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How to control trackpad sensitivity

Newsletter subscriber Jac asked how he could make his trackpad less sensitive. As you might suspect, these settings are found in the Trackpad section of System Preferences. But you may not realize that buried in this section of System Preferences is a great video tutorial of many functions you can perform using trackpad gestures with one, two, three, and even four fingers! Watch this video to see how to control your trackpad’s tracking speed, double-click speed, and scrolling speed, also get a quick tour of the trackpad gesture video demonstrations.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

Setting your trackpad settings can be a game of tradeoffs.

A fast tracking speed will let you quickly move the cursor from one side of the screen to the other but may make it more difficult to make small precise movements. But set it too slow and your fingers will quickly get tired from all the effort required to move the cursor across the screen.

It can be really annoying when you accidentally double-click and open a file or launch an application you didn’t mean to. I find that setting the double-click speed is simply a matter of setting it just fast enough so that two consecutive single-clicks don’t get mistaken for a double-click. Any faster than that and your fingers will quickly tire.

Using two fingers on the trackpad to scroll through a web page or document is so handy that I rarely use the left scroll bar anymore. The tradeoffs in setting this scrolling speed are similar to setting the tracking speed. Too fast and the document will fly by and you’ll reach the end. Too slow and it will take too much finger effort to get anywhere. Play around with it and find the happy medium that suits you best.

Besides the speed settings, the Trackpad Preferences window gives you control over many trackpad gestures, using one to four fingers! And each has a cool video demonstration showing fingers on a trackpad and the resulting effect on a screen. These tiny video tutorials are a great learning tool and may show you things you didn’t realize you could do with your Mac.

In case the videos aren’t self-explanatory, here’s a quick description of the various trackpad gestures.

One Finger
  • Tap to Click — Makes a tap on the trackpad the same as clicking the trackpad button.
  • Dragging — Makes a double-tap and drag the same as holding down the trackpad button and dragging with the trackpad.
  • Drag Lock — Lets you lift your finger off the trackpad and then return it to continue dragging. A single tap unlocks the draggin.
Two Finger
  • Scroll — Allows horizontal and vertical scrolling of a window’s contents.
  • Rotate — Often used to rotate photos in iPhoto.
  • Pinch Open & Close — Allows zooming (in and out) of photos, web pages, and some documents.
  • Screen Zoom — Normally with the Control key, zooms into a portion of the screen (see “How do I magnify or zoom my screen” to see it in action.
  • Secondary Tap — Access contextual menus (usually displayed using a Control-click or right-click) by holding two fingers on the trackpad and then clicking the trackpad button. Or, if “Tap to Click” (above) is on, then a two finger tap is all that is required.
Three Fingers
  • Swipe to Navigate — Used to navigate through web pages (left for Back, right for Forward) or viewing in iPhoto or Preview.
Four Fingers
  • Swipe Up/Down for Exposé — Swipe up to move all windows out of the way so you can see your Desktop and then up again to bring them back. Swipe down to zoom out and show all open windows with no overlap. You can click on one to bring it to the front or swipe down again to return the windows to their previous size.
  • Swipe Left/Right to Switch Applications — Identical to Command+Tab, this gesture displays the application switcher, which lets you easily switch between open applications.

With a little practice I predict that many of these gestures will quickly become second nature to you. If you use an iPad or iPhone you probably know many of them already.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • ellsworthtaylor February 10, 2015, 7:25 pm

    I don’t know what your’er talkin about. I don’t have tracking speed,double click speed, or scrolling speed on my Macbook Air .Do you keep up to date?

    • Steve February 11, 2015, 9:37 pm

      What version of Mac OS X are you running? The Preferences continue to change and move around but you can probably find them somewhere. In Yosemite (Mac OS X 10.10) you can find those settings here:

      Tracking speed: Trackpad > Point & Click tab > Tracking Speed
      Double click speed: Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Double-click speed
      Scrolling speed: Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > Trackpad Options button or Mouse Options button > Scrolling Speed

      • Akzal May 24, 2016, 4:02 am


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