How the Magic Trackpad could be more magical

Apple's Magic Trackpad offers an easy-to-use touch interface for Mac users, but it could be so much more than just a trackpad.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

Magic? Not quite yet.
Magic? Not quite yet. Sarah Tew, Scott Stein/CNET

Apple seems to be in the later phases of a touch revolution as of late--or, at least, it seems to be trying to complete the loop. In a movement started by the iPhone and continued in MacBook multitouch trackpads, the Apple Magic Trackpad extends multitouch to non-laptop Mac owners who might feel left out of the pinch-to-zoom/multi-finger swipe party.

Touch is hardly an Apple-only trend--in fact, many desktop Windows all-in-ones already incorporate touch-screen environments. Apple does, however, seem to be keen on possibly phasing out the mouse from its plans and working a common language of touch gestures across all Apple products. Could this portend iOS creeping its way into OSX? That's still unclear, but the Magic Trackpad does offer some possibilities all its own, whether or not iOS makes a Mac debut.

As a compact square slab, the Trackpad could ideally do things that a regular mouse just can't, including be a lap device for living-room use. While we found the Magic Trackpad to work well and do what it advertises, it really could go a lot more places in the future. Right now, the Magic Trackpad isn't really "magic." But it could be, in the future. Here's what we'd like next:

Apple Magic Trackpad (photos)

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  • Dedicated volume/media control gestures. the Magic Trackpad has no vocabulary for video/music browsing, playback, or any fast forward/rewind/volume adjustments. Considering how fun and futuristic the Microsoft Kinect seemed to make media viewing, we'd love to see the Trackpad be as usable as a remote for HDMI-connected MacBooks and Mac Minis. A few discrete buttons, despite attacking Apple's minimalist aesthetic, could greatly improve the stand-alone uses for the Magic Trackpad. Especially if they were customizable, or could be used to launch popular applications.
  • iPad connectivity. Wait, you ask: why would a portable touch-screen device need a portable touchpad? It sounds silly until you consider the limitations the iPad faces when it's mounted in a monitor-like display or stand and interfaced via a keyboard. While iOS 4 would need a tweak to recognize trackpad cursor-style gestures, it could be a cool add-on for those who really use their iPads like portable workstations.
  • Lap-friendly clicking. The Magic Trackpad invisibly clicks thanks to ingenious design and hidden rubber feet, but it can't be held in one's hand and clicked unless the tap-to-click feature is enabled, which eliminates the physical feedback of clicking. Top buttons or a top-activated click mechanic that could be used away from desks would be ideal.
  • Unique software support from developers. This is likely only a matter of time, but the Magic Trackpad could be a blank slate for movie editing, photo editing, music creation, and other creative applications. We'll need to wait for that support right now, as the Trackpad currently has a limited but universal set of functions.
  • Macros and user-created gestures. Why can't a three-finger spread-pinch open Safari? Or, perhaps, a triple-tap to bring up Mail? Application launching and dedicated macros can be extremely useful on mice, and a create-your-own-gesture preferences toolkit would be amazing. It's not likely to happen anytime soon, at least until most users become dead comfortable with existing touch gestures.
  • Future ideas: A built-in screen to create animated virtual control panels for software (editing wheels, color palettes, custom calculators), magnets to help the Trackpad clip on the side of the Bluetooth keyboard, and better controls for gaming would all be welcome, although we doubt any gamer would ever choose to part with their mouse. If some of these ideas are implemented, we could truly justify the Magic Trackpad being a mouse successor. Right now, it's just an interesting lateral move.

Read our review of the Apple Magic Trackpad.