Lion Gestures: Trackpad vs. Magic Mouse

When Apple first included the trackpads on the Macbook Pros a few years ago, we got to use some gestures in the trackpad with Snow Leopard like two-finger scrolling and going back a page with a three-finger swipe, but the full potential of the trackpad gestures was not yet exploited as much as it could’ve been.

That is, until Lion came out last week with a handful of new and very useful trackpad and Magic Mouse gestures for pretty much anything you can imagine. With all the great gestures available for trackpad users, is the Magic Mouse providing a limited experience for Lion users? Let’s compare the available gestures for each one of them.

Magic Trackpad Gestures


Magic Trackpad

Two Fingers

Secondary Click

One of the oldest gestures is activating the secondary click by using two fingers instead of one. It saves time because you don’t have to hold the Control key when you want to bring up the submenu.


This has been implemented for quite a while now. Just drag down or up with two fingers to scroll through a webpage, without having to find and click on the scroll bar. In fact, the scroll bar is now hidden on most apps that are updated to work with Lion.

Pinch Zoom

You can pinch the trackpad with two fingers to zoom in or out when you are viewing something like a picture on Preview. It works with most things, like your browser; but it clearly works better with some than with others. If you use it for pictures on Preview it works very well, but with webpages it seems a bit slow.

Smart Zoom

You can as well, just double tap with two fingers and the content will be automatically zoomed in to fit perfectly in the window, much like iOS does when you double tap one finger over a piece of content.


This is also quite old. You can use your thumb and pointing finger to simulate a rotation that will make the picture or whatever that you are viewing rotate and change orientation.

Change pages

You can change pages in, say, a PDF document while in full screen by swiping two fingers left or right.

Three Fingers


Magic Trackpad

Look Up Words

You can look up any word that you might encounter by double tapping with three fingers. A small menu will come up with the definition of the word.

Move Windows

You can move the active window by using three fingers and swipe them around.

Switch between Full-screen apps

If you have more than one full-screen app open, you can swipe three fingers to the left or right to switch between all of them. This also works with Spaces.

Mission Control

By swiping three fingers up, you activate Mission Control, which is a cool combination between Exposé and Spaces.

App Exposé

By swiping three fingers down instead, you can see all the open windows of the selected app.



One of my favorite things about Lion is the Launchpad, which you can activate by pinching three fingers and your thumb. Launchpad will show you all your installed apps in a very iOS like manner, and you can even group them up in folders.

Show Desktop

You can also quickly wipe all your windows off the screen to show the desktop by “spreading” three fingers and your thumb; basically pinching the other way around.

Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

Mission Control

With a two finger tap on the center of the Magic Mouse, you will bring up Mission Control with all your open windows and spaces. While in Mission Control, you can also swipe up with one finger to expand all the windows of one grouped app.

Switch Between Full-screen Apps

Like with the trackpad, you can switch between apps by swiping your fingers from left to right on the center of the mouse. This time it’s a two-finger gesture instead of three.

Going back to the previous page

One thing missing from the trackpad (that used to be there before Lion) is the ability of going back to a previous web page that you have open. With the Magic Mouse, you can do this with a very cool effect by wiping one finger from right to left.

Magic Mouse Gestures

Magic Mouse Gestures


The scrolling is also reversed here, and you can do it by swiping one finger on any direction.

Smart Zoom

It works just like with the trackpad, but to activate it you need to double tap with one finger instead of two.

Switch Spaces

Just like with the full-screen apps, you can switch spaces by swiping two fingers left or right. You can also get to the dashboard using this.


In the past, laptop pads were seen as a shortcoming. Now, they are better than mouses in some aspects. Some things might still be easier or faster with the Magic Mouse, but the number of available gestures for the trackpad can’t be ignored. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. I’ve worked with laptops for quite a while now so I’ve grown accustomed to using trackpads, and with the new gestures it has become even easier to use them. However, you might be even more accustomed to working with a mouse on a desktop computer, and might find it faster to find your way around your computer with your mouse.

As a matter of price, they both are $69 dollars if you buy them separately. I would hardly say that the Magic Mouse is going to disappear anytime soon. It might evolve into something else, but I don’t think Apple is going to stop making and selling mouses any time in the near future.

What do you think? Which one do you prefer? Can you imagine Apple discontinuing the Magic Mouse and just selling trackpads? Myself, I’m so used to working with trackpad multi-touch gestures that I wouldn’t go back to using a mouse, even if it has multi-touch too.


Add Yours
  • You mentioned that Back and Forward in a web browser are no longer available with a trackpad. When in safari and only safari for now as long as the web page is not wider than the screen the a two finger swipe goes back and forwards. If the page ia woder than the windows then you first scroll to the edge then go back or forward. My geuss is other browsers will need to update code to reflect the new standard before this will be enabled in other browsers.

  • I know it sounds a bit funny, but… the plural of “mouse” is “mice” — not “mouses”…

    • Actually, in computer parlance, mouses is correct.

  • I own a Trackpad and I wonder how I could have been without it before!
    That’s not only my statement but what I’ve heard most people say.
    Everything that we perform with the Trackpad is at fingers command and believe it of not we hardly wanna keep grabbing a mouse to move a pointer on the screen in the future.
    Indeed I think that Apple will keep selling all the types of products and accessories for market alternatives and ultimately profit but once ultimate solutions are defined as standards more and more people will get used to them.
    Now that I’m aware of all this I ask myself “what’s the next thing?”

  • @Bill Raike
    I think the plural of “computer mouse” is indeed “mouses”.

    • 4. pl. mice or mous·es (mousz) Computer Science A hand-held, button-activated input device that when rolled along a flat surface directs an indicator to move correspondingly about a computer screen, allowing the operator to move the indicator freely, as to select operations or manipulate text or graphics.

    • “Fraid not :)

  • This post/poll is clearly geared towards how both devices perform whilst ‘experiencing’ OSX, and this is fine.

    For this purpose I would hands down choose the trackpad. However you will never replace a mouse/tablet for me when using specific programs within the OS. This is why there is always going to be a market for alternative input devices other than the trackpad, as fancy and a clever as it is with gestures, it does not hold the specific qualities needed to perform more accurate and detailed tasks.

  • I have both the magic mouse and the trackpad. Although I liked it very much I quit using the trackpad for healthy reasons. After using it for several weeks I got a pain in the elbow. I started using the mouse again and the pain went away after a few days. I tried the trackpad again and there was the pain again.

    So it seems – at least in my case – that the trackpad is not really something that can be recommended from an orthopedic point of view. Same experience anyone?

    • The pain in your elbow is because making all of those gestures in the right way forces you hold arm and hand in an unnatural way. A separate gesture pad peripheral would solve this, but it isn’t worth it.

      And yes you are correct about the orthopedic concern if considering 1) specific orthopedic conditions, 2) long-term use, and/or 3) combine with increased use. Gesture control has not been around long enough for clinical studies on this, unfortunately, but you are not alone.

    • I had exactly the opposite. Using a mouse created many pain problems. Switching to trackpad made all those problems disappear. Much more pleasant now!

    • Quite the opposite for me. I experience no fatigue with trackpad and no repetitive strain of the wrist at all using the track pad. This is the best thing since the mouse!

    • I have developed the elbow pain as well, and am going to go back to the mouse – which is sad because I love using the trackpad. Will see if the problem goes away, however – couldn’t figure out why my elbow was hurting!

    • Hmm, I’ve developed a pretty extreme pain in my elbow in the last few weeks. It’s so bad that I have difficulty carrying anything with that arm. Puzzled as to how this could’ve happened, I deduced that by moving my index finger like a lever I can feel the muscles move all the way up my elbow… then I realized that it’s the most common gesture I make on my MacBook Pro trackpad. Especially since I switched to a tap for clicking a few months ago. I switched to a tablet with pen on my desktop and will switch to a mouse on my laptop today. Will report back in a couple weeks.

  • Lion seriously fucked up gestures for me. I had and still have way more gestures then the OS offers, just by using a tiny tool called jiTouch.

    Now Lion broke the swiping for going back and forth in browsers (except of safari of course…)

    So, I hate it! Fix it Apple, fix it!

    • Not only in browsers, but also in the finder.

      +1 on the JiTouch shout out!

  • This may a blasphemy, but… My table is shared between magic mouse, magic trackpad and a classic wired Logitech G5 mouse. I use the “magic” devices sometimes out of boredom, and their gestures can useful, but both do not hold a candle to the lightness, speed and accuracy of G5. The response curve (a long-term Mac OS X problem) gets reasonably good when in 2000 dpi mode. I suspect that newer higher-dpi mice may fare even better under Mac OS X, flattening the curve further.

    • Agreed. I often work with one hand on the keyboard and one my three button, scrollwheel enabled mouse… even when away from home/work (which is the same for me). I’ve watched the gesture stuff being done by others nearby. It isn’t even close to as fast as what I accomplish within apps, between apps, or just getting things up and running. And the new full screen iOS style apps menu has has slowed some of my associates down a little more… and yet still they rave about it.

      I’m currently a Mac user as well… but it all just makes me shake my head and smile quietly… until now.

  • I use a tablet.

  • Magic Mouse!

  • I’m curious as to what users of the magic trackpad think about the general experience of desktop work is compared to the Magic Mouse. I have used a trackpad on my laptop for years but I have always felt that the desktop mouse gave me a more accurate/easy cursor experience when actually working within applications (photoshop, etc.).

    The gestures part sounds great, but I am afraid the general use part might hinder my productivity.


  • new and useful? are you kidding?! the lack of option (in regards to configuration) is a joke

    gestures are an essential part of my workflow, I love the apple trackpad, nearly every single one of these gestures (and much more) have been around for a long time and fully accessible (and configurable) with the excellent, and free app, BetterTouchTool –

    one of the first apps I install on a mac

  • I prefer the magic mouse when I’m at my desk. BettertouchTool is very handy for customizing gestures just the way you like. The swiping in Safari to go back and forward is cool, but I don’t think it’s that useful: the animation takes time, and if you use a magic mouse and have that setting turned on you can’t go back and forward in the Finder. So I set it to 2 fingers to swipe between pages, and that allows me to also go back back and forward in Safari(without the animation) & in Finder.

    Tried the Magic Trackpad but it isn’t as good as the Trackpad on the MacBooks you need to apply quite a lot of pressure to click on it. And you can only click on the 2 bottom edges, not everywhere like on the MacBooks.

  • you all ought to try BetterTouchTools + magic mouse. It kicks trackpad’s ass in every aspect.

  • I’ve got the Magic Mouse I use when I’m freelancing on my Macbook Pro. I’ve gotta say that I prefer it on the Trackpad, it seems more intuitive. It feels weird doing anything with two fingers on the mouse.

    Lion has made me want to buy a Trackpad for my iMac, mission accomplished Jobs.

  • I use both the magic trackpad and a magic mouse at home, both have their uses. I almost never use gesture on the mouse except of scrolling (horizontally and vertically), the other gestures seem weird and I have to change the way I position my hand. I love the new gesture on my trackpad even if I don’t know half of them right now, I guess with time I’ll be better with them.

  • I have an older MacBook w/ a trackpad that doesn’t support all the new gestures in Lion. Should I buy a Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse? Those gestures look really cool.

    • Joe, you may need to upgrade your OS. Refer the tech requirement for gestures. you may save $69.99

  • At the moment I’m a magic mouse user but I will switch to magic trackpad since I find it more productive.

  • Yeah magic mouse with better touch tool is still a great combo. Not sure about other but better touch tool include “windows snap feature” which is also pretty handy.

    If you combine the built in gestures and your own like for launchpad the magic mouse is actually better than the magic trackpad in my opinion. The great thing is you can have both trackpad and mouse programed at the same time. So thumbs up for that.

  • The new “natural” scrolling thing is so horrible!!
    After 2 mins I turned it off!

  • Am I going crazy or did they get rid of being able to go back and forth in finder in Lion using the trackpad, I used that so much, they better bring it BACK!

  • I use both, Magic Mouse mainly for my design work, and Magic Trackpad for browsing internet, preview, email, etc.
    I tweak them using MagicPrefs to filled my personal work flow.

  • The Magic Mouse is capable of so much more than Apple allows with the default software. MagicPrefs helps, but all in all, once you re used to the Trackpad, a mouse won’t do, no matter how Magic it is…

  • To go back and fourth using the magic mouse, it’s alt(option)+two finger swipe back and forth. Works for me with everything. For safari, since it supports the magic mouse, it’s only a 1 finger swipe. I think a lot of people just don’t know how to use it and are just not taking a moment to understand how it all works.

    At the desktop I use the magic mouse + mac bluetooth keyboard. Laptop, I just used the build in trackpad. I really do love the laptop trackpads. Gestures are awesome. If they discontinued the magic mouse however, I would also miss it a great deal. I’m still not comfortable using the trackpad on my desktop, unless it’s a wacom tablet for photoshop use etc.

    I also use windows and Linux and the mouse in general is still the major player on desktops. I love my logitech mouses and I think they all have their uses.

  • I have an iMac and tried the track pad in the Apple store. I decided not to get one because I thought the magic mouse was easier to use despite not having the gestures available with the track pad.

    Then I got myself a Macbook Air which obviously has a track pad. It is brilliant and I am now looking to get a track pad for the iMac because some of the gestures are different which can be confusing switching between the two. I still love the magic mouse and wished that there was more consistency between the two.

  • Each time I restart my machine the system does not detect the mouse. A work around for this is to switch off the mouse and then switch it on again. The system will re-connect automatically.

  • This may be helpful ;-)

  • after long session with apple figured out that US overdrive is having trouble with the magic mouse software in Lion (not previous version thought), after I removed this problem was resolved,

  • Wow, 2 minutes. That seems like enough time to really decide if it’s a good idea. I decided I would give it 2 days when I upgraded, and the natural scrolling is genius. We’ve all been scrolling completely wrong for years.

  • Trackpad is so great if you have carpal or wrist issues!

  • This kind of information is rare in the internet. Very helpful post. I have been looking for it about a week.

  • I don’t have a IPAD and just use my MAC desktop for everything. I bought a trackpad, used it for two weeks and really didn’t like it, resold it on e-Bay. I suppose for the laptops and IPADS it seems popular but I still am old school using the magic mouse, it seems that some of the drawbacks of using gestures are making mistakes and returning to where you were before, if you don’t contact the pad correctly some of the features don’t work, I don’t like the fake keyboard, it seems that you must have tiny baby fingers to use keyboard layouts, and with most of the programs I use the mouse is fine. Somehow even using all these gestures seems a little primitive. My questions for those who love the touch features are what really makes them so much better than using a mouse on a desktop other than speed? What if you have greasy fingers? Do you have apps that require touching the screen of a desktop, or is it that only on the mobile devices? How do you handle mistakes? How do you handle work that requires precise work like Photoshop or intricate multiple step applications? I never liked the touch pads from the start, and guess what folks, the next step will be voice or direct from brain commands, the days of push buttons and trackpads may be limited just like rotary dial phones, and rotating tuner knobs on televisions. Some day the next generations of kids may say “what are push buttons and touchscreens?” Did we forget about Star trek and voice recognition computers? Isn’t it logical that sooner than we think we will abandon mice and trackpads and use all voice commands, eye movements, and direct from brain interfaces that will make the other stuff obsolete and the old methods that require using our hands to push buttons or touch screens to control any device will become a thing of the past? Maybe I’m thinking too far ahead?

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  • Try to use photoshop with a “trackpad” it’s so painful, I will never stop using my Magic Mouse over a trackpad, it’s not the same thing, there’s no precision, agility etc. The Mouse it’s way better!! For people that just checkout Facebook, do some text typing, its ok to use trackpad, but for more advanced stuff, and gaming, the trackpad is no match for the Magic Mouse…

    • Interesting. I’ve used Photoshop CS5.5 (and now CS6) for over a year daily with a Magic Trackpad, and it’s been great … but then, I’m not the most advanced Photoshop user by any means…

  • I also have elbow probs with the trackpad. When I just use my desktop imac with the magic mouse at work, I don’t get these problems, but if I use the macbook pro with the trackpad for more than an hr, ow! Would really like to figure out why/options…