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Magic Trackpad with Pro Tools

Finally the day have arrived that I can share some thoughts on this little “magical” device. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now and I didn’t wanted to rush any review prematurely, as with any other new gadgets you have to give yourself time to get really used to it, to feel it and master it. First impressions can be very misleading in both direction. In the first few days some can feel it is so magical that no other device should exist, or the opposite: hate it and want the money back. The truth – as usual – is somewhere in between.

Within the first few days I used the magic trackpad without any additional feature enhancer software, just to get the feel of it, to get accustomed to it. If anyone ever used any touch sensitive iOS device before, then multitouch gestures won’t be completely new. I’m a well-known iPad addict, so for me these multi-touch things are very natural to perform. If you are not really that “touch-type” person, I recommend to use it first with the very basic things just to become familiar with the multi-touch experience. If you jump right into the middle, you might get lost and eventually angry. Everyone needs some time to really master the different gestures. Once you are comfortable with the basic gestures, you’re ready to take the next step. Don’t rush it, or you’ll soon become disappointed. This process is really very person dependent, someone become a multi-touch ninja in a few days, others might need a few weeks before they can absolutely distinguish the various gestures. No more warning.

The magic trackpad is literally a huge touch-pad, almost the same that you can find in any Apple MacBook Pro, but fortunately it is much bigger in size. It is a bluetooth device operating with two AA batteries. The batteries lasts for weeks even if you use it constantly. At first I wasn’t sure about that if it’s really adequate for any serious work. But after a few hours of usage I knew that this is really a special piece.

By default it has limited gesture knowledge, but you can easily unlock this limitation with some software. At first though, I urge you to practice the basic gestures for a few days, you’ll thank me later. It is really just a friendly advice, because I’ve heard too many complaints from people who thought they would handle it in a few hours, and they’ve failed. They became frustrated as they were constantly mis-performed the gestures, and finally most of them gave up and sold their trackpads.  (now really end of warnings) In Lion, there is a default behavior called natural scrolling, which can be strange and very counterintuitive while using Pro Tools, so I simply switched it off in the preferences.

Assuming you’re already good in “gesturing”, the next step is to download the free BetterTouchTool application. I know that there are more of its kind, but this is probably the most sophisticated one. From now on, the only limit is your imagination. This little utility opens up the door to the real capabilities of the magic trackpad. You can define virtually any kind of gesture to any shortcut, so the trackpad soon become not only a nice pointing device, but a powerful tool in your arsenal.

This little tool supports ample multi-touch gestures performed with up to five fingers, this includes: touch, pinch, swipe, tap, tip-tap, clickswipe and almost any combination of these. There is one even more magician like option, that is the 11 finger tap/whole hand, but I didn’t find it useful. Don’t be daunted by the “menu”. Start with little steps, one or two special gestures first and when those are burned in, you can move on to define more. If you become a master of it, there’s even an option for application specific gestures. I recommend to practice the newly defined gestures, and only define new ones, when your failure rate is incredibly low. There is a very helpful feature in BetterTouchTool called Show Live View where everyone can check if the performed gestures are correctly identified. BetterTouchTool is a very deep little app, you can even adjust the sensitivity of taps and swipes and other things. Experiment and tweak the advanced settings until it really fits you.

After a few weeks I’m still in the middle of experimenting and exploring new possibilities, but right now, my settings are these:

  • One finger swiping and tapping is behaving like the normal mouse movement and left click.
  • Two finger tap is right click
  • Two finger swipe up-down-left-right is scroll up-down-left-right
  • Three finger swipe is dragging: with this, you can move any floating window around, and select areas in the edit window, manipulate plugin parameters
  • Pinch in-out (with two fingers) is zoom in-out (r and t with keyboard focus on)
  • Single tap top left is export selected clips
  • Single tap top middle is play-stop (space bar)
  • Single tap top right is bounce to disk
  • Single tap bottom left is consolidate
  • Single tap bottom right is identify sync point
  • Four finger tap opens the workspace window
  • Four finger swipe left-right jumps and select previous-next clip
  • Five finger swipe right opens the mix window
  • Five finger swipe left is zoom toggle

This is my setup right now with the magic trackpad. It is going to evolve, but I use the same method I suggested above, make little steps and be sure that I am comfortable with every newly defined gesture.

I can tell you that I didn’t really know what to expect from the magic trackpad, but now it has become an almost indispensable tool. I still don’t know if it will be as good and reliable as the Kensington Expert mouse, but it is a stellar tool. And one word about RSI. Though this gadget will not help cure your RSI (if you have), but while it is very hard to change hands with a mouse or trackball, it is very easy with the magic trackpad even if you don’t have so good manual dexterity. At worst, you skip some of the gestures when you’re using it with the left hand for example, but you’ll be able to use most them with both hands.

Here’s a little video showing the gestures enumerated in the post:

For HD quality, please go here.

If anyone interested in this setup, drop a comment or a mail and I would happily share it.

10 Comments

  1. Pedro R

    Hi, i was wondering how did you setup the changing volume gesture, thanks!

  2. Hi,

    it’s the default three finger drag, which is click and drag in reality. Touch with three fingers and hold, and there you go.
    The only setup it need is to switch 3 finger drag on in the system prefs.

  3. Ollen

    Hi
    Are these settings automatically defaulted in pro tools. I am gonna purchase one and just want to know if I have to somehow do some changes within pro tools. For instance how did u get pro tools to recognize the “single tap top right” as the bounce to disk function?
    Thanx

  4. Claire Pochon

    Hello Tamas,

    Many thanks for your tutorial! I am a dialog and post-sync editor in Montreal and I am hesitating to purchase a magic trackpad.
    As I watched your video, I was wondering: is it precise enough to cut dialog and also, as you use one finger to point, what do the other fingers do, I mean aren’t they sort of tense, folded in your palm, don’t you have your wrist up in the air because they won’t be resting on anything? (I am not sure my question is clear but I am trying it…) Forgive me if you have already answered this question about cutting dialog with the trackpad.

    A nice day to you!

    Claire

  5. Ben

    Could you slip audio within a region using a swiping gesture and BetterTouchTool?
    Many Thanks

  6. silvio

    hi can you explain how to set up the three finger actions?? thanks

  7. Hi Silvio,

    sure, it’s quite easy once you know Bettertouchtool a bit more. Add new gesture, select 3 finger swipe (or any which you like) and then add the keyboard shortcut you want to trigger with the 3 finger action. That’s it. It takes a little practice but worth the time.

    Hope this helps.

    Tamas

  8. The genius store called, they’re running out of you.

  9. That’s a brilliant answer to an interesting question

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