A New MacBook, A New Touchpad

Apple’s recent launch of a new line of notebooks marks another milestone in touchpad functionality. While for other manufacturers, the touchpad rarely even makes it onto a specification sheet, touchpad improvements have recently been a recurring bullet-point in Apple’s notebooks’ launch presentations.

I used a MacBook at Sybase for a while and I really enjoyed the huge touchpad and two-finger scroll. Compared to my Dell XPS M1330, the touchpad was gigantic and the scrolling was far more accurate. Then the MacBook Air upped the stakes by building in more finger gestures. And with the new generation of aluminum MacBook and MacBook Pros, the touchpad has done away with its singular button, instead making the entire touchpad ‘clickable’. Furthermore, a bunch of new three and four finger gestures have been included to activate features such as Exposé. Again, the touchpad has increased in size.

MacBook Pro's button-less touchpad

I thought the lack of a dedicated button sounded a bit like trouble and sure enough, there have been some problems with the entire-touchpad-as-button idea. At Indigo, our team product manager ordered a new MacBook Pro and had it delivered to the office. It was a seriously sweet piece of kit, although I didn’t even try to get any hands-on time with it. Didn’t seem appropriate at the time. I’ll have to ask him whether he’s run into any touchpad issues.

While perhaps not a complete success, the new touchpad shows that this is an area that Apple is innovating in (or at least getting Synaptics to innovate in). There are some significant usability improvements that can be had with a relatively small change to many existing laptops, such as improving the touchpad. I’m not sure why no one else is following Apple’s lead. Anyone? Anyone at all?

Now, what I’d really like to see is a context-sensitive, multi-touch display, a la the iPhone, as a touchpad. Make it a screen and have it display useful buttons, depending on the current use. For example, on the desktop, show the most commonly (or customized) used programs as icons that can be launched directly from the touchpad. The possibilities could be astounding.

7 thoughts on “A New MacBook, A New Touchpad”

  1. What a great idea.
    The reason why i love all laptops is the touchpad. The distance between touchpad and keyboard is much smaller than between mouse and keyboard. And using the touchscreen as an “all purpose” tool could push productivity even further.

  2. I just picked up a previous generation MacBook a couple of months ago – the touchpad is sweet. 2-finger scrolling is great, and I enabled it for 2-finger touch = right click as well. That works reasonably well, but honestly even though it has one dedicated button I would prefer if it had two rather than the new direction they are moving in (i.e. none).

    I could also see the lack of a button being annoying when you want to highlight / copy text etc…

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