Take control of your trackpad on macOS

I love my keyboard and the trackpad that came with my MacBook. After all, they are your only interfaces that you can use to communicate with the laptop.

My favorite of these two interfaces is the keyboard as I am a very keyboard centric person. Typing keystrokes is much faster than moving your hand to the trackpad to try to navigate through your operating system with it. That is not to say that using the trackpad is awful and should be avoided at all costs. In fact the trackpad of the Macbook is one of the best things that are built onto the laptop.

I believe in the idea of a personal computer. A personal computer is not just an object that you buy and use. It is an extension of yourself. Like a bicycle exists to speed up the body, computer exists to accelerate and empower your mind. It has been my personal goal to remove as much friction as I can between myself and the software of the computing devices that I use.

Vim and Emacs are the two perfect apps that allow you to take this idea of customization and personalization to the extreme. But they are just two apps. Whatever hacking and customization you do in these two apps, doesn’t translate at all to when you use other applications on the operating system. You can take and transfer these ideas to other apps but that’s about it. What if you could hack on the operating system on a more global level? That is any customization changes you do on your personal computer persist with you across any application you visit. Well you can, and all you need for it are a few apps and creativity.

As I mentioned earlier, there are only two ways you can interact with the operating system that you use. Your keyboard and your trackpad. Keyboard gives us a lot more freedom to explore but trackpad is more easier to start with. So here is how you can give yourself a little bit more power and control over your trackpad.

The app that we will need for this is BetterTouchTool. You download the app like any other app on macOS and start your journey with personalization and micro optimizations. Before you open it though, it is best we go to system preferences and open your trackpad settings:

In here you can see what trackpad gestures are configured for you. Apple does a really remarkable job with really utilizing already this multi touch device. Go through all the choices and try them out and see if something stays with you and you like the action. Here are the trackpad gestures I am using from these settings for reference:

Now that you hopefully got the feel for some actions that you can do, let’s explore this world a little further. Now you can open up BetterTouchTool and get accustomed to its interface. The tab that we are looking for is located here:

I already have some of my own custom trackpad gestures here as you can see. Let’s create your first new custom gesture.

Now we can select the gesture we want to map an action to:

Now this gesture can set off some custom hotkey you have or one of the predefined gestures the developer has already provided to the users, and there are a lot of them. The gestures you are making now are global. You can also scope the custom gestures that you make to only work in certain apps. Just go to the sidebar and choose the app you want to scope your gestures to. For example, here are the gestures to my most used application on my laptop and I am certain many other people’s.

I can scroll through webpages by swiping left and right with three fingers.

I can close a tab by swiping down with three fingers and swiping up to open a new tab. I can also tap with three fingers on a any link to open it in a new tab in the background, something I use very often.

Having these custom gestures and having my own vim-like environment with sVim makes browsing web pages pure joy.

To come back to the global gestures I use.

  • I three finger tap on a tabs in apps like PDF Expert to close tabs
  • I three finger swipe down on windows to close / hide them
  • I three finger double tap to enter / exit full screen mode for the current application
  • I four finger swipe down to go into Expose View
  • I four finger click to open up my Bartender menu bar
  • I four finger tap to switch applications
  • I five finger click to open my Notification Center

Step by step I am making my computer more personal and powerful than ever. Most of the heavy duty work still falls on the keyboard but it is great to have a very versatile and useful tool in the occasions I do need to use my trackpad.

You can download all the custom gestures I have created from here.

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