How the three finger dragging on a trackpad could be improved

A proposal for three finger flicking

Nikolas Klein
Oct 21, 2015 · 2 min read


On a Mac you can turn on three finger dragging for trackpads (in OS10.11 hidden under Accessibility › Mouse & Trackpad › Trackpad Options…).

This enables you to easily drag around elements. A very helpful function. Especially, if the click of the trackpad is broken (I’ve seen many people just clicking and holding with one finger and dragging with another finger from the other hand).

The three finger drag basically works as a drag and hold. When you start moving something and release your fingers, there is a timeout until it drops. This is important when your space on the trackpad is not enough — it compares to the lifting of the mouse get more space to drag further.


I’m using this one most of time in my daily workflow. And most of the time it is a pretty helpful solution. But when I’m trying out touch prototypes (like this one) it induces a problem. I am not able to flick anything.

For me this makes it difficult to quickly test the flow of prototypes, where flicking (all touch based prototypes with any kind of scrolling or paging) on my Mac.


Since the three finger drag is located in the Accessibility area of the System Preferences, adding an “Enable flicking” would actually fit.

How could it work?

So the idea behind this is, that a clever software—which has yet to be written—detects if the last drag was flick or a drop. This could be done through a combination from the latest average speed and the acceleration of the drag movement. Possibly manually setting some kind of sensitivity threshold would make sense.

That would mean, if you go slowly (e.g. dragging a file around) and releasing, it would time out and detect it as a drop. On the other hand, when a movement accelerated in the last frames before releasing, it would be triggered as a flick.


Of course this idea would need some proper testing and evaluating. This is a first shot, which does not take in account all edge cases that I did not think of. Furthermore I did not try out the latest trackpad technology. So maybe it is solved there already.

And maybe nobody else has this problem and I should update to a newer MacBook with a shiny trackpad.

Thanks for reading!

Written by Nikolas Klein, 10|2015

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