How do I pair a Magic Trackpad with my iMac?

This is probably like remedial Mac OS X 101, but I just got a new Magic Trackpad and am excited to use it, but can’t figure out how to have my iMac know it’s there. Since it’s wireless, there’s gotta be some trick, but my airport system never sees it?

Dave’s Answer:

That’s a very interesting question because it suggests that you aren’t aware that there are two flavors of wireless communication going on with your computer. Wi-Fi is how your computer talks with your cable modem and, perhaps, your printer. Whether you’re at a local Starbucks or in your home, wifi is your Internet connection.

In the Apple world, the wi-fi networking software is known as “Airport”, so Apple sells Airport Extreme devices, Time Capsules (network backup systems) with Airport support, and when you want to configure or tweak your wireless Internet access, it’s through enabling Airport and configuring it in the “Airport” area of the networking system preference.

But Wi-Fi isn’t how your new Magic Trackpad is going to communicate with your computer, any more than it would be how Apple’s wireless keyboard could also work with your iMac, MacBook Pro, or even an older iBook if you had one.

That trick’s done through a short-range proximity wireless connectivity protocol called Bluetooth. You’ve heard of it with cellphones and headsets and if you have hands-free calling in your car like I do, that’s also through Bluetooth.

Bluetooth is pretty neat stuff, and it also has the advantage of lower power consumption so a Bluetooth enabled device (like the Trackpad) shouldn’t need new batteries for a long, long time.

To get started, you’ll want to ensure that you have enabled Bluetooth on your computer. That’s easy: From the Apple menu choose “System Preferences…” and find the Bluetooth icon:

mac system preferences bluetooth

Click on it to open up the preference pane:

mac bluetooth system preference 1

I have a lot of Bluetooth devices, but even if yours is blank, there are two key things to notice: the “on” checkbox at the top (which you need to check to turn on Bluetooth!) and the little “+” and “-” buttons below the left box that, in my case, lists all the devices I’ve paired in the past.

Turn on Bluetooth by checking the box adjacent to “On” on the top. If you don’t want other devices seeing your computer, leave “Discoverable” unchecked, however.

Now click on the “+” button on the lower left of this window, and you’ll be in the Bluetooth Setup Assistant:

mac bluetooth setup assistant 1

Frankly, I’m not sure who Claire is (this is what happens when your computer advertises its existence in a public place like a coffee shop. If I knew who Claire was, I’d encourage her to turn off “Discoverable” in her own Bluetooth preferences setting), but even if it’s blank, this is fine.

Now pull your new Magic Trackpad out of its little box, pull off the plastic, and push the button neatly hidden on the top right edge. It’s just a bit smaller than a dime. After a second or two a tiny green light will illuminate on the Trackpad and — more importantly — the device will show up in the Bluetooth Setup Assistant:

mac bluetooth setup assistant 2

There it is! Click on it, then click on “Continue” on the lower right and after a few seconds you’ll see…

mac bluetooth setup assistant 3

Done. Really. That’s it. CLick on “Quit” to get out of the setup assistant, then close the windows down. You’re good to go.

Done with your Magic Trackpad? Just ignore it. After a minute or two of not seeing your computer (because, say, you’ve shut down your iMac) it’ll automatically go back to sleep.

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By Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor has been involved with the Internet since 1980 and is internationally known as an expert on both business and technology issues. Holder of an MSEd and MBA, author of twenty books and founder of four startups, he also runs a strategic marketing company and consults with firms seeking the best approach to working with weblogs and social networks. Dave is an award-winning speaker and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs. AskDaveTaylor.com http://www.intuitive.com/blog/