How to use Trackpad's hidden, time-saving macOS multi-touch gestures

A Mac's built-in Trackpad offers a wealth of customizable options. Learn how to make the most of macOS multi-touch gestures with these tips.

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Most Mac users know how to right-click using two fingers and zoom in or out by pinching their fingers together or apart, but a host of other lesser known options unleash a macOS-powered Trackpad's potential.

Review and configure multi-touch operation in macOS using System Preferences' Trackpad settings. The Trackpad option has three tabs: Point & Click, Scroll & Zoom, and More Gestures (Figure A).

Figure A

Image: Apple Inc.

Point & Click

Point & Click presents three options (Figure A) that can exponentially increase the utility of your Mac's Trackpad in everyday use.

Look Up & Data Detectors permits tapping the Trackpad with three fingers to search the dictionary and Wikipedia for a highlighted word or phrase. As a tech professional that frequently works within contracts, agreements, reports, project plans, and other documents, the three-finger tap is a time-saving shortcut.

Secondary Click is a critical checkbox that enables right-clicking by clicking the Trackpad with two fingers. I can't imagine using a Mac without the box checked (without the option selected, you have to press the Control key when clicking to specify a secondary or right-click action).

Tap To Click. Check this box to require only a lighter tap on the Trackpad to indicate a click.

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Scroll & Zoom

The Trackpad's second tab, Scroll & Zoom, boasts four options (Figure B).

Figure B

Image: Apple Inc.

Scroll Direction: Natural ties content tracking to what Apple describes as natural movement. In other words, with natural scroll direction enabled, scrolling two fingers scrolls content down. I find that movement the opposite of my natural inclination, however, and prefer to clear the setting so that sliding two fingers down the Trackpad scrolls to the bottom of the screen.

The Zoom In Or Out box permits pinching with two fingers, while Smart Zoom permits tapping two fingers twice to zoom in or out on an element.

Rotate permits rotating objects by rotating two fingers on the Trackpad. Most users typically rotate their thumb and index fingers on the Trackpad when using this feature.

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More Gestures

Seven additional multi-touch gestures are available from the More Gestures tab (Figure C). Don't let the fact that these features are lesser known fool you--the utility these options present can change the way you use a Mac laptop every day.

Figure C

Image: Apple Inc.

Swipe Between Pages permits scrolling sideways. For example, you can move between webpages using this technique by swiping two fingers right or left.

The Swipe Between Full-Screen Apps option empowers the same functionality, only using three fingers you can move between open full-screen applications. It's a handy shortcut I leverage often when using my 13" Macbook Air with no external display, as the quick gesture helps instantly recall information present within another window.

Selecting the Notification Center checkbox permits you to open the macOS Notification Center by swiping to the left from the Trackpad's right edge. Alternatively, with the option selected, you can close the Notification Center by sliding two fingers to the right from the Trackpad's left edge.

Another of the handiest gestures I've found, especially when using a 13" Mac display, is the three fingers up swipe, which opens Mission Control. With Mission Control, all open apps including those hidden behind open programs display within separate sections of the display, thereby permitting rapid switching between apps.

With the sixth option enabled, swiping three fingers down calls App Exposé. With App Exposé, all open applications appear one at a time, and you can cycle through them using the Tab key.

The Launchpad option, in which you perform a pinch motion using your thumb and three fingers, is another significant time saver. Use the gesture to rapidly open the Launchpad, which permits quickly opening an application without having to click Finder, click the Applications directory, and navigate to the correct program, which itself would require a double-click to open.

Show Desktop lets you immediately cut through the clutter of open windows to view the Desktop. Perform a spread gesture with your thumb and three fingers, if you've checked this box, to perform this operation. Reverse the gesture (perform the same movement as used to draw Launchpad--pinch three fingers and a thumb inward) to return the formerly open windows to their previous display state.

Don't forget to use these features

Once enabled, don't forget to use these features. Establishing a new habit takes some patience, but once it's in place, you'll find the Mac is a much more responsive platform.

For more guidance, open the Trackpad System Preferences option and click on any of the previously mentioned gestures. macOS provides a helpful preview video that shows a demonstration of the gesture and function's performance.

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