Add New Gestures With BetterTouchTool

Get the most out of your MacBook Trackpad

BetterTouchTool is a program that lets you create custom gestures for use with an Apple Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, or the MacBook's built-in trackpad. Apple doesn't provide many gesture options, and the ones it does provide cover only the basics of what can be done with a multi-touch surface as a pointer interface.

BetterTouchTool Pros and Cons

What We Like
  • Works with Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, and MacBook Trackpad.

  • Works with normal (non-multi-touch) mice, Siri Remote, Apple Remote, and keyboards.

  • Turns your iOS device into a remote pointing device for your Mac.

  • Includes BetterSnapTool functionality to control how windows snap to display edges.

What We Don't Like
  • The developer is dropping support for OS X Mavericks and earlier.

  • Must read the instructions to make the most of it.

You really need to read the manual to get the most out of BetterTouchTool. It's not that BetterTouchTool is difficult to use, but it has so many features that you may never discover all of them by clicking or tapping around.

So, having to read the manual isn't really a con, just a requirement many Mac users don't bother with. However, there's a real con within the manual: It isn't complete, with some sections still blank. At best, the manual is a work in progress, and that's a shame because BetterTouchTool is otherwise an amazing app.

Installing BetterTouchTool

BTT (BetterTouchTool) is supplied as a download from the developer's website. Once downloaded, BTT needs to be moved to your Applications folder. After that, launch BTT as you would any app.

One of the first options you may wish to consider is setting BTT to launch automatically when you log in to your Mac. This option is available in the Basic Settings section. We only mention it now because the default is not to have BTT automatically start up, which surprised us when we went to use our new gestures the next time we started our Mac.

User Interface

BTT doesn't have an active interface when in use. It runs in the background and intercepts mouse, keyboard, and trackpad activity so that your custom gestures and controls can be applied to your inputs.

However, BTT has an interface for setup and configuration. The BTT preference window is split into multiple sections with a toolbar across the top, a tab bar for selecting the type of device for which you're creating a command or gesture, a sidebar that lists which apps the gesture can be used in, and a central area for defining gestures.

BTT helps you through the process of creating a gesture by including numbered steps that are highlighted as you move through the gesture creation process.

Creating a Gesture

You start by using the Device tab to select which pointing device the gesture is used with. In this example, we use a Magic Mouse. Once the device is selected, you choose the app you wish to use the gesture in. You can select Global, which allows the new gesture to be used everywhere, or you can pick a specific app.

After you pick an app, you can add a new gesture. BTT comes with a large library of predefined gestures. These gestures have no action attached to them; they are just gestures, such as tapping the middle of your Magic Mouse, a force-click at the lower-left corner of your trackpad, or a multi-finger swipe. This means you can pick a gesture and then assign a function, either by using a keyboard shortcut for the function you wish to use or by using BTT's list of predefined functions, essentially more complex functions that BTT has put together for you.

You're not restricted to BTT's premade gestures and functions. Creating a new gesture is as easy as selecting the drawing tool and drawing your gesture in the white area. You can create complex gestures, including swirls, circles, and letters of the alphabet.

Once you create and save a gesture, you can assign it to an action using the normal BTT method for adding a gesture, as explained above.

Window Snap

BTT incorporates window snapping. This is similar to the window-snapping feature for Windows. With snapping enabled, a window dragged to the edges or corners of your display snaps to new configurations, such as maximized when moved to the top edge, resized to half-screen when dragged to the left edge, or reduced to quarter size when moved to the corners. Using the BTT preferences, you can define window sizes when snapping, borders, background colors, and more.

Using BetterTouchTool

Once you have used the BTT preferences to create the gestures and assign functions to each one, BTT becomes a background process. You can see it running if you open Activity Monitor, but it's otherwise hidden from sight.

Because BTT always has to intercept any pointing event, we monitored CPU and memory use while we used the app. We didn't find much in the way of CPU usage or any excessive memory usage, marking it as having a very light fingerprint on the Mac's performance.​

Final Thoughts

BetterTouchTool gives you greater control over the use of gestures on your multi-touch pointing devices. BTT goes beyond what's expected and gives you the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts, use multi-button mice more effectively, and use your iOS device as a remote multi-touch trackpad for your Mac, which is handy if you use your Mac for home theater or as part of a presentation system.

BetterTouchTool uses a pay-what-you-want license structure. You can choose from a low price of $3.99 to as high as $50.00. The developer recommends a price of $6.50 to $10.00. A free demo is also available.

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