When I first started using a MacBook after years on PC laptops, I instantly noticed the better trackpad. After becoming used to gestures on iOS devices being able to bring some of them over to a laptop seemed a welcome idea. Scrolling by dragging two fingers on the trackpad worked much better than most other methods I’d seen on laptops before. It’s these subtle enhancements to getting around Mac OS that I really feel separate using the MacBook from other computers. Still, Mac OS X supports only a few gestures by default and it would be nice to have more options.
I find tools that speed the small things to be very beneficial. It may take only a few seconds to move and resize a window, but I could do that dozens of times a day which quickly adds up. So I always look for utilities that can ease this process and help me be more efficient when working on my computer.
Enter BetterTouchTool, an app that lets you create custom actions for gestures using your Magic Mouse, Macbook Trackpad and Magic Trackpad. We’ve mentioned it in roundups and more a number of times, but haven’t reviewed in depth by itself. Let’s correct this and take a look at this useful free tool.
Your Touchpad’s Best Friend
BetterTouchTool is a powerful free tool to configure gestures for you Mac. The newest version requires Mac OS X 10.7 or greater along with a supported input device. This can be a Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad connected to your Mac or the MacBook’s built in trackpad. You can also use the program with a normal mouse or the Apple Remote. The latest release also added preliminary support for the LEAP Motion controller that we looked at recently, and there is an active thread on the BetterTouchTool forum on the using this new input device.
How BetterTouchTool Works
BetterTouchTool lets you define gestures on your input device. These gestures then cause an action or shortcut to take place after the gesture is detected. The gestures are dependent upon the device. The trackpad on a MacBook can have gestures tied to using one to five fingers to tap, click, and swipe. Gestures with fewer fingers also gain a few additional recognized motions such as rotation. There is also an 11 finger gesture I really can’t even imagine trying to use on a regular basis. In total there are over 60 gestures over the built in Mac OS X gestures.
Other input devices will have different gestures. The remote gesture ties to buttons on the remote. The Leap Motion controller gestures include supported gestures including the unique slow clap that makes me with I had a Leap controller just to try. In addition the keyboard can be used as a source device in effect allowing you to have keyboard shortcuts.
The gestures can be set globally or made specific to an application. This lets you have the same swipe gesture mapped to forward and back only in Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, but turn the pages in a reading application. You can also increase the number of gestures by combining the gesture with some combination of the Command, Option, fn, Control, and/or Shift keys.
Each gesture can then produce either an action or a keyboard shortcut for non keyboard gestures. The predefined actions include doing nothing, which allows you to block a built in OS X gesture. The more active actions include mouse clicks, application control, window resizing, and window movement. The full action list is lengthy and includes Mac OS actions such as activating Airplay Mirroring, executing an AppleScript, maximizing a window, or muting the audio.
I use BetterTouchTool to replace some window management items I missed from Windows 8. I can press Shift+Command+Left Arrow and the current window will fills the left side of the screen. The same keys with a right arrow causes the window to fill the right side of the screen. Similarly I’ve defined key commands o cause a window to expand to fill the current screen (not the Mac OS full screen mode) or to hide all windows.
BetterTouchTool also provides remote control of your Mac from your iOS device. The 1.99 BTT Remote app can connect your iOS device to your Mac using the same protocol that connects Apple TVs and other devices. As long as your phone and device are on the same wireless network, the connection works with no problem. Before taking over the device you are prompted to accept the connection which prevents unwanted connections.
From the remote app you gain an impressive ability to control your computer. For each application you can access the menu, bring it to the front, hide the application, quite or force quit the application, or restart the app. You can also browse files on your Mac. Selecting a file will then open the file on your Mac. You can also adjust setting such as the brightness, volume, use play, pause, and audio skip buttons. You also gain remote access to the trackpad. You can also define remote actions within BetterTouchTool you can then kick off from the remote app.
Overall BetterTouchTool is a powerful and useful tool. And at the low price of free, there is no downside to trying it out. You may be tempted to add a bunch of gestures from the start, but doing so will quickly leave you overwhelmed. It’s best to add only one or two new gestures at one time and integrate those. This lets you find the ones that are really useful and delete the ones that aren’t as useful as you’d expected.
While the interface is a bit complex, there really aren’t many other downsides to the program. If you use a Mac and want to make it easier to work on it, then give BetterTouchTool a try.