Apple’s Magic Trackpad & PC Games

By Alec Meer on July 30th, 2010 at 11:09 pm.

Almost put up a blurry picture of my trackpad with my cat. Decided against it

I did a bad thing. I bought an Apple Magic Trackpad. I know, I know! In my defense, I intend to use it with a PC rather than a Mac, and I bought it primarily to try and ease up a nasty bout of RSI. The latter hasn’t worked one bit, so now I really have to work on justifying the former.

If you’re not aware of it – briefly, it’s an oversized multitouch trackpad, like you’d usually find on a laptop but strangely reimagined as a standalone Bluetooth unit that looks a bit like a desktop calendar that’s run out of pages. Though many (i.e. one person) have called me a fool for even trying, I have also gamed on it successfully. Somewhat.

There’s been a hullaballoo about it in Macland, with shrieking types believing it spells the end of the mouse and a move towards making Macs iPad-y. Nonsense, poppycock, what rot. Of course it doesn’t – it’s just designed as a mouse alternative for show-offs with neatly-manicured beards. I.e. not me. Which is another reason I bought it: to try and pervert it utterly by chaining it to Windows. I’ll show them, etc. Oh, they’re not listening. Never mind.

It doesn’t work quite as intended on PC due to Apple making its multitouch operation bound into OSX functions, but it is possible to install it on it and get most of its features working in Windows (I’ll show you how in a moment) – and to use it for games without abject failure.

Let me add the proviso that it is not better than a mouse for gaming. It’s worse, at least if you’re a veteran mouse+WSADer. It’s just that, unlike every other mouse alternative in the history of the universe ever, it’s not absolutely hopeless. You can game with it, and I’ve used it to play a significant amount of StarCraft 2′s singleplayer. It works pretty well, the only real downside being dragging a box to select a whole bunch of stuff can flake out. All told, it’s definitely not as efficient as a mouse – but it does work. The mouse has a viable alternative. That’s been a long time coming, it really has.

I wouldn’t dare use it for multiplayer, because you just can’t quite coax that kind of speed of response out of it. There is definitely a tactile, futurist pleasure to using it for strategy though – a sense of stroking the world, interacting a little more directly rather than moving a plastic oval around a piece of wood/plastic/titanium/human bone/whatever the hell you people use for desks these days. Even though the mouse is unquestionably the better tool for the job, I keep gravitating towards this – and not purely because it’s a new toy. Oh, and I can hold it one hand and tap at it with the other, not having to involve a desk at all, which does feel terribly Star Trekky.

Particularly, the size of the thing (about 5 inches square) is enough that you don’t feel cramped: it’s a proper interface, not the strange half-measure that a standard laptop trackpad constitutes.

Haven’t tried it with much else yet, though it worked a treat in Peggle. I suspect it’s no good whatsoever for shooters, but I look forward to trying.

In terms of multi-touch features, I’ve persuaded it to do zooming and scrolling, but that’s it. Which puts it on a par with a three-button mouse. Hooray, big bloody deal. Given it does rotating and app-switching and all sorts on OSX, I feel there’s some potential locked inside this weird, blank, shiny slab, however. Its size and its direct finger-responsitivity make it a pleasure to use – but it does need to do more.

If it was programmable, its multi-touch nature would make it a wondrous thing for stuff like RTSes and MMOs, keying certain areas or gestures to certain functions. Given that it hasn’t helped my RSI one bit I’m probably going to return it to the shop, but a part of me wants to hold out and see if any clever buggers manage to write custom software for it. It’s a touch interface for the PC which doesn’t require a special monitor that you have to leave greasy fingerprints all over. I’m very interested to see where that could go in terms of games, presuming people can find a way past whatever locked doors Apple’s erected around it.

If you’re considering getting one, my final word remains that the mouse is unquestionably better for gaming, but for some genres this future-slab is definitely viable. Don’t kid yourself you’re getting it for anything other than indulgent reasons, though: there isn’t any practical justification for it. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a square of metal and glass attached to a battery, however, and again I’m looking forward to seeing what modders make of it.

Oh, and to install it on Windows, unless you want it to function solely as a one-button mouse, you need to fool your PC into thinking it’s a Mac. A Mac with Windows installed on a partition thanks to Apple’s Bootcamp software, specifically. Which is easier than it sounds. I figured this all out the hard way myself, though I guess guides must exist by now.

You need to obtain from somewhere (Apple don’t host it directly, but it’s very easy to find) the Bootcamp 3.0 driver pack; it will refuse to install directly because it can immediately tell your PC isn’t a Mac. No matter – use Winrar or suchlike to extract everything from the .exe – it’s actually a compressed archive file disguised as an executable. Explore the extracted folders, ignore the Setup file you immediately see and instead go to Drivers -Apple. Run the Bootcamp (or Bootcamp 64, if you’re on a 64-bit operating system) file there and everything will install.

You then need to pop to Apple’s site and download the Bootcamp 3.1 update (32 bit, 64 bit). Repeat the extract-from-the-exe process and then find and run Bootcampupdate.exe. Then grab the Magic Trackpad update for Windows (32 bit, 64 bit) – you can install that directly, without the extraction stuff, as it will believe you legitimately have Bootcamp installed.

Reboot and that, then finally pair your Trackpad via Bluetooth. Having Bootcamp installed isn’t any kind of problem or resource hog, but it will set your keyboard to an Apple layout. You can restore that to normal via Control Panel.

Right, back to slightly awkward gaming for me.

, .

138 Comments »

  1. Spacewalk says:

    Just what are you doing using this aesthetically pleasing Mac product, Alec. You must set things right by buying the first piece of ugly and rugged PC hardware you can find when you next go out.

  2. DJ Lee says:

    I game mainly on my MacBook Pro and the multitouch trackpad has been a joy to use.

    It is NOT good for fast paced competitive Multiplayer games, FPS or RTS, that requires precision like Counter Strike or CoD.

    However, I am actually more used to playing TF2 and L4D2 on my MacBook now.

    One of the best thing is that you don’t have to move your wrist around much and when the sensitivity is tunes just right, I can achieve almost same performance as I can with mouse on the trackpad. (With the exception of Sniper rifle and the Direct MISS”

    Tried DoD on it but I can’t keep up with the recoil on the support guns.
    And Starcraft Original, I plugged my mouse mid game in frustration.

  3. Paperflyer says:

    I always had problems with my wrist, too. With every single mouse I used and to a lesser extend with every touchpad I used (including Mac ones). However, there is the Apple Magic Mouse. When I first started using it, it instantly began to hurt (usually, it starts hurting only after a few hours), but, two days later, wrist pain vanished. And hasn’t come back yet while using that mouse.

    Now that mouse is not what you would call feature-complete either. Scrolling and two buttons is about all you get. It is extremely flat however, which makes for quite an unusual grabbing experience and that is great for my wrist. I would suggest giving it a try at least…

  4. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    “overblown form over function”? This has a bit to put batteries in, and the rest is all trackpad. If you’re going to mock apple products, at least use a semblance of logic.

  5. Warduke says:

    I think this whole thing was just a smoke screen so Alec could show off the size of his monitor in that pic above.

  6. terry says:

    My dad got one of these and my mother threw it out because “it looked like packaging to me”. Yup.

    • jeremypeel says:

      That’s the best critique of Apple’s products I’ve ever heard.

  7. Huggster says:

    I will second what others have said, RSI is a lot about desk positioning and how you let you body fall into a position without realising it. My current set up I have a chair with supportive, padded arms I rest my elbows on.
    I have helped staff at work overcome finger RSI as well as lower arm RSI. As far as I am concerned for people like us who use a computer a lot I don’t think the cost should be too much of a worry – otherwise you could have serious health issues further down the line with your hands and joints.
    Also depends whether you claw / fingertip control your mouse. Most FPS gamers claw the mouse and move it with wrist and fingers. Palm gamers move the whole lower arm from the elbow.
    I would say a thumb trackball is a good idea or a vertical mouse.
    A good supportive chair and sitting position is also far more important than you think.

  8. kwyjibo says:

    Let’s take the worse thing, the most infuriating thing about laptops, and make it into a standalone accessory.

    But make it look really shiny like, and the idiots will flock to it, as they have every Apple product.

  9. Premium User Badge c-Row says:

    Rule #1: As a Mac user, never read the comment section of an article covering an Apple product on a PC-centered website. I am a bit disappointed that RPS isn’t an exception to that rule.

    • Red Avatar says:

      Compared to Mac sites covering PC items, PC users are very tame and super friendly. I’ve never seen so much frothing as on Mac sites over anything non-Mac. For PC users, it’s all about functionality (and a touch pad which Apple made so it wouldn’t work properly on a PC says it all), but for Mac users, it seems to be all about the brand.

  10. robaal says:

    Ah, but is there some multi-touch alternative that is also wireless? This apple thingy could work very nicely for HTPC-like mousing.

  11. SpakAttack says:

    RSI is no fun.
    I know this poisonous apple hardware hasn’t helped you, but I’d recommend trying a Powerball instead.
    It worked wonders for me, cured my wrist and hand pain after a couple of weeks of occasional use.
    I use a computer for about 80% of my waking hours, only now it’s joyfully pain free!
    They’re like £10+ from Amazon.

  12. daniel says:

    reading this has made my shoot-finger hurt again. thank you!

  13. cowthief skank says:

    The vertical mouse worked for me. Worked so well I persuaded my work to get one each for me and two colleagues.

  14. Helpful says:

    I suffer from quite a few years of RSI as well. I have found, as mentioned already, that vertical mice help A LOT.
    If you cannot afford the “real” vertical mouse or one of those pilot stick like things (70-80+ EUR some of those), you could always opt for
    http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/mouseandkeyboard/productdetails.aspx?pid=086

    I also use the cheap keyboard solution, which, thank god, is also spillproof:
    http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/mouseandkeyboard/productdetails.aspx?pid=040

    There’s actually an ergo desktop package of these I think, too, which ends up really cheap.

    It took about 2-3 days to readjust to the mouse, but after that when you spend even 5 minutes with a “normal” mouse you will instantly feel how much worse the normal ones are.

    Wanted to post this last time you mentioned RSI already, but better late than never.

    This will definitely help, even on a budget.

    One caveat: you might develop a tendency to hold the mouse wrong, i.e. tense up the index finger like with the old mouse instead of letting the hand actually REST on the mouse. Be sure to control what you are doing and check. You will know what I mean over time.

    Also, do these:
    http://www.will-harris.com/yoga/rsi.html

    This is no humbug. I have done these and after a week, two tops, you WILL notice a difference if you diligently do the full rotation. Versus utterly painful burning everything all day and night, this is a small time sacrifice in comparison.

    Hope you get better.

  15. LionsPhil says:

    @rebb: Wut? The Wacom Bamboo is something like £50. That’s the one that’s an actual good graphics tablet rather than some touch gimmick with a load of bundled crapware (“Fun”).

    Wacoms are actually affordable now. All we need is for this whole WinTab/Ink trainwreck to get sorted out. Sigh.

  16. jalf says:

    If Windows users were as sensitive about attacks on “their” brand as Mac users are, they’d have to stay offline for the rest of their lives.

    Seriously, lighten up.
    I know it’s probably very disloyal to the Cult of Jobs to go listening to non-Mac users, but it doesn’t actually cause any physical harm.

  17. MacD says:

    No, sorry: the best trackball ever built was the Microsoft Trackman Explorer. It’s gonna sound disgusting (:P), but the large ball and the shape made that trackball the most ergonomical I’ve ever used. Too bad that the button broke after years of use.

    But there’s a reason the MS TE goes for hundreds of bucks on ebay, secondhand!

  18. Lokey says:

    The benefit of the apple style trackpad over say the wacom number is the fact that it clicks. A real physical click so you can hold a drag and still reposition your fingers. The wacom has you doing some weird double tap to drag bullshit that doesn’t feel right imo. It’s a shame they hbent got the same function set on the windows drivers tho…

    • deanimate says:

      Unless I’m somehow misinterpreting what you’re saying then I think you’re mistaken there. If I want to drag on my tablet I just tap the pen to the tablet, keep the pen on the tablet and then drag.

      Works a treat :D
      Bloody love this tablet

  19. Bassism says:

    I’ve been using my first generation MBP’s trackpad for nearly everything for years now. I find it much more relaxing for normalesque things, and in many games I find it to be more immersive than a mouse. I can even get along in some slowish FPSes and things.

    I actually don’t like the new apple trackpads nearly as much. I like my seperate, easy to push button at the bottom, rather than the impossible to push integrated button on the new ones. I haven’t used the macgic trackpad, but I can only assume that it’s fairly easy to push given the bottom feet button setup, which I think would make for a good solution.

    It’s also worth noting that in addition to the lack of multitouch, I’ve found that my trackpad feels somewhat less responsive and nice under the windows drivers compared to the mac ones. Of course, it may just be a case of them abandoning the windows drivers for the older trackpads to concentrate on the newer ones, so they might be awesome in windows.

    I’m not sure how much sense it would make to buy one purely for gaming, but if I had a desktop I would seriously consider replacing my mouse with one, or at least having the choice of both.

  20. Trying2Help says:

    I suffer from quite a few years of RSI as well. I have found, as mentioned already, that vertical mice help A LOT.
    If you cannot afford the “real” vertical mouse or one of those pilot stick like things (70-80+ EUR some of those), you could always opt for the “Microsoft Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000″ which is around half the price and works great for me.

    I also use the cheap keyboard solution, which, thank god, is also spillproof, the microsoft comfort curve keyboard 2000.

    I think there’s actually an ergo desktop package of these I think, too, which ends up really cheap.

    It took about 2-3 days to readjust to the mouse, but after that when you spend even 5 minutes with a “normal” mouse you will instantly feel how much worse the normal ones are.

    Wanted to post this last time you mentioned RSI already, but better late than never.

    This will definitely help, even on a budget.

    One caveat: you might develop a tendency to hold the mouse wrong, i.e. tense up the index finger like with the old mouse instead of letting the hand actually REST on the mouse. Be sure to control what you are doing and check. You will know what I mean over time.

    Also, do these:
    http://www.will-harris.com/yoga/rsi.html

    This is no humbug. I have done these and after a week, two tops, you WILL notice a difference if you diligently do the full rotation. Versus utterly painful burning everything all day and night, this is a small time sacrifice in comparison.

    Hope you get better.

  21. Nallen says:

    How is it that even after using a PC for 7-10 hours a day 5-7 days a week for 10 years I have no RSI?

    • Radiant says:

      High mouse speed and the fact that you use your fingers and not your wrist to move the mouse.

      *crystal ball*

    • Nallen says:

      You’re…right. lol.

      Wish I hadn’t knocked a bottle of beer over my £300 wacom :(

  22. Maale says:

    This is supposed to be a reply to Wulf, hopefully it ends up in the right place.

    Before, when the internet was young, I had a normal mouse and ended up having a case of RSI. Now I have been using Logitech Trackman for ages (10-15 years, I think) and I haven’t had any issues. Going through my fourth or fifth mouse at the moment. Works like a charm for all the games I play. Especially the fast 180 degree turning in FPS-games is like standard feature, couldn’t play without it.

  23. ken says:

    “I’m very interested to see where that could go in terms of games, presuming people can find a way past whatever locked doors Apple’s erected around it.”

    It’s a shame that while Apple does make some fine products, they are a company that people have come to expect locked doors from.

    -Sent from my MacBook

  24. dmh says:

    When it comes to RSI, I’ve found the only thing that worked for me was switching from a mouse to a trackball. The OH GAWD MAH WRIST went away overnight.

    That said, I still use a mouse for gaming and 3d modeling work, but these are far from the majority of my computer time.

    • Sufferer says:

      If whatever you had vanished over night, you didn’t have it properly. I can be away from PC for 2 days and still have “the burn”.

      As for all these trackball suggestions, some concrete, cheap models would be nice.
      There are as usual 5 trackball mouse variations available even on the logitech trackman.

  25. bill says:

    I have a slightly older wacom and I found it pretty useless for games. (much to my disappointment).

    And touchpads on laptops are horrible for games, so i’m having a hard time seeing why a bigger touchpad would be any better.

  26. Bindibadgi says:

    Your wrists need augmenting.

    /statutory deus ex reference.
    /statutory re-installation of deus ex on someone referencing it.

    • Premium User Badge AndrewC says:

      Why are people constantly de-installing Deus Ex? It’s only a gig or so! I tell you, PC gamers are some fickle motherfuckers I swears.

  27. BeamSplashX says:

    Wacom Wiimote, Alec. Or the Wacomole, though you have to click on things that pop up pretty quickly if you use that one.

  28. Faxmachinen says:

    The reason you get RSI with a regular mouse (or indeed a touch pad), is because you’re using large muscle groups for small movements. Therefore, trackballs are clearly superior. It takes a while to master, but once you do, you can even play FPSs as well as before, if not better.

  29. wiper says:

    Aye, trackballs are fantastic for FPS’s (finger-operated ones at least – it may just be me, but my thumb just isn’t precise enough or fast enough), as well as strategy games and any other cursor-centric titles. I personally swear by the old Intellimouse trackballs, which is a problem as they’re long-since discontinued. Not sure what I’ll do when mine gives up the ghost – no other trackball has been as comfortable or as functional, to my hand at least. It would, of course, be useless to any left-handers though.

  30. dinorceeho says:

    Quite true. Neither pad is big enough to draw on and gestures look fancy until you start activating them accidentally. Just this week I had to turn off gestures on a MacBook Pro (which has gestures enabled by default) because the user was accidentally triggering unwanted features. You can come close by using software to assign additional functions to mouse buttons, but then comes the point where you want to rotate an image, and you think ‘well, I’ll see if I can spin it using 2 fingers on the trackpad’ and realise that’s a hell of a lot quicker than anything except keyboard shortcuts.gio xach