by Tony Gamble
Last week I was meeting with a client who had forgotten to bring a mouse for his laptop. The ensuing struggle with the laptop’s trackpad brought on the sudden realization that perhaps this input device is not nearly as intuitive to the tech-shy as I had previously thought. For those of us who work closely with computers on a daily basis, trackpads, tablets and keyboard shortcuts become second nature. But take a casual user’s mouse away and suddenly the computer is perceived by them as “broken”. It doesn’t help that new advancements in this era of multitouch trackpads can make navigating a display akin to speaking in American Sign Language.
The single most intuitive approach to the trackpad gets everyone on right track, at least. Simply point and touch with your finger. But I’ve noticed that at that point, some people equate the movements of their finger to the motion of a mouse. They’ll pick up their finger and come down again in an attempt to push the pointer forward from its previous location. Instead, think of the trackpad as a tiny mirror of your LCD display. Wherever your finger touches the pad, the pointer will appear in the same relative coordinates on your screen, and it will continue to follow your finger as long as it makes contact with the pad.
Scrolling responds to the same soft touch as moving a pointer. Many laptops have a highlighted strip or simply a reserved edge of the trackpad as a scrolling zone. The best laptops will offer a multitouch convenience, allowing you to scroll regardless of the mouse position (as long as its focused within the window to be scrolled) by swiping with two fingers at once. Of course, you could do it the same way you would a mouse by pointing to the scrollbar, holding a click and moving the pointer.
When it comes to “clicking” on something, you should be aware of two common behaviours: tap click or mechanical click. Older models of laptops will have one or two clearly identifiable buttons close to the touch surface. This mechanical button makes a left or right click pretty obvious, but a lot of people are tripped up by newer models, such as the MacBook line, which have a single surface and no obvious buttons. In this case, the mechanical click comes from depressing the entire lower half of the trackpad; the lower left quadrant for a left click, the lower right quadrant for a right click. For this reason, it’s important to not press too firmly when moving your pointer around the screen or you could register an unintended click. In both cases, there is usually the option of the tap click. This method registers a click simply by quickly touching and releasing the touchpad surface. This registers a left click. For a right-click, use the same method with two fingers.
Using more than one finger at a time on a trackpad has become all the rage, following on the heels of touch tablets like the iPad. The availability of many of these additional guest urges will be dependent on your laptop, its drivers and its applications. Pinch inward with two fingers to zoom out, spread those two fingers apart to zoom in. Or with two fingers slightly apart, turn them in a circular motion to rotate. You can even navigate backward and forward in your Web browser by quickly swiping two fingers toward the left or right edges.
Many of these more advance features are very dependent on the vendor and the software, but take the time to get to know what’s at your disposal and experiment. Having more efficient ways to operate your computer will in turn make it feel like a more efficient machine.