BetterTouchTool: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Customize the Gestures and Actions You Can Perform with Your Mac

BetterTouchTool
Courtesy of Andreas Hegenberg

Did you notice when Apple first created multi-touch-based gestures, there was a lot of hoopla and gee whiz comments about what could be done with just a simple gesture on a Mac’s trackpad, Magic Mouse, or Magic Trackpad? We thought there would be new gestures and new uses coming from Apple with each OS update.

For the most part, we’re still waiting. But luckily for us, Andreas Hegenberg got tired of the wait and created BetterTouchTool, an app for creating your own custom gestures that work with all of the Mac’s multi-touch capable input devices.

The app also lets you create keyboard shortcuts, or define mouse button behavior in normal mice. And if that’s not enough, with the addition of another app on your iOS device, you can use gestures on your remote iOS device to control your Mac.

Pro

  • Large catalog of predefined gestures and actions available.
  • Supports OS X El Capitan and earlier.
  • Works with Magic Mouse, Magic Trackpad, and MacBook trackpads.
  • Supports Force-based trackpads.
  • Free.

Con

  • Slightly cumbersome UI.
  • Andreas should charge a small fee for this app, to ensure it remains available and up-to-date.

BetterTouchTool allows you to use a number of different gestures, either created by you or taken from the large selection of premade gestures included with the app, to perform actions, such as opening the Notifications Center, paging up or down in an app, closing windows, jumping forward or backward; the list just goes on and on.

Gesture Lists

The gesture lists are based on the pointing device you're using.

The gesture list for trackpads covers every conceivable number of fingers that could be used; one-finger gestures, two-finger, three-finger, or four-finger; as unusual as it sounds, there's even an entry for an eleven-finger tap, mostly as a joke I assume, because the description refers to it as a whole-hand tap.

There are more gestures here than most of us could ever use, but if you still need your own custom gesture, you can easily create it using the drawing mode.

Drawing Gestures

When you need a custom gesture, BetterTouchTool opens a drawing window where you can use your multi-touch device to draw the new gesture. Gestures can be as simple as a diagonal line or a circle, or as complex as a letter of the alphabet drawn in cursive.

Once you create a gesture, you can assign it to perform a unique action.

Actions

Gestures are assigned actions to perform, which can include any existing keyboard shortcut, or any of the many predefined actions, such as control volume, log out, resize window, trigger menu bar item, open application, open a folder; you get the idea. If you can think of an action, you can probably get BetterTouchTool to perform it for you.

Using BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool opens as a menu bar item, and then provides quick access to its preferences, the author's blog, and the ability to check for updates. The most important of these are the preferences, where all things related to assigning and creating gestures are located.

The Preferences open as a single window, with a toolbar containing a simple or advanced tab, a gestures icon, and basic or advanced settings icons, depending on which mode you selected.

Gestures are where you'll spend most of your time, as this is where the work of selecting gestures and assigning actions is performed.

With Gestures selected, there's a row of supported devices that allows you to assign gestures and actions independently for each device. You'll see entries for:

BTT Remote: This is for when you're using an iOS device as a remote touchpad for your Mac.

Magic Mouse: For selecting gestures and actions for the multi-touch mouse.

Trackpads: For defining gestures for all trackpads, including those built into laptop Macs, as well as Magic Tablet peripherals.

Keyboard: You can assign keyboard shortcuts to various actions.

Drawing: Where you create custom gestures.

Normal Mice: Use this entry to control mouse button and scroll wheel assignments.

Other: Allows you to assign certain events to trigger an action, such as Before the Mac goes to sleep, or Right-Click Red Window button.

Apple Remote: Assign the Apple Bluetooth remote’s keys to various actions.

Leap Motion: Marked as experimental, this section will eventually allow you to customize the game controller from Leap Motion.

Once you select a device, you can pick a specific application the gesture is to be used with, or you can set the gesture to be applied globally to all apps. Once you select the app target, you can add a new gesture.

The list of gestures changes depending on the device you selected, but they generally encompass one to four finger gestures, taps, and clicks. You can also specify a modifier key, including Shift, Fn, Ctrl, Option, and Command.

With the gesture selected, you can then choose from any number of actions. In addition, you can select multiple actions to be performed.

Final Thoughts

BetterTouchTool is an app I can easily recommend for anyone who uses a multi-touch device for input; if you have a recent Mac, then there's a good chance you're in that group. Even if you don’t use a Magic Mouse or trackpad, BetterTouchTool allows you to customize keyboard shortcuts, define buttons on standard mice, and even use a Bluetooth Apple remote as an input device for your Mac, just the thing for giving presentations and controlling a slide show remotely.

BetterTouchTool is versatile, easy to use, and does so much more than Apple’s supplied preference panes for mice and trackpads. If you've ever wished there were more gestures or more actions that your mouse or trackpad could perform, you should download and try out BetterTouchTool.

You might want to hurry; the developer should really be charging for this utility, and he may decide to start doing so in the near future.

BetterTouchTool is free.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.

Published: 10/24/2015