Apple’s One Button MacBook Pro Mistake

by Chris Seibold Jan 31, 2006

When the Intel powered MacBook Pros were revealed, the first thing everyone wanted to know was how the performance compared to the most recent generation of PowerBooks. The answer so far, without any MacBook Pros being in the field, seems to be that the new machine is a great improvement using universal binaries and about what you would expect from emulation. The second item of interest was battery life. The interest in untethered computing time wasn’t surprising since the move to Intel was predicated on increased performance per watt. The answer to that question, again without any field experience, seems to be that battery life is roughly the same as the aluminum PowerBook. There is one more question that people should have been asking, but haven’t: Where’s the second trackpad button?

Looking at the MacBook Pro, there is precious little to differentiate it from the PowerBook it is replacing. On one level this makes sense, the Powerbook’s aluminum look still holds up even though it is positively ancient by Apple’s design standards. Assuming Apple kept the look because it was perfect, as Steve Jobs opined, that leaves one wondering if a secondary trackpad button was excluded from the machine because of aesthetics. The aesthetic reason doesn’t seem very likely, if the inclusion of an iSight doesn’t ruin the looks, it is hard to imagine how a second trackpad button would be detrimental to the appearance.

Perhaps some will argue that Apple simply didn’t have time to get the second trackpad button tacked on to the machine. There are, after all, some tricky ergonomics worth considering: Should the button be split into equal halves? Should it be one button but function like a rocker switch where one half of the trackpad button is dedicated to left click and the other is a right click? Should Apple add more than one button? Simple questions for generic PC manufacturers (add more clickers!), but hard questions for Apple designers who want everything to be perfect. Still, they did manage to make time to design the slick MagSafe connector. Only the most credulous would believe that the second button was eschewed purely because of time factors.

At this point, we should probably do away with the argument that single button trackpads are inherently easier to use than their multi-button counterparts. That argument was solid back in 1984 when the Mac appeared sporting the first widely used mouse (the machine also lacked cursor keys to encourage mouse usage) but it really doesn’t work today. As users become acquainted with technology, and a great many more people are acquainted with multi-button pointing devices than single button rigs, the reasons to feature only a single button become far less compelling.

Let us take game consoles as an example. The Atari 2600 featured a joystick and a single button. It was obvious for even the most technologically illiterate how to use the input device (although up wasn’t always clear). When the Nintendo Entertainment System rolled out it added a second button and replaced the joystick with a directional pad. Had people become that much smarter over the intervening years? No, but they had become more technically savvy, and the duties that the control pad were required to perform had grown much more complex. This isn’t to say that console makers can’t get button happy, the current crop of controllers look as though they were designed by someone who sincerely believed that the more a controller could be like Robotron 2084 with a keyboard the better, only to point out that clinging to a one button trackpad is clinging needlessly to the past.

This leads us straight to the heart of the problem: Apple has apparently lost any conviction about the ideal configuration of mice or trackpads. Note that all the desktop Macs, save the mini, ship with the multi-button Mighty Mouse. Obviously, Apple thinks the addition of extra buttons (they may be hidden but they are still buttons) is a bonus for desktop users. For some reason they don’t think that MacBook Pro users would appreciate the extra functionality.

It is at this point that someone will surely object that since the trackpad button is built-in and the mouse is external Apple is going the safe route by not adding an extra trackpad button. The logic seems sensible but temper that with all the other things Apple asks users to do with their trackpad. You’ve got trackpad finger clicking, double finger scrolling, circular finger motion panning etc. Apple’s list of things you can do with the trackpad sounds less like a simplistic method to control your computer and more like a geeky version of the Kama Sutra. It is apparent that Apple isn’t keeping the trackpad simple for the sake of simplicity.

So why the refusal to add a much needed second button to the MacBook Pro? If it wasn’t the time factor, the urge to keep things very simple, or aesthetics, all unlikely culprits, what possible reason could there be? The most probable answer is that it was a conscious, yet unfortunate, decision. For years, Apple has offered hardware consistency. If you used a desktop Mac, the laptop version worked in precisely the same manner. It was one of the better things about Apple products. With the addition of the Mighty Mouse as a standard accessory, perhaps those days are gone. Trying to integrate all of the Might Mouse’s functionality into a single trackpad button combo would result likely result in something resembling a clove studded nicotine patch. Excuses made and objections noted Apple should expand the functionality of their trackpads by adding a second button, if it is good enough for the desktop Macs it is certainly good enough for a two thousand dollar laptop.


  • or even - why can’t apple just give me the option to configure tapping the trackpad as right click or left click and likewise the button.

    Surely somewhere someone has developed that as a plugin already?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 02, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Lookee there - you can. A MacUpdate search just revealed that SideTrack can configure the buttons. I previously used SideTrack before it went shareware - but I don’t remember it having the configurable buttons way back when.

    Will have to give it serious consideration.

    PS Link is

    Chris Howard had this to say on Feb 02, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Chris H - you can already hold down the touchpad button on dock icons to get the results of a right click.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 03, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Whatever happened to Ctrl-Click? I find the one oversized left mouse button to be a wonder, and pressing Ctrl and clicking at the same time to get a right click is really not a difficult thing to do, more intuitive even.

    dona83 had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 2
  • The new MacBookPro lets you “right click” if you click on the trackpad button while resting two fingers on the trackpad. So, if you have two fingers on your trackpad for, say, scrolling up, down and sideways, all you need to do is press the button for right click. it is very cool and easy to use with just one hand.

    For it to work, you have to enable this function in System Preferences : Keyboards and Mice.

    What I do hate is the second ENTER key, that serves absolutely no purpose, as it is just two keys away from the actual enter key. I would love for Apple to let me map something else to that key, like they already do let you remap your CTRL, OPTION and COMMAND keys. If i could remap that, i would put a Forward Delete button there. It would be great for word processing, especially because it would make it easier to use key combinations to forward delete a whole word, which now requires a crazy 3 key combination that is not very practical.

    ulrika had this to say on Oct 17, 2006 Posts: 4
  • Ah, Ulrika, it is a useless key, but I’d be upset if Apple removed it, out of my personal selfishness smile

    I download butler (free app) and map that key as my ‘iTunes key’; It allows me to pause and unpause iTunes playback without having to open iTunes itself. It’s so great that my sister requested I did that for her iBook when she got one for her birthday!

    Of course, I definitely agree that Apple should allow it to be user-mappable from the OS. I’m just suggesting it via the feedback page now: :D

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Oct 18, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Page 3 of 3 pages  <  1 2 3
You need log in, or register, in order to comment