It may be surprising to hear for those who know me but I don't follow Apple rumors very much. So their newly announced Magic Trackpad came as a complete surprise to me. At first I was like, seriously? A trackpad accessory for the desktop? I had always been under the impression that trackpads were just a tolerated pointing device who's longevity was due to being the de facto controller on laptops. Personally I don't mind using trackpads but it never occurred to me that people would want to use them outside of a laptop.
Long time readers will remember that I'm traditionally a trackball guy. But I'm also willing to try new things. So it was that a Magic Trackpad found itself at my doorstep a few days later. As you can see, it's quite possibly the blandest looking Apple product I've ever unboxed. Just a flat grey slate for the most part.
It does match quite nicely with Apple's wireless keyboard. Though oddly enough it's just a tad bit longer front to back than the keyboard. You would think since this is Apple they'd go that extra mile (or centimeter in this case) and make it a perfect fit. Not sure what happened there.
Physically it's also a little smaller than my existing Expert Mouse. Well, significantly smaller if you take the trackball's attachable wrist rest into account. And much thinner too obviously. And the best advantage over the trackball: being wireless. Unfortunately, Kensington et al. have so far still refused to come out with a new wireless trackball.
Now when I first started using the trackpad, I started off having my hand positioned directly over it like you see above. Thumb and index finger down on the pad, all the other fingers held over it to be brought down when needed. This quickly proved to be a pretty poor way to work with the trackpad as holding the fingers up for extended periods of time gets tiring.
So after some experimentation, I'm now using this hand position above. Basically the hand gets moved to the right so the ring and pinky fingers which are the most unused get to rest on the table instead of the trackpad itself. Another workable position has my pinky gripping the right edge of the trackpad. The middle and ring fingers still hover over the surface mostly but for some reason, with the pinky having something to grip and thus the hand spread out wider overall, the hand doesn't feel as tired over extended periods as before.
Interestingly, if you rest all your fingers on the trackpad and move only one, two, or three at a time while keeping the others immobile, the trackpad still works as usual. This also works on my MBP's trackpad but was never something I had to consider trying because the trackpad on the MBP is small enough so that you can rest your usually unused fingers on the body frame around it.
I'm still unsure as to whether or not the Magic Trackpad can replace my trackball for everyday use. Scrolling, which I do often, with the trackball is much easier although I prefer the three-finger swiping to go back or forward a page on the trackpad. Left and right button clicking is about even, with the trackball maybe coming in ahead because of dedicated buttons for each action.
Just for comparison, the above shows my usual hand position when using the Expert Mouse. Thumb on left click button, index controls the trackball, middle finger rests on and controls the scroll ring, ring finger just rests on the frame inactive, and pinky presses the left click button if needed. Index finger also stretches over to click the top left and right buttons when I want to move forward or back a page. It's a much more comfortable device overall because every finger can rest somewhere on the trackball without inadvertently affecting things. With the trackpad, I discovered that whenever I was working in Photoshop, I'd often accidentally zoom in or out of the image I was working on as that app seems to not ignore the thumb contact correctly at times.
So for me, while the Magic Trackpad wins on size, portability, three finger swiping and lack of wires, the trackball does scrolling better and is just more comfortable overall to use which I think is a more important consideration for such a constantly used computer accessory. I'll keep using the trackpad primarily for another week or so to see if anything changes.