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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Using the Magic Trackpad 2 on older Macs

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Since I wrote about the Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad earlier this week, I’ve received a lot of questions and feedback. Turns out people really care about input devices! (As is only right.)

One question surprised me: Do these devices work over USB, or just Bluetooth? I admit I hadn’t really ever thought about it. And of course, the Magic Mouse 2—with its Lightning port, um, interestingly placed on the bottom—is a no-go in that scenario.

Each of these devices comes with a Lightning-to-USB cable, for charging as well as the plug-to-pair feature that makes it easy to move them from one Mac to another. So I plugged the Magic Trackpad 2 and the Magic Keyboard into my iMac, and they worked just fine.

Then I turned off Bluetooth on my iMac. And they worked just fine.

So that’s one mystery solved—they definitely work over USB without Bluetooth.

The next mystery: The Magic Trackpad claims that it requires OS X El Capitan and a Mac that supports Bluetooth 4.0. (iMore has a nice article about how to tell if your Mac has Bluetooth 4.0.) But, a few people asked me, if you can run these devices in wired mode, does that mean you can run them on Macs that don’t support Bluetooth 4.0?

In the old Macworld days I’d have access to a lab full of old Macs, but the Macworld Lab works at Apple now, I work in my garage, and my house is not big enough to support a large collection of old computers. However, there is a mid-2009 iMac on my daughter’s desk.

When I plugged the Magic Trackpad into the iMac, nothing happened. It didn’t recognize it at all, and I couldn’t pair it using Bluetooth, either. Ah! But the iMac was running Yosemite. So I upgraded it to El Capitan and tried again—and sure enough, when I plugged the Magic Trackpad into the iMac, it worked—everything, including Force Touch, was supported.

Then I unplugged the trackpad… and it still worked. Well, that was unexpected. It’s possible that, because the iMac doesn’t support Bluetooth 4.0, it will drain the battery of that trackpad rapidly. I didn’t test that. But it worked, so there’s at least some hope for older Macs to use the Magic Trackpad 2.

I also have possession of my mother’s old laptop, a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro running Mavericks. When I plugged the Magic Trackpad 2 into the MacBook Pro, it worked immediately—but didn’t recognize any gestures, only single clicks and standard cursor movement. I assume that if I upgraded that laptop to El Capitan, though, it would work as expected.

All I can share are my experiences with these two older Macs in my house, running older versions of OS X. My guess is that some old Macs will support the Magic Trackpad 2, in some way, though wired mode might be required (for battery life, if nothing else). But don’t despair—if you’ve got an older Mac and really, really want a Magic Trackpad 2, you should give it a try. Apple might not claim compatibility with your Mac, but that doesn’t mean the trackpad won’t work just fine.

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