The basic concept behind SwitRing isn’t exactly new, mouse-activated gestures have been around for ages. In fact, I used to be quite fond of using the gestures feature in Quicksilver. It’s nice to be able to whirl your mouse around as if it were a magic wand and have that interpreted as a command to carry out a specific action.
Typically though, gesture apps work basically the same way: you draw a basic shape with your mouse, then associate that with an action. The problem of course with this method is that three weeks later you can never remember all those silly shapes that made so much sense when you set them up. The alternative is something like BetterTouchTool, which adds more multitouch features to your Magic Mouse or trackpad.
SwiftRing is an app still in its infancy stages that seeks to rethink how mouse gestures work. Instead of forcing you to memorize various acrobatic cursor actions, all you do is press a hotkey and move your mouse in a given direction. Let’s take a closer look and see how this works.
Launching an Action
By default, the “Option” key is the trigger for SwiftRing. Holding down “Option” for 0.8 seconds (a customizable duration) will bring up the following menu:
As you can see, each direction is associated with an action such as closing or minimizing a window. You might be tempted to think that you have to click on one of the areas shown to enforce the action, but all you really have to do is move your mouse in that direction and the action will fire.
You’ll notice that the top and bottom direction have two commands associated with them. This is confusing at first, but as it turns out, those furthest from the center of the ring are accessed via a scroll action. Here’s that graphic again with some helpful labels applied.
No Waiting Required
One really great feature of SwiftRing is that you don’t really need to wait for the ring to appear. Its visibility is delayed and really only serves as a reminder in case you forgot something. As soon as you hold down your hotkey, you can pull off a gesture whether the ring has popped into view or not. This dramatically increases the speed with which you can use the app.
The real power and draw of SwiftRing obviously doesn’t lie in this simple default setup but in the wealth of customization options that it offers. Let’s take a look inside the Preferences to see what else this handy tool can do.
This is your control center where you can define just about everything you could want to change. You can start off by deciding what your custom hotkey is and how long the delay on the ring preview is, then proceed on to setting up your own rings.
Creating Your Own Rings
Instead of giving you one ring to rule them all (meaning every app), SwiftRing allows you to set up a number of custom-built rings (in addition to a few pre-built defaults) that work only with specified applications. For instance, you’ll likely want different actions for Safari and iTunes.
To see how this all worked, I set up a custom ring for Photoshop. First, I added a new ring to the “Saved Rings” panel and then selected Photoshop from the “Applications” menu on the bottom left.
Next, I selected each segment in the bottom right and recorded the actions that I wanted associated with that segment. Basically, each action is really just a keyboard shortcut that you’re choosing to run with the mouse instead.
By default there are only four segments to a ring, but you can add up to six segments, each assigned to a custom action.
SwiftRing has one more interesting feature worth noting: subrings. These allow you to set a given segment to launch a whole other ring (subring segments appear darker than the others around them). These are really helpful if you’ve covered your maximum number of actions for one ring but would like to add even more functionality.
Worth a Download?
I have a lot of good things to say about SwiftRing, but let’s get the critiques out of the way first. For starters, it should definitely be noted that the app is still in beta and hasn’t officially hit 1.0 yet so it’s not fair to treat it as a completed utility.
With that said, it does have some minor kinks to be worked out. For example, I’m not sure that it’s been overhauled to be fully compatible with Lion. Some actions like launching Mission Control (which it still calls “Spaces” from Snow Leopard) are fairly glitchy. Further, sometimes the proper apps don’t show up as options when creating a custom ring. For instance, Finder and Photoshop are frequently missing from my options, despite being open and active.
Aside from some small bugs that will no doubt be smoothed over soon, SwiftRing is incredibly useful and is an awesome utility considering that it’s currently free (no guarantee of it staying that way). The only feature I’d really like to see added is support for launching things that aren’t based on keyboard shortcuts: apps, scripts, etc.
My biggest issue with SwiftRing is trying to decide where to use it. For most actions, it seems like combining keyboard and mouse input is unnecessarily complex when I could simply hit a keyboard shortcut. There is an “Other Mouse Button” option but I haven’t been able to get that working yet so I’m not quite sure what it does.
The places where I find SwiftRing to be most useful are keyboard shortcuts that are either difficult to remember or real finger twisters. For example, in Photoshop, “Command-Shift-Option-S” launches “Save for Web,” a command I use regularly. In this case, holding “Option” and moving my mouse is clearly an easier action that genuinely improves my workflow.
SwiftRing is a utility in the early stages of development that seeks to rethink how mouse-powered gestures are approached in OS X. Rather than drawing complex shapes with your cursor or performing a multitouch gesture with your hand, SwiftRing lets you activate custom actions with little more than a flick of your cursor.
It’s currently a little fidgety but I really enjoyed using it and definitely encourage you to check out the free download.