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  1. Computer Skills
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Setting Up Custom Trackpad Gestures on Your Mac


Pinch to zoom and the like are nifty little ways to make use of your Mac's trackpad, but sometimes you want something more out of the little device. For this, several utilities exist, one of which is called MagicPrefs. It’s a free app that allows you to set up all kinds of custom gestures, including a four-finger tap and even sensitivity adjustments. Today I’m going to show you how to use this app to increase your productivity with Apple’s trackpads.

Why You May Need It

Scrolling up and down is simple, but limited. Scrolling up and down is simple, but limited.

Custom trackpad gestures may sound nice, but not everyone can take advantage of them in their daily lives. After all, your Mac does come with a good number of gestures out of the box. You can rotate images, tap to click, drag something with three fingers, open Launchpad, and more. With MagicPrefs, however, you can open an app or even take a screenshot using a combination of fingers strategically. If you’re a gamer, you can even use your trackpad to quickly perform a series of shortcuts. MagicPrefs makes the device a much more versatile tool.

Setting Up Custom Clicks and Taps

Configuring custom clicks and taps. Configuring custom clicks and taps.

Once you download MagicPrefs, just click the app to launch it, then click the menu bar icon and select Preferences to open the dedicated System Preferences pane. Don’t worry about dragging the app file to your Applications folder because it moves it automatically upon first launch.

The first thing you’ll see in the MagicPrefs pane is an open tab for the device you’re using, whether it’s a Magic Mouse, Trackpad, or your MacBook’s input. MagicPrefs’ default settings pane is Clicks & Taps, which lets you use two to five-finger clicks for any defined action, along with one to four-finger taps.

Tip: Slide the bar below Gesture Triggering to adjust the sensitivity of things so you don’t mistakenly launch Angry Birds at work.

Selecting a custom gesture from the menu.
Selecting a custom gesture from the menu.

To set up a custom clicking gesture, click the drop-down menu beside the action and select one of the options. The options include opening Spotlight, using QuickLook, the usual left-click, and even custom actions like running an AppleScript or opening an app. You can set any of the gestures that this app has to do any of the things on the drop-down menu. In addition, you could set them to resize an image by running an AppleScript. The possibilities are limitless.

Once you’ve selected what you want a gesture to do, make sure the box beside it is checked and test out your new function. Remember, though, that some of the functions may be duplicates. Defining a word, for example, is a three-finger tap in OS X. If you use that gesture for something else, it’ll look up a word as well as perform the task you’ve assigned it to. You don’t want a bunch of stuff popping up all the time, so it’d be best to check before finalizing your settings. Strangely, the app doesn’t warn you of a duplicate with clicks and taps.

Moving to Swipes and Rotation

Setting up swipes. Take note of the exclamation marks beside some gestures. Setting up swipes. Take note of the exclamation marks beside some gestures.

The next two tabs you will find in MagicPrefs are Swipes and Rotate & Pitch. Even though swipes are very useful, you may not be able to use them right away because most Macs come assign these to Mission Control and fullscreen app switching by default. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them at all though. Head to the Trackpad tab of System Preferences, click More Gestures, and uncheck “Swipe between full-screen apps” or “Mission Control”, or both if you wish. Now go back to MagicPrefs and the Swipes tab should be ready for use. All available actions here are the same as in other tabs.

Adding some rotation and pitch customization. Adding some rotation and pitch customization.

Next up are Rotate & Pitch, which are typically only used for zooming in/out and rotating an image in an editing app. Here, however, you can assign the gestures to anything you want, from a quick way to lock your computer to launching an app. Take note that to enable them you may need to disable the conflicting gestures in the Trackpad pane.

Expand Things With Plugins and Zones

Adding a custom zone to a gesture for the personal touch. Adding a custom zone to a gesture for the personal touch.

Maybe you don’t like the way that one gesture triggers. Not a problem, we can fix it with the zone editing function. Hover over the gesture you want to modify and click the orange round-square button toward the bottom of the screen. Now drag the corners of the orange action field to define where this gesture can be used. This can be used to keep people from opening certain things by mistake. Just make sure you don’t restrict yourself on a four-finger action.

Improving the app with plugins. Improving the app with plugins.

The next thing you can do to expand your gesture horizons is install a plugin. Open the browser for these by clicking the Plugins button at the bottom right of the screen. Scroll through the list and look for something that sounds useful in your daily life, whether it be iSightSnap for quick portraits or MPCpuThrottle to restrict MagicPrefs' use of the CPU in the case that things slow down a bit. The app includes four plugins, but you can install most of the others on the list for free.

Tip: If you’re a developer, consider building your own plugin for MagicPrefs using its public API.

Save Presets for Later

Wrap up with a preset. Wrap up with a preset.

Wait just a second! You’re not finished setting up MagicPrefs just yet. What about when you restart your computer? Sure, your settings will load back up, but will they be the right ones? If you’re using a different set of apps that day, you may want your “work” preset, or maybe even your “gaming” one. To set up these, click the field beside Preset and select one of the names listed. You can also tie a preset to a certain app by clicking the gear button and selecting the “Bind specific applications to this preset” option, then proceeding to add whatever apps you wish to the list.

When you want to quickly switch gestures, click the menu bar icon and hover over “Import preset”. Click whichever one you wish and it’ll be pulled in for use.

What Will You Use It For?

MagicPrefs truly is a magical utility that can be used by anybody. What we’d like to know is, what do you plan to use it for in your daily life? Do chat about it in the comments below.

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