Fixing the Magic Trackpad

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Apple Magic TrackpadIt’s frustrating when you’re working furiously on your Mac, but the pointer is staggering on the screen. The Magic Trackpad is a wonderful thing. The gestures in OS X allow for an unparalleled user experience. Unfortunately, sometimes this thing just bugs out. The following tips will help you cope when your Magic Trackpad starts acting up.

If you are not using Mountain Lion, I recommend upgrading. After upgrading to Mountain Lion, most of my Magic Trackpad issues went away. I do occasionally get staggering when the battery is very low. The overall performance is noticeably better than in previous versions of OS X. My Trackpad is at 18% battery life right now, and it still works well.

Ensure that your Magic Trackpad is clean. A buildup of oil and fingerprints can reduce sensitivity, causing the pointer to stagger. To clean your Magic Trackpad, simply use a lint-free cloth. I find that a microfiber cloth works best, as it will not scratch or damage the surface. Never use solvents or abrasive cleaners. I wouldn’t recommend eye-glass wipes, even if the packaging indicates that they are safe for electronic devices. They contain alcohol, which is a solvent.

I also notice that my Magic Trackpad performs poorly when iTunes is open. My hunch is that the WiFi syncing is interfering with the Trackpad’s signal. Even though the Magic Trackpad communicates over Bluetooth, it is a known issue that Bluetooth can be disrupted by wi-fi signals. If you don’t need to use iTunes, quit the application. You will notice an immediate improvement. If you need to use iTunes, try “ejecting” your iPad, iPhone or iPod by clicking the eject button next to the device. This seems to solve the problem. You can reconnect your devices by quitting and restarting iTunes.

If your trackpad is staggering or you see it losing a connection (displays the message “connection lost”), there are a few things you can try. The first step is to diagnose the issue.

First, eliminate the obvious — make sure that the batteries are still good. You can do this by going to the Bluetooth widget at the top of the screen. Click on the Bluetooth icon, then move down to Apple Wireless Trackpad. A pop up will display how much battery life you have.

Check Apple Magic Trackpad battery life

I have noticed that even with a decent amount of battery life, it can still lose the connection. My hunch is that it has to do with humidity, as this tends to happen on more on humid days. Summers in SF are cold, damp, and foggy. This is when I experience the most problems. It can also happen after prolonged use. You’ll find if you take a break and come back, it works fine (for a while).

One quick fix is to cycle the power on the trackpad by pressing the button on the side of the trackpad. Pressing the button once will toggle it off and on. This can often ameliorate the issue, but doesn’t solve it. I find that the trackpad gets a bit quirky when the battery gets around 50%. It will work fine for a few hours, then it starts to stagger.

I hate to say it, but you may want to consider replacing the batteries. It is wasteful, but it works. You can use the half-used batteries in another device, such as a remote control. You may want to invest in rechargeable batteries, however, in my research people have had problems with the Apple rechargeable batteries not working well! Go figure. (continue…)

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  1. THANK YOU SO MUCH I thought my trackpad was broken… For years… Not realising it was my poor desk organisation habits that meant the surface wasn’t hard enough to get the click!

  2. My trackpad was starting to require very heavy pressure to make clicks work. So on a hunch I cleaned both the top and the bottom of the trackpad, thinking that something was interfering with pressure readings. As soon as I cleaned the “feet” on the bottom the problem went away.

  3. My Magic track pad 1, suddenly started going crazy after working perfectly for years. It is driving me crazy. It does things when I am not even sat at my computer.

    I have wiped it, cleaned it, switched off and on changed the batteries etc etc. Putting a piece of paper on it does seem to make it behave better while using it. Can anyone give any help on this as I can’t find any more in-depth help anywhere.

    Thanks in advanced.
    I have a 2010 mac mini with latest OS

    1. It could be something interfering with the Bluetooth signal. Did you get any new networking equipment or any wireless devices? How about neighbors? What’s the battery level like?

      Try using the signal strength and RSSI connection tools to monitor signal strength. You’ll be able to see what’s going on when the device goes haywire.

      For me, humidity will always make the Magic Trackpad difficult to use. It doesn’t start moving by itself. Instead, it staggers and is unresponsive. Sometimes it completely loses the connection. In your case, I think something else is interfering with the Bluetooth signal.

  4. Simple fix I just figured out – make sure magic trackpad is on a hard surface (I had it on a cloth placemat and the hard clicks stopped working). Also make sure the battery door is not TOO tight.

    1. Good tips. I have my Magic Trackpad on a wooden desk, so the click works well for me, but I have noticed it doesn’t work well on softer surfaces. I haven’t had problems with my Magic Trackpad after upgrading to Yosemite. It seems like the batteries don’t last as long. They may have been able to configure the Magic Trackpad to boost its signal, which uses more power. It’s also possible that they adjusted the battery life meter so people replace their batteries before the performance suffers. In either event, it’s working great on Yosemite!

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