eXtensions - Monday 10 October 2016

System Preferences in macOS, Sierra: Trackpad

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Some of the System Preferences in macOS, Sierra have been revised with the recent update. The Trackpad Preferences panel has seen a couple of changes, in terms of content (gestures) and order.

The Trackpad Preferences panel helps with fine-tuning of a trackpad that is built in to a notebook computer or with the Magic Trackpad that connects to a computer via Bluetooth to bring the same functions to a desktop computer. The latest update has some minor changes, including the removal of one gesture in Point & Click. This preference panel assists with the fine-tuning of either a trackpad that is built in to a notebook computer or the

The panel for Trackpad preferences is in three parts: Point & Click; Scroll & Zoom; and More Gestures. All gestures and options are illustrated with video clips to the right of the panel.


Point & Click

There are now three options in this section of the Trackpad preferences as the Three finger drag gesture has been removed. The order has also been changed:

  • Look up & Data detectors - A three-finger tap allows a word in text to be looked up in either the Dictionary or Wikipedia. The Thesaurus lookup option is no longer available. A word does not have to be selected by clicking on it. If the cursor is over a word and this gesture is used, the word is highlighted in yellow and a panel appears with information. Those with Little Snitch may want to choose the option to access links, "forever".

    Highlighting is not always instant and may need a second tap to make sure.

  • Secondary click offers three options, each of which is shown in the video display:
    • Click or tap with two fingers
    • Click in bottom right corner
    • Click in bottom left corner


    When Tap to click (below) is not selected, the normal setting for two-finger input is shown as Click with two fingers. The video clip shows the demonstrator tapping on the trackpad. This may not work with all computers. However, clicking (not tapping) on the trackpad bar does act as a secondary click for my MacBook Pro.

    When the one finger Tap to click is selected, this item changes to "Click or Tap with two fingers". This does work as demonstrated in the video clip.

  • Tap to click (Tap with one finger) makes the trackpad act like a mouse button or trackpad bar. It seems to be the normal input method for Windows users (I prefer this off which confuses my students).

At the bottom of this panel is a slider bar for tracking speed (Slow - Fast). Also at the bottom right of all panels is a button for setting up a Bluetooth Trackpad (such as Apple's Magic Trackpad). An updated panel is opened and a search for a suitable Bluetooth device starts in the same way as the Mouse Preferences would search for a Bluetooth mouse. The trackpad should be on and discoverable.


Scroll & Zoom

The panel that controls the zooming and scrolling functions possible with the trackpad appears to have been unchanged (again, apart from video). There are four gestures. None of these has any options:

  • Scroll direction: natural - When this is checked, as the fingers scroll down, so a page moves down, in the same way as occurs on the iPhone or iPad. It works with the page and not with the scroll bar. Those who prefer the movement of the scrollbar to follow finger movement (fingers upward, scrollbar up) may wish to leave this unchecked.

  • Zoom in or out - The Pinch with two fingers, as on iOS devices, will enlarge images and certain text content (Safari, Preview) when the gesture opens. It makes them smaller with the closing action. This may not work with some third party applications. Some users may find it useful to turn on the Zoom function available in the Vision section of Accessibility preferences


    • Smart zoom - a double-tap with two fingers -- enlarges pages. A second double-tap will return them to the normal size. As with the Pinch, this only works with certain applications.

    • Rotate - This allows a user to turn an image -- or a page in certain applications (like Preview, but not Safari). It is effective in Apple's photo software, like Aperture for rotating images quickly but only in 90 degree incrtements. Although I was able to make the Smart Zoom gesture work in Photos, Rotate was not possible, even in Edit mode.

    More Gestures

    The final section has now has the same seven options that arrived with the update to Mountain Lion. These have varying degrees of difficulty.

    • Swipe between pages - a two-finger swipe to left or right scrolls between pages in some applications, such as Safari, where we can view pages that were loaded or viewed before the current one.

      Options here are to swipe with three fingers (to the left or right), swipe with two fingers, or scroll with two or three fingers.

    • Swipe between full-screen apps - this may be effected with three fingers (previously three or four by default). It is also possible to specify four fingers. This change appears to be why the 3-finger drag gesture is no longer available.

      If full-screen apps are not in use, the swipe allows any desktop space to be displayed, including Dashboard if that is selected as a space in the Mission Control preference pane.


    • Notification Center - The two-finger swipe here in a leftwards direction from the right edge of the trackpad is intended to make the Notifications panel easily accessible. Users may also click on the menubar icon. I use a key combination I created in the Keyboard preferences as well.

    • Mission Control may be activated using the four finger swipe up by default. This displays the current desktop in a smaller size with applications open, with other spaces displayed as thumbnail images above. An option here is that three, instead of four fingers may be used.

    • App Exposé - A downward swipe with four fingers accesses App Exposé. All open windows of the top application are shown minimized on the desktop. The current page is shown in a larger form. As with the Mission Control trackpad gesture above, an option is to use three fingers instead of four.

    • Launchpad - the Launchpad feature may be activated using an awkward three finger pinch plus the thumb in a closing movement. This gives a swift access to the Launchpad screens, but may take a little practice to perfect.

    • Show Desktop - while the Launchpad gesture may be difficult for some, this gesture, using the thumb and three-finger spread to show the desktop, is perhaps even more difficult. Both seem to become a little easier to use with practice. Show Desktop may also be done - and is easier - with the F11 key (Fn + F11 on some Macs). All windows are cleared from the screen and the user has a view of only the desktop and icons displayed there.


    Magic Trackpad

    The preferences panel on a Mac that uses the Apple Magic Trackpad is slightly different to assist with features concerning battery life. The videos for each of the gestures demonstrated are also different, with the trackpad being shown as the Magic Trackpad and not the built-in trackpad on the MacBook Pro.

    Magic Trackpad

    At the bottom of each of the three panes, to the left of the "Set Up Bluetooth Trackpad" button, is a battery level indicator. Like the Magic Mouse (and the wireless keyboard) the Magic Trackpad runs on AA batteries which do sometimes run out. When that happens, the user is given a notification. On earlier versions of OS X, there was a button marked, "Change Batteries" to the right of the level indication: that is no longer shown.

    Magic Trackpad


    A feature that I use often on the trackpad is Zoom with two fingers that works while pressing the Control key. This option is now in the Zoom features of Accessibility Preferences.

    Older Macs with trackpads that do not support gestures will display a simpler trackpad preference panel.

    Like other menubar items, using the Option key when clicking on the Bluetooth icon, brings up a menu with more information than is available normally. This may help with diagnostics.

    See Also:

    Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)

  • advertisement


    Made on Mac

    For further information, e-mail to

    information Tag information Tag

    Back to eXtensions
    Back to Home Page