Multiple Input Devices on a Mac Can be Magical

When we think about a Macintosh (or a PC), we usually think about using a single input device (besides the keyboard), a mouse or a trackball. However, with Apple’s newest technologies it can make sense to have multiple input devices at your fingertips.

Recently, in chatting with other TMO staff members, I discovered that I am not alone in using multiple input devices. Suddenly, we realized that this technique of ours may be more widespread than we thought — and that some of the techniques we employ might be an eye opener for many readers. So, with that, here’s how each of us do it, in our own words.

John Martellaro (Apple Magic Trackpad, Apple Magic Mouse)

I have always been a big fan of the Apple Mighty Mouse. I liked the feel of the small scroll ball instead of a wheel, and I liked the pointing precision. I need that for writing and editing because my display, even with Spaces and HyperSpaces, tends to be cluttered. I often have to edit small text and get the insert cursor somewhere fast and accurately.

My wife who is a steadfast trackball user has often tried to get me to use a trackball, but the problem with every trackball I’ve ever used is that I overshoot the target. Then I correct and overshoot a little less. And so on for several iterations. It’s takes me too long to get where I want to go.

The first revelation was when I started using the Apple Magic Trackpad. (See my review at TMO.) This device is a joy to use, and its has the best of both worlds. The gestures are easy to use, and I can lay my forearm on the desk without the edge of the desk digging into it. It has gestures the Magic Mouse doesn’t have, and I love it for scrolling and bringing up Expose and the Application Switcher (on the keyboard CMD + TAB). Most importantly, I can get the pointer to where I want to go fast, with zero overshoot. It’s natural that way in a way a trackball isn’t.

However, the one thing that the Magic Trackpad doesn’t do for me is provide great pointing precision. That is, once I get where I’m going, the final, minute adjustment to place a cursor between the letters of six point type isn’t there for me. Either my finger is too flat on the tip or the device doesn’t provide the inherent tracking precision. (Apple doesn’t publish the pointing precision of the Magic Trackpad, probably because it doesn’t want it compared to the Magic Mouse, which has a precision of 1300 dpi. Plus, everyone’s finger is different.)

In summary, what I’ve found is that the Magic Trackpad is a joy for grand gestures: scrolling, swiping, managing apps and the Magic Mouse is better for writing and editing. I keep them both side by side on my desk and change back and forth.

Now that I’ve started doing this, I’ve done some research. It turns out that a lot of Apple employees are doing the same thing. An Apple rep told TechCrunch: “Some operations are better for a mouse, some for a trackpad.” So there you have it.

John's Desktop

John’s “Magic” Desktop

Jeff Gamet (Kensington Orbit, Wacom Intuos 3, 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator, MacBook Pro trackpad)

I’ve been using a Kensington Orbit trackball ever since they hit the market back in the days of ADB connections because it frees up desk space, works great for lefties like me thanks to its ambidextrous design, and the smaller ball size fits my fingers well. It also saves me from the constant pick up-move-drag routine I had become accustomed to back when I used a traditional mouse.

My Wacom tablet isn’t just for drawing and image editing, although it gets plenty of use in Photoshop and Illustrator thanks to its high resolution and pressure sensitivity. I found that using the included stylus as a pointing device relieves wrist stress, which is especially welcome when I’m navigating through lots of online articles.

I also use 3Dconnexion’s SpaceNavigator for zipping through 3D environments on my Mac. It gets most of its use in Google Earth and Google SketchUp thanks to its ability to navigate closer and farther away from objects instead of simply zooming in. Since the SpaceNavigator is designed to be used in your weak hand, it sits to the right of my keyboard.

Jeff’s desk: Orbit, Intuos3 and SpaceNavigator

Apparently three pointing devices aren’t enough for me because I also regularly use the trackpad on my MacBook Pro. Its job at my desk is to handle multi-touch gesture input in applications, which is probably a pretty good indicator that a Magic Trackpad is in my future.

If my desk is any indication, there are plenty of different devices available for navigating your Mac, and the notion of one-device-fits-all just doesn’t cut it anymore. With all of the specialized tasks we can perform on our Macs, it just seems natural to have more than one pointing device available.