That Magic Touch: Use a Stylus on Your Apple Magic Trackpad

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LYNKtec Stylus Pro

Some people find a stylus convenient to use with an iPad or even an iPhone. On the other hand, one usually thinks of using a finger on Apple's Magic Trackpad. However, a capacitive stylus designed for an iPad works beautifully on Apple's Magic Trackpad and is even more accurate.

Recently, I was having some pain in my right thumb, and I think it was because my Logitech mouse had a left button that was slightly too hard to click. That was putting some mild pressure on my thumb as I squeezed. Briefly, I thought about switching to a trackball, but after reading customer reviews and sizing up my own situation, I decided that a trackball wasn't the answer either. I looked for a different mouse with a lighter left button click. That would take the pressure off my thumb because I wouldn't have to grip so tightly.

I experimented with a lot of mice from my office, and, amazingly, the one I liked best was an old Apple Pro Mouse. I found it amazing that such an old mouse worked so well for me, but sometimes the future marches on with style and leaves ergonomics behind for some users.

I own and have used an Apple Magic Mouse, but I don't like the way a drifting forefinger can trigger a sideways scroll. Older mice restrict the scrolling to one dimension, and I like that.

Apple's Magic Trackpad. I've had an Apple Magic Trackpad for a long time, but it fell out of use for several reasons. First, it didn't have the resolution I wanted and, second, my finger would never seem to slide as easily as I wanted. Those two factors prevented fine cursor control when I edited my articles.

Apple's Magic Trackpad + Microfiber stylus = More magic

Then I had a brainstorm. Why not try one of those many styluses I'd been testing and reviewing for iPads? The ones that worked the best with Apple's trackpad surface were the ones with a microfiber tip, such as the TruGlide Pro Stylus or the older the TruGlide Stylus.

The smaller, 5 mm, microfiber tip of these styluses glides across the face of the trackpad much better than my bare finger in my experience and is more accurate. It's a solution worth trying for many who want to hold a stylus, like a pen, in a more natural, upright position.

The microfiber tip on these LYNKtec styluses is sturdy enough that you can push the trackpad down to click if you like that mode better than than the "tap to click" mode. (System Preferences -> Trackpad -> "Tap to click.") I may change my mind about that now that I'm using a stylus instead of my finger.

The only drawback to this technique is that if one is doing a lot of writing, one has to pick up the stylus after typing and then put it back down when done. That's not quite as convenient as a bigger mouse that's easy to locate and grab. Also, I've noticed that I need to push just a little harder on the trackpad surface than I do on the face of, say, an iPad. Not a lot.

If you're not happy with a your current mouse, and you're not convinced that a trackball is the answer, but you happen to have a an Apple Magic Trackpad laying around -- or have always wanted one -- give it another try. You may find that a microfiber stylus, or even one with a rubber nib, works better than anything you've tried so far.

Note: Related to all this, especially for trackpad users, check out Jeff Gamet's nifty video tip on how to enable OS X window scroll bars.

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Comments

Lee Dronick

That is a good tip!

Mrvvg

Interesting post, must try this. I used a mouse for years and had severe pain in my right thumb - then I broke my right wrist and couldn’t use a mouse having taught myself to use it in my ‘wrong’ hand. [I’m left handed]. I reverted to the laptop trackpad having never got used to the Apple incarnation but the stylus looks like worth trying. Not using a mouse for two years now means the thumb is just fine.

Laura E. Kelly

I just ordered a new iMac and decided to get it with a trackpad rather than a mouse. I’ve never used a trackpad but was wondering whether it could also be used as some sort of tablet for small sketches if I had a stylus. And your post answers that a “yes.” Am ordering my TruGlide Pro Stylus today! Thanks to you (and Google) for this info.

John Martellaro

Ms. Kelly. I’ve tested that.  Any stylus works very nicely with the Apple Trackpad for operations—- including drawing. Just be aware that the Apple Trackpad doesn’t have near the resolution in dpi of the magic mouse.  I’m not familar with drawing tablets, like those from Wacom, but Jeff Gamet, our managing editor is. We can ask him.

John Martellaro

Ms. Kelly:  Jeff says to look at the Wacom Intuos line.

Laura E. Kelly

Thanks very much for that info, John. Sounds like I might have made a mistake picking the trackpad vs. the magic mouse—I had no idea that a difference in dpi was involved (not even sure how dpi comes into the picture—all it is is a blinking cursor, right? I’ll find out). Also, I knew about the Wacom Intuous but had hoped the trackpad would could serve a similar function. Oh, well, will try it out and can always pick up the other peripherals for more $ if it’s a bust.  Was expecting my new iMac today, but the Fedex tracking shows that on the trek over from San Jose it’s gotten stuck in Indianapolis—due to all the snow, I presume. Darn winter!

John Martellaro

Ms. Kelly: This review has some data on the resolution of some mice.

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/review/logitech-ultrathin-touch-mouse-gets-a-big-thumbs-up

The resolution of the Apple Trackpad is hard to find. I’m guessing it’s about 600 dpi. The Apple Magic Mouse is 1300.  The Wacom tablets can soar way above that.

dpi comes into play when you have an app that allows for fine control, high resolution when drawing.

You may not have made a mistake after all. The Apple trackpad + stylus will get you started with sketching while you research the right wacom pad.

Laura E. Kelly

Thanks very much for that link with the res specs. The Logitech mouse you compared to the Magic Mouse looks v. interesting, too. I’ve bookmarked that review for future ref in case I decide to add back a mouse to the mix. In the meantime I’ll do my best to acclimate to the trackpad—looking forward to trying it with a stylus, too.

Mandy James

Thanks for your recommendation of the stylus pen. I have bought my TruGlide Pro pen. I want to use it in the “tap to click” mode as I’m suffering from elbow pain and see if using a stylus instead of my finger or a mouse will relieve my pain. However, even I have activated the “tap to click” function in the system preference, my mac is not responding to the stylus’ tap. I can only use it by the physical click of the stylus. Is there anything that needs to do with the settings? Thank you so much!

John Martellaro

Ms. James: That’s all you need to do. I just tested the Apple Magic Trackpad and the TruGlide stylus.  I found that I have to keep the stylus vertical and tap a bit harder than expected.

Mandy James

I follow your advice and it works like a charm! Thanks!!

Daniel Escudeiro

Hi John, thanks for the review. I’m a graphic designer who’s been working with wacom tablets for many years now, and have become somewhat useless without them. I’ve been researching forums to learn if a magic trackpad could replace my old wacom (since I’m getting a neu iMac), but I gather from the comments here that it’s not a good idea since it doesn’t do such a good job in terms of resolution, right? Also, the broad tip of the stylus doesn’t seem nearly as precise as the tips of graphics tablets pens. If Jeff has any inputs on that, I’d love to hear them as well. Thanks!

John Martellaro

Mr. Escudeiro: It’s been very difficult to find out the resolution, in dpi, of the Apple Magic Trackpad.  I asked Apple, but they declined to answer.

Gregor Gorjanc

Hi,

1. Could this be a poor man’s graphical tablet for occasional use?

2. Does this solution work with the laptops trackpad, i.e., not the “standalone” Magic Trackpad?

Thanks!

John Martellaro

Mr.  Gorjanc.

1. Some might think the resolution is insufficient.

2. Yes.

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