Practical Tips to Navigate Your Mac without the Trackpad

A Mac Keyboard and mouse on a minimalist background.

We’d argue that unless you’re working with Apple products in a professional capacity, your device of choice at home is a MacBook. While the trackpad is efficient combined with swipes and gestures, it’s not the only way to move around macOS. You may want to navigate your Mac without the Trackpad.

In this post, we offer some helpful techniques for navigating sans trackpad. However, first we clear up why it isn’t always the best option for navigation.

Why the Trackpad Isn’t Always the Best Way to Navigate Your Mac

Even on older MacBooks, the trackpad was a novel and sleek way to get around. It was arguably much better than the offerings on Windows-based machines, and a look around any office now will show you laptop users using a mouse as standard compared to MacBook users with a trackpad.

However, while swipes and gestures using the trackpad are a timesaver in some cases, they’re not completely faultless. Many of the best shortcuts aren’t possible using the trackpad alone. An errant swipe can cause havoc in certain applications.

What’s more, your MacBook’s battery sits right underneath the trackpad. Once it begins to fail, this will affect the usage of the trackpad. Jittering cursors are usually down to a bulging battery butting against the trackpad.

Alternatives to the Trackpad to Navigate Your Mac

Overall, for the majority of everyday tasks, the trackpad is great and user-friendly. However, if you’re looking for an alternative, you could consider the Magic Mouse 2.

Apple's Magic Mouse 2

This peripheral is for those coming from desktop Mac machines and also serves as a gateway for transitioning Windows users. It’s a wireless mouse from Apple that can be recharged – so there’s no need for batteries. What’s more, the multi-touch functionality means you can use gestures as you would with a trackpad but with the feel of a mouse.

If you’re working in digital creative fields such as photography or graphic design, a pen and tablet will likely feel natural in your hand.

A Wacom tablet next to a Mac keyboard.

Even a small solution such as a cheaper Wacom tablet is good enough to navigate a 15-inch MacBook Pro screen. While you won’t be able to take advantage of macOS gestures, you will be able to flow between apps with a greater consistency. In any case, tablets will often have customizable buttons for you to program.

Tips for Navigating Your Mac without the Trackpad

There are two classic approaches for navigating your Mac without the trackpad:

When it comes to keyboard shortcuts, it’s important to learn by doing. This means your navigation speed will slow to a crawl for the first few days. However, you’ll keep coming across the same shortcuts over and over again.

Most shortcuts will utilize the Command (CMD) key, and this directly replaces Control (CTRL) from Windows machines. However, the Mac also has a CTRL key, and it’s actually used in the same way as CMD in certain apps (most notably in Linux ports).

If you’re overwhelmed with the number of shortcuts you need to remember, you may want to download a CheatSheet.

The CheatSheet app.

It’s a free app that brings up an overlay of relevant shortcuts for an app once you hold the CMD key down for a few seconds. Over time, you may not need it; however, at the beginning of your journey, it’s welcome help.

As for Spotlight, consider it like pulling up a computer-specific search engine whenever you need to find something. In fact, there are plenty of add-ons available to integrate services, such as Google Drive into Spotlight. Regardless, Apple’s own tools – such as dictionaries, calculators, and more – can be accessed through a quick CMD + Space shortcut to bring Spotlight up.

Power users may also want to consider a supercharged version of Spotlight called Alfred.

The Alfred app.

This lets you integrate a raft of services into the traditional Spotlight functionality, such as changing your choice of search engine, adding Spotify search, and more, all from the search bar.

A selection of Alfred Workflows.

There have been more modern developments, too, such as Siri integration and the introduction of the Touch Bar. However, getting your hands off of the trackpad, utilizing shortcuts, and opening up Spotlight regularly is going to supercharge how you navigate macOS forever.

In Summary

Navigating a smaller form factor device such as a MacBook could bring about a number of problems. However, Apple’s design team have made the trackpad a great way to get around macOS, although it’s not perfect. Keyboard shortcuts and heavy Spotlight usage will help you navigate quicker and more efficiently than practically any other method.

Would you like to navigate your Mac without the trackpad? Share your insights and questions in the comments section below!

Tom Rankin
Tom Rankin

Tom Rankin is a quality content writer for WordPress, tech, and small businesses. When he's not putting fingers to keyboard, he can be found taking photographs, writing music, playing computer games, and talking in the third-person.

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