Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Apple Magic Trackpad Makes Me Rethink Tap-To-Click

I am one of those folks who is forever in search of better ergonomics in my typing and pointing on computers. How troubled am I? Well, at one point in 2004, when I decided that my IBM Thinkpad, with its nubby, was the ultimate experience, I bought a crazy black Thinkpad accessory keyboard from IBM that had the full trackpad and nubby but no screen. It looked like a laptop where someone had removed the screen with an ax. I used that for about six months with my desktop computer. I got rid of that when I decided that it was encouraging resting my palms while typing, which is not good for your wrists.

At home, where I use a Mac Pro, I type on an Apple Wireless keyboard. That was a bit of an experiment for me since it lacked a numeric keypad. But lo and behold, I found I did not miss the keypad much at all. I guess Steve was right again. And no, I don’t find laptop ergonomics all that great, especially Apple laptops. Unibody Apple laptops have a razor blade for a front edge and can raise your body temp one degree per 15 min of use on an actual lap. My theory is that Apple calls them notebook computers for fear that someone will actually catch on fire using a Macbook on their lap and sue Apple, saying they encouraged the use.

In the pointing device department, I have long been a user of the $15 Microsoft Mouse. I then bought an Apple Magic Mouse about six months ago to replace my MS Mouse when I got tired of the mouse wire getting snared and realized that I mostly held my hand in one place and moved the mouse repeatedly over the same patch of desk, lifting to reset it. Yes, I sit in an Aeron chair (best work chair ever made). And yes, I do sit at a two level adjustable height desk that I fell in love with in 1995 when I worked at Silicon Graphics in Mountain View. At my last startup, we bought eight of them. The desks clashed with the decor at DoubleClick when the company was purchased and were turned back to me to the chagrin of my wife.

So, when Apple announced a new pointing device last week, I just had to try it. I really do have a drawer full of keyboards and mice. I am not sure my wife knows quite how full it is.

Now these are early impressions. I have used the thing for eight hours. But here it is. I think I like it for some type of work but not all. And I like it more when tap-to-click is turned on. Tap-to-click is turned off by default on laptops and for good reason. With the trackpad between you and your keyboard, it is somewhat inevitable that you are going to touch the trackpad and create a click inadvertently. But with the Magic Trackpad to the right, that is not really an issue. And once you start using tap-to-click, you realize that it is actually a lot less fatiguing than clicking.

Of course there are issues. The biggest is that dragging an object across the screen or selecting large blocks of text, while holding the mouse button, requires a very different gesture than using a mouse. With a mouse you just lift the mouse and reset it, while holding the button, if you run of out desk. When tap-to-click is enabled, you can double tap and hold to grab and move something (or select text). But when you reach the end of the trackpad, you are toast. There is no way to get more real-estate.

To get around this problem you can enable drag-lock as a sub-option for tap-to-click. Drag lock is a bit cumbersome. At the end of your drag action, you need to lift your finger and tap once once to release the object. I am going to try it, but I think there is a reason that tap-to-click is not on by default. It’s an acquired taste and requires retraining.

Interestingly, the problem of running off the trackpad does not exist when using a device like the iPad, because there the touch surface is one to one aligned with the screen and so if you are dragging an object across the screen, there is always enough room to express bringing it to any edge.

The other caveat is that if you are reading a long web page, being able to rest your hand on a comfortable mouse like the MS mouse is more relaxing then holding your hand above a trackpad, even if tap-to-click is turned off. The MS mouse has a wheel for scrolling.

So what’s the verdict on the Magic Trackpad? I like it, but I do have a mouse plugged in next to it just for scrolling long web pages and for comfort. I will post a follow-up in a few weeks to report whether the Magic Trackpad is still on my desk. Post in the comments if you have one of these new Apple trackpads and tell me your experiences.

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