BetterTouchTool is one of the most useful macOS automation apps. While it’s not as powerful at pure automation as something like Keyboard Maestro, with BetterTouchTool you can control a Mac in many different ways.
For example, one of my favourite ways to use it is to create custom multitouch gestures on for the Trackpad. A three-finger swipe up with Safari open on my MacBook creates a new tab. A three-finger swipe down closes one.
Another great use is to make custom Touch Bars on one of the new MacBook Pros. Instead of relying on developers to implement the features you want, you can add almost anything to a Touch Bar and have it accessible where ever you want.
In this tutorial, however, I'll show you a different way to control a Mac using BetterTouchTool: with the BetterTouchTool Remote app for iOS.
The BetterTouchTool Remote App
The BetterTouchTool Remote app or BTT Remote is an iOS app that allows you to remotely control a Mac as long as you’re on the same Wi-Fi network.
It’s free in the iOS App Store, although there’s a $3.99 in-app purchase to unlock all the features. You get the basic functionality in the free version, but if you’re planning to make BTT Remote part of your workflow, it’s worth upgrading.
BTT Remote includes a trackpad, file browser, media keys and access to the menubar so you can directly control a Mac from the app, however, that’s not it’s true power. It’s real strength is letting you create custom BetterTouchTool actions that can be triggered from the app.
Connecting BTT Remote to a Mac
To connect BTT Remote to a Mac you need BTT Remote running on the iOS and BetterTouchTool running on the Mac. If you don’t have both apps downloaded, go grab them now. BTT Remote is in the App Store while BetterTouchTool is available from the developer’s website.
Both devices also need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. As long as they are, and the Wi-Fi network is not an incredibly complex, fire-walled enterprise system, they should work automatically.
Make sure BetterTouchTool is running in the background on the Mac and open BTT Remote on the iOS device. You will see a list of automatically discovered macOS devices running on the network.
Select the Mac you wish to connect to—I’ve chosen Harry’s MacBook Pro—and tap on it. On the Mac, you’ll be asked whether or not to allow the connection. Click Yes and BTT Remote will connect. You’ll be able to control the Mac from the iOS device.
Using the Trackpad, File Browser and Menubar
Until you configure a few actions, you’ll only really be able to use BTT Remote’s trackpad, File Browser and Menubar controls. Let’s look at how to do that.
BTT Remote has three main screens.
On the first screen, you control the apps. Swipe to the right and you get to the screen that has the keyboard controls, media keys and a multitouch trackpad. Swipe to the left and you get a screen that has a more powerful trackpad that’s a little easier to use with its bigger touch area.
From the first screen, you access the File Browser and Menubar with the buttons at the bottom of the screen.
With these features you can control a Mac but it’s an awkward process. Using an iOS device to control the cursor or navigate the file system works, but it’s far from ideal.
Creating a Simple Action
Open BetterTouchTool on the Mac and go to the BTT Remote tab. This is where all the real configuration happens.
I’ve covered setting up BetterTouchTool gestures in a lot of detail before so check out that tutorial if you want a longer explanation.
In the sidebar you'll see a Global option and, if you’ve used BetterTouchTool before, a list of apps you’ve already set up. I’m going to create a simple action that I can trigger from any app to open Safari, create a new tab and navigate to Envato Tuts+.
Click Add Remote Trigger and give it a name. I’ve gone with Open Tuts+. The first thing I need the action to do is open Safari so from the Predefined Actions pop out, I’ve selected Open Application / File and then Safari.
Launching Safari on its own isn’t enough. I also need the action to create a new tab, enter the Tuts+ web address and press Return. To do that, click Attach Additional Action and then add Command-T as a Custom Keyboard Shortcut.
Click Attach Additional Action again, and this time add Utility Actions > Insert / Paste Custom Text and enter www.tutsplus.com.
Add a final action that presses the Return key and that’s the action set up to ready to go.
Triggering That Action
Now I’ve got a simple action ready to go.
Open BTT Remote and select the Active App. In my case, it’s Ulysses. There you’ll see a list of possible actions. The only one I’m interested in is the single Global Action: Open Tuts+.
Tap it, and Safari opens and loads Tuts+.
BTT Remote and BetterTouchTool lend themselves to some really interesting uses. While controlling a Mac with a remote trackpad and file browser is useful, the real strength is in creating actions that you can trigger from afar. Opening a specific web page on a Mac while you lounge on your couch is just one of them.
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