whether Mountain Lion is better than Lion. All I know is it works.


iCal has been renamed "Calendar" and it's a little bit better now. Calendar shows "mini months" and they're clickable-- click on a mini month and Calendar displays that month. Also, Calendar once again shows the calendar list, like it did in 10.6. Apple taketh away, then Apple giveth back, then I writeth it up as if it's a new feature.

Nice Touch, Apple: if you use Spotlight to search for "iCal" it brings up Calendar, and if you search for "Address Book" it brings up Contacts. This makes it easier for those with old habits. Also, if you have AppleScripts that refer to Address Book and/or iCal, they are magically changed to refer to Contacts and Calendar-- without you doing anything. VERY nice, Apple. Thoughtful and thorough.

Mail has a new feature called "VIPs." You can tell Mail that messages from this person, that person, and the other person are important-- that is, their senders are "VIPs." From then on, messages from those senders show up in a special "VIPs" mailbox. (Actually, each VIP gets his own mailbox, and they're all grouped together in an expandable folder). The emails still show up in your Inbox but they also show up in the VIPs section. This is nothing but a "Smart Mailbox" that looks for mail from certain senders, so it's nothing really "new" but it is a lot easier to set up.

In the picture below you can see 3389 unread messages in the Inbox but only 171 unreads in the VIP list. I still need to read the rest of them but with the VIPs at least I know where to start. Note: messages are not "moved" to the VIP list. They are DISPLAYED there but not actually moved. You can still find them in the Inbox, so you get to have your cake and eat it too. Yum, cake.


(Elevate someone to VIP status by mousing over the address section in an email, then clicking on the star.)

I'm into the address book (I mean Contacts), Calendar, and Mail all day long so these improvements help me a lot. They're small, but when you benefit hundreds of times a day it really adds up. I'd have paid $19.99 for these improvements alone.

Check out my other posts-- there are more than 400. Need more help?

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