I have an essential tremor. This means that the slightest unintentional graze on the Touch Bar or touchpad on my MacBook Pro can have extremely undesirable consequences.

So how can I change the sensitivity on those input devices and yet retain the key functionality of those devices? The key functions provided by the Touch Bar are the escape key (accidental grazes are easy and can have extreme consequences), and changing the sound volume or screen brightness. All other features of the Touch Bar are accessible by other means.

The touchpad also has key functionality, but not quite as critical as the escape key. But once again, slight grazes can result in highly undesirable effects.

How can I change the sensitivity on the Touch Bar and the touchpad and still retain the essential functionality provided by those input devices?

  • 3
    It's the accidental grazes on the Touch Bar escape key that are killing me. It takes intent to make a key press register on a reasonable machine. All it takes on a Mac with a Touch Bar is the slightest graze -- and there's no control on the sensitivity as far as I can tell, even after calling Apple for help. Dec 7 '19 at 14:29
  • 1
    Yes, this is a rant. It's a rant to which people should pay attention. I'm not the only one who has not taken typing classes (who cares in a realm where a few lines of code per hour is high productivity), and I'm not the only one with essential tremor. Dec 7 '19 at 14:31
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    @Tetsujin - I've complete removed the rant nature of my question. I'll retain the rant here: I hate my new MacBook. At this point, I'd rather have a Windows machine -- and I haven't had a Windows machine for 30 years. Dec 7 '19 at 14:51
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    I regret that we don't have a place to hold such a constructive and empathetically human rant as the first version of this post. I think I would thoroughly enjoy meeting you David and talking about human computer interfaces and getting things done. I think people are missing your equal passion for the software and apps which make this hardware infuriatingly close to something you'd find useful or even better if it can accommodate you.
    – bmike
    Dec 7 '19 at 15:10
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    @benwiggy Since OP made a significant edit, I'm clearing the close votes and have put some words in your mouth by editing your comment. Forgive me if I overstepped.
    – bmike
    Dec 7 '19 at 15:11

Quoting from your comment to @IconDaemon's answer:

This answer suggests adding a usable keyboard and a usable touchpad. Oh, my aching back! I want those capabilities built-in to my luggable-around laptop, in the form of a usable UX

You can consider getting a recently introduced (released November 13) 16" MacBook Pro (or at least give it a try in one of the nearest Apple stores). Your issue primarily appears to be with the following things:

  1. Difficulty using the keyboard.

  2. Touch Bar sensitivity.

  3. Unintentional taps on Esc key and difficulty using it.

While #1 can be subjective, the 2016 - Mid 2019 Mac portable lineup with Butterfly key mechanism has been widely regarded as being not as intuitive as the previous 2015 and older, Scissor mechanism based keyboards.

Recently introduced Late 2019 16" MacBook Pro apparently fixes all the above issues (especially with regard to keyboard and the Esc key)to a great extent. They are discussed below respectively:

  1. The Scissor switch mechanism is back. The keys are marginally smaller in size and a tiny bit further spaced apart compared to one from Butterly era (2016 - Mid 2019). They have more key travel (approximately somewhere between older Scissor switches and the Butterfly switches), thereby giving better tactile feedback. The keys themselves are more stable and doesn't wobble as much as it did in the older Scissor switches (2015 and older). As an additional benefit, there's much lesser bleeding of backlight from the sides of the keys.

  2. Touch Bar is spaced further apart from the numeric keys row, thereby reducing the chance of accidental taps to a certain extant.

  3. Physical Esc key is back.

So if the keyboard is the major sore point with the MacBook, your can consider test driving a 16" 2019 MacBook Pro.

As far as the Trackpad is concerned, try tweaking the Trackpad settings under System Preferences and see if that resolves the issues to a certain extent. There are many 3rd party apps available that lets you further fine tune the Trackpad settings.

  • 1
    Well, nuts. My previous MacBook thoroughly fried itself due to a failed battery. I intentionally had kept it a bit beyond its nominal lifespan because it was the last MacBook with NVIDIA graphics cards (and hence programmable with CUDA). So recommendations that I buy a newer laptop that fixes the misfeatures of the brand new one I just bought a month or so ago to replace that fried machine are a month too late. Dec 7 '19 at 15:09
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    I an accepting this two days late because I have been without a laptop from Saturday afternoon to half an hour ago. I was clueless regarding the improved keypad / Touch Bar until this answer. Apple gave me a full exchange based for a late 2019 16" MacBook Pro based on my demonstrable medical condition and based on the fact that I've called Apple Help multiple times on this very issue. Dec 9 '19 at 23:30
  • @DavidHammen So nice to hear this. I am really glad that things happened in the right direction. Hope the new computer does away with all the problems that you faced with the old one. And enjoy your new machine :)
    – Nimesh Neema
    Dec 10 '19 at 1:28

Many of us have difficulties with aspects of UI design, both in hardware and software. Look past the frustration and think around the problem.

A simple fix for me was to attach an external keyboard, wired at first, but then wireless using a Matias 101-key keyboard with the number pad on the right, a design I've been using since the DEC VT220 terminal keyboard came out a few decades ago. I also use Apple's wireless trackpad, which is larger, and sits where it should be - next to the keyboard.

I see Matias now has a backlit model! How cool!

Be well. Take a deep breath and center yourself.

  • 4
    Thanks, and upvoted. But this is not an answer I can accept. The primary point of having a laptop is that it is easy to lug around. This answer suggests adding a usable keyboard and a usable touchpad. Oh, my aching back! I want those capabilities built-in to my luggable-around laptop, in the form of a usable UX. Dec 7 '19 at 14:35

I would hate to just say - Sell it, take satisfaction that you learned from the mistake in time and money you spent, find a machine or tool that doesn't irritate / ruin the experience of the things you care about.

The first draft of your question shows you aren't new to using tech, have very reasonable expectations and very specific complaints about track pad sensing your tremors in digits and not your overall intentions to move the pointer.

I would map the caps lock key to be escape even if you have a physical escape key. That changed my life on my first TouchBar mac at work.

I wonder if mouse keys in accessibility plus disabling trackpad input is overkill, but it’s very worth exploring.

The voice control / accessibility keyboard is also something that with head tracking, might be awesome for cursor control and customizing input. But again, I don’t have first hand experience with these on Catalina and the fall 2019 hardware that’s now shipped.

I’m making assumptions that the keyboard fits your needs and tremor so these might not be the best solution for you and hope we can find a software to dampen the touch to track algorithm like better touch tool does for customizing gestures. (I linked to set app which offers a free trial / rental model since you might not know if it and the Mac will work long term for you)

  • The primary problem is the escape key. I need the escape key to use vim or emacs. Dec 7 '19 at 16:07
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    @DavidHammen What exact model did you get? I’d love to run the 16 pro but will probably go with the Air since I can’t see ever lugging bigger than 13. I prefer my MacBook one and hope to get another year out of it.
    – bmike
    Dec 7 '19 at 16:08
  • @DavidHammen using slow keys can avoid the esc key issue, but introduces an overall delay in typing.. Using bettertouchtool, see if delay can be introduced before registering the keystroke just for the esc key.
    – anki
    Dec 7 '19 at 16:24
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    @bmike -- MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019), processor: 2.3 Ghz 8-core Intel Core I9, memory: 16 Gb 2499 Mhz DDR4. Not cheap, but I'm tempted to see whether it's more usable after a 6th floor balcony drop. The UX is that bad. Dec 7 '19 at 16:40
  • For VI, you can use normally use CTRL-[ to send the ESC key
    – CSM
    Dec 8 '19 at 14:26

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