Apple Magic Trackpad Review

Introduction & Specifications

Apple has been in the line of fire lately. It's an unusual place for the company, which has found itself on the positive end of things for quite a while. In fact, for a string of years, it seemed as if Apple could do no wrong. The iPhone 3G and 3GS were huge hits, as was the new "unibody" MacBook design. And then there was the iPad, which shocked many by selling over 3 million units in a matter of months and proving once and for all that there was an untapped tablet PC market in the world just waiting to be served.

But with the iPhone 4 came all sorts of criticism. Apple even held its own press event in order to announce that they were taking "antennagate" to heart, and that users would get free iPhone cases on Apple's dime in order to make things good. With all of that hanging over Apple's head, it's questionable timing to release an entirely new input peripheral. Apple releases new hardware very infrequently. Whenever a brand new device ships from Cupertino, it's always a big deal. The company has one of the most streamlined hardware operations in the consumer electronics universe, and just weeks after the introduction of the much-anticipated iPhone 4 came yet another brand new accessory.

But here's where it gets strange. Apple's CEO Steve Jobs has a history of showcasing new Apple hardware on stage, generally during one of their highly watched press conferences at WWDC or elsewhere. This gives Steve the chance to demonstrate a new product in front of millions watching around the Web, so that everyone "gets" what a new device is for. In fact, we cannot recall the last time Apple introduced a completely new piece of hardware without showcasing it first. But that is exactly what has occurred with the Magic Trackpad.

The Magic Trackpad is an interesting device. Many assume that this is just another step in the direction of an App Store universe, where even the desktop operating system is honed to be more like a mobile OS where basic apps rule and finger swipes are the primary control method. But even if that's way off base, one thing isn't: Apple wants users to replace their typical mouse on the desktop with this, or at least a subset of users. That's a fairly large assertion to make, and a bold one at that. Consumers have used mice on the desktop for decades, and literally every piece of software that has been created in the modern software era was designed with a mouse cursor in mind.

The specifications here are fairly simple to digest. This is a trackpad, but for your desktop. Or, better still, a trackpad that has been removed from a notebook's casing and placed in a standalone aluminum enclosure. It slants down slightly due to the bulge in the rear that is used to house two AA batteries, and it measures ~5.2" (long) x ~5.1" (wide). It's just one solid sheet of "glass," the same substance that Apple uses on their current MacBook trackpads. As with Apple's notebook trackpads, the entire surface area of the Magic Trackpad clicks, so you can press downward on any part of the pad and you'll register a left click. The unfortunate part is that there is no right click, so you'll either need to assign an option key on your keyboard to hold while mashing down in order to register a right click, or simply tap the pad with two fingertips. Either choice yields the same result. The only other specification note worth mentioning is that this device uses Bluetooth to connect, and Mac users must have OS X 10.6.4 at a minimum to use it. In other words, if you're still on Leopard, you won't be able to use this device. Amazingly, Apple decided to make the Magic Trackpad compatible with PCs, too. It works with Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, but the functionality is far more limited (and requires some work). You can only use the standard clicks and two-finger gestures. More advanced Multi-Touch and three-finger gestures will only work on the Mac.

The Magic Trackpad was a bit perplexing when we first saw it. It's not the first multi-touch trackpad to ever be introduced (Wacom has been making them for years, for example), but it's the first trackpad could actually take the place of your mouse in every way. But does it really work out to be as "magical" as Steve Jobs believes it is? At $69, it's easily as pricey as some high-end mice, and it's obviously not going to be as useful in some scenarios (there's no dedicated right click and no scroll wheel, for instance). We're going to investigate these questions in the pages to come and tell you whether or not this is actually an investment worth making for the avid desktop (and notebook!) user.

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