Honey, Please Shrink the Touchpad

A while ago, when buying a new notebook, one of the requirements I had was for the trackpad. I wanted a trackpad that was:

  • Small
  • Recessed
  • and had physical buttons.

After years of struggling with ghost clicks, randomly dragged icons, poor palm rejection, and generally ever worsening MacBook trackpads, I didn't want to deal with software features trying to compensate for a trackpad's lack of physical features.

This is my Lenovo Legion Y740's trackpad:

Picture of the Legion Y740 from top-down, with a mid-sized trackpad sporting two buttons

The reason this trackpad just works is that its form follows its function. It's built to move the cursor without getting into your way when you do anything other than moving the cursor, and it's built to click when you actually want to click, not when you accidentally touch the trackpad wrong.

Recently, I was looking at Lenovo's newer notebooks, and I noticed that they had lost the buttons, and gained in size.

While watching LTT's review of the Surface Laptop Studio, it occurred to me that, in pretty much every notebook review they do, they talk about the size of the trackpad, and explain how an even bigger trackpad (the Surface Laptop Studio's trackpad is already way too big for my taste) would be better. That got me wondering: why do people like large trackpads?

As you do, I started typing this question into Google, and it turns out that I'm not the only person wondering about this.

Google suggests googling for why trackpads are so big

So that's at least one finding. What I did not find, however, was an actual answer to this question. Many of the results Google spits out are people asking the same question, and not coming to any kind of conclusion. The people who do profess to loving huge trackpads tend to stick to "because it's nice."

I guess one advantage is that you might be able to operate the trackpad without moving your hand away from the keyboard, but that seems unusual - I've never seen anyone actually do this.

Maybe people use their trackpads differently than I do: I never actually move my hand while using a trackpad. I only move my index finger. Which means that, even with a small trackpad, I already can't reach each edge of the trackpad while using it. But I guess if you also move your hand while using a trackpad, a larger trackpad allows for larger movements?

Or perhaps the "large trackpad" trend is similar to the "glossy screen" effect. Just like those nice, shiny screens, big trackpads look enticing. The fact that they mostly get in the way is not apparent at the time of purchase.

By the way, if you love huge trackpads, that's great. I'm not trying to invalidate your personal experience, or take anything away from you. It would just be nice if there were more options for people who find them mostly kind of annoying.

Or, if manufacturers insist on having these huge slabs of glass, maybe they should do what Asus does, and put a screen in there. Then I can at least attach a mouse to my laptop, and turn that humongous touchpad into a secondary monitor.

Update: Lots of people pointing out that touchpads are getting big in order to support multi-touch gestures on Macs. However, multi-touch gestures with up to four fingers work on Windows, as well, and I never really had an issue triggering them on any of my laptops. Even comparatively smaller modern trackpads are plenty big, and can easily accommodate four-finger gestures.

If you require a short url to link to this article, please use http://ignco.de/783

designed for use cover

But wait, there's more!

Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.