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How to Use Your Macbook’s Trackpad Gestures

macbook-trackpad-gestures

MacBooks offer quite a few multi-touch trackpad gestures. These gestures allow you to perform common actions more quickly — the trackpad isn’t for pointing and clicking.

The same gestures will work on a Apple Magic Trackpad, too. We’re focusing on the default gestures here, although they can be customized — if you’ve already customized them, they’ll work differently.

Clicking, Scrolling, Zooming, and Rotating

You can perform a single-finger tap on your trackpad to left-click or a two-finger tap to right-click — no need to actually press down on the trackpad.

The three-finger tap isn’t as obvious. Position your cursor over a word in almost any application and perform a three-finger tap to view a dictionary definition for that word.

mac-trackpad-tap-to-define-word

Scrolling is simple — place two fingers on your trackpad and move them up, down, left, or right to scroll in any direction.

Zoom in our out in a browser or another document with a pinch-to-zoom gesture. Place two fingers on the trackpad and move them together to zoom in or move them apart to zoom out.

Perform a “smart zoom” by double-tapping with two fingers on the content you want to zoom into. For example, when we double-tap with two fingers on a How-To Geek article, it automatically zooms so that the main content column fills the browser window.

mac-smart-zoom-trackpad-tap

Rotate the current document by placing two fingers on your trackpad and moving them in a circle, like you’re turning a knob. This won’t do anything in a web browser but will work in applications where it’s appropriate. For example, this gesture rotates the current photo when you use it in iPhoto.

mac-rotate-trackpad-gesture

Navigation Gestures

Place two fingers on the trackpad and swipe to the left or right to swipe between pages. For example, this gesture goes back or forward a page in Safari or Chrome.

safari-mac-swipe-to-go-back

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To move between Spaces (multiple desktops) or full-screen applications, place four fingers on the trackpad and swipe to the left or right. To view all these Spaces, full-screen applications, and windows, place four fingers on the trackpad and swipe up. This opens the Mission Control screen. You can also perform a four-finger swipe-down to leave this screen.

mac-mission-control-gesture

To view Launchpad, which shows icons for all your installed applications and allows you to launch them, perform a pinch gesture with your thumb and three fingers.

mac-launchpad-gesture

To view your desktop, perform a “reverse pinch” — place your thumb and three other fingers on the trackpad and spread them apart instead of pinching them together. The windows on your screen will move out of the way, allowing you to see your desktop. To get your windows back, perform a the opposite gesture, pinching your fingers together instead of spreading them apart.

mac-show-desktop-gesture

Place two fingers at the right side of your trackpad and swipe them to the left to open the Notification Center. Notifications from applications like email clients, instant messaging programs, Twitter applications, and anything else that creates system notifications will appear here.

mac-notification-center-gesture

Viewing and Customizing Gestures

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Apple allows you to customize almost all of these gestures, changing which gesture corresponds to which action, and disable any gestures you don’t want to use. They also provide videos that demonstrate how these gestures work — a welcome change from Windows 8’s trackpad gestures, which weren’t explained anywhere in its interface.

To access this pane, click the Apple icon on the bar at the top of your screen, click System Preferences, and click Trackpad. Here you’ll find settings and videos — hover over a gesture to watch the short video that demonstrates how it works.

mac-trackpad-gestures-system-preferences-pane

A few of the gestures here are disabled by default, but can be enabled. For example, one gesture allows you to move windows around your screen by placing three fingers on your trackpad and moving your fingers. Or, you can enable the App Exposé option and perform a four-finger downward swipe to view all the open windows associated with the current application.

(To view all open windows for all applications, just perform a four-finger swipe upwards to visit Mission Control.)

mac-app-expose-gesture


You probably won’t use every gesture all the time, but they’re very useful for getting around your Mac. They allow you to use fluid finger movements rather than hunting and pecking for the small targets on your screen. Visit the Trackpad panel in System Preferences to review the gestures at any time.

Image Credit: Jennifer Morrow on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/22/14

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