Guest Post: Michael Coyle on How I Use BetterTouchTool

As part of the site’s How I Automate series, I’m pleased to share my interview with Micheal Coyle, who is not only one of my very supportive Twitter contacts, but is also a Mac user who is making Mac automation a major part of his daily workflow.

Micheal registered and completed my BetterTouchTool Finger Gestures Course, and he agreed to share with subscribers and readers of this site how he uses BTT on his Mac.

1. Mike, thanks so much for registering for my BetterTouchTool Finger Gestures course. If you don’t mind, please share a little of your background using a Mac and Mac software. Do you Mac software for job related purposes and/or general purposes?

I have been using Apple computers since 2003. My first one was a Power Mac G5 which I mainly used for magazine layout work. Since then I’ve used several different versions of the iMac and a couple of Mac Book Pros.
Unfortunately I don’t use a Mac now for work. My job involves a lot of system administration so that means I have to use Windows 7 and Windows Server 2012. However we have two iMacs in the office (both running Windows) so I occasionally get to play with Boot Camp and VMWare Fusion. At home though I have a Mac Book Pro Retina from 2012. It’s a great machine.

Last year I decided that 2016 would be the year I would finally learn automation so I am now experimenting with Better Touch Tool, Text Expander (now thankfully available on Windows), Keyboard Maestro, Default Folder X, Automator and Hazel. I am a big fan of Getting Things Done so to organise my projects I use Omnifocus. It’s quite a complicated program but extremely powerful and customisable. It can be automated with various scripts. For design and photography I use Adobe’s Creative Cloud which works well with my iOS devices. Recently I started using a new email client. I was fed up of Apple Mail so am now trying out Air Mail. It’s available on both Mac and iOS and so far I’m very happy with it.

BetterTouchTool is available for the sweet recommended price of $6.50. Seriously it’s worth a lot more. You can also get a trial download.

2. How did you first hear about BetterTouchTool, and why you decide to try it out?

I first heard about Better Touch Tool from Mac Sparky, one of the hosts of the Mac Power Users podcast. I installed it on my computer but never got around to using it until I started following Mac Automation Tips a few months ago. I wanted to see if it would improve my automation workflow so I started trying out some of the different gestures suggested.

Little by little my confidence and skill have grown. I had no idea what I was missing and have found it to be a great time saver. Now that the BetterTouchTool Finger Gestures course is available I’m learning plenty of new tips and tricks.

3. Please describe some of the BTT global and application-specific actions and gestures you use on a regular basis. How did you decide what gestures to assign to those actions? 

Here are a few of my favourite gestures (screenshots included for info)

Global Gestures and Actions
Enter Fullscreen (if Supported) 3 finger swipe up
I set this up quite a while ago. It was one of the only gestures I used before I started to seriously learn BTT. It’s very useful for quickly putting a video or app into full screen mode.

Snappy App Screenshot 4 finger swipe down
A really quick way to capture screenshots. I picked this up from the Mac Automation Tips blog. I had previously used Voilà for my screenshots, but this method with Snappy App is much easier.

Eject External Disks 3 finger double tap
I use this to quickly eject all my external disk. I set this up using a menu bar app called Jettison.

Edge taps Ctrl + tap edge of the trackpad
I have found that tapping various areas of the trackpad (with Ctrl to stop me doing it by mistake) to be very useful. For example bottom left opens my Snappy App Library, bottom middle my Copied Library. By tapping along the top of the trackpad I can easily open Uncluttered, Dropzone or Ghostnotes. They are set up according to how they open on my screen.

BetterTouchTool Global Actions

Middle taps Ctrl (or Cmd) + tap middle part of the trackpad
I have set these up the middle area of the trackpad for TextExpander shortcuts: Create snippet, Create snippet from selection, Inline search, Edit last expanded snippet. I think that these will turn out to be very useful. I haven’t really exploited them as yet though.

App Specific Gestures and Actions
In order to quickly save screenshots I have set up a few gestures. If I do a 2 finger swipe down it quickly saves and closes the captured image. There are a few additional actions set up to make this work and I have to thank appleianer (whom I follow on twitter @myapfelworld) for helping me with those. If I do a 2 finger swipe right I can rename the screenshot. If I really want to I can do a 3 finger swipe up to enter edit mode before saving the capture but I rarely use (o remember) this one.

BTT Snappy App

Most of my Safari actions were set up only after watching the BTT Finger Gestures Course. For quite some time I had wanted to find ways to navigate around the browser. It’s great being able to quickly open, close and move around tabs plus move back and forwards between pages. I still think I can add more gestures. I’d like to paste a URL directly into a new tab when it is opened. The beauty of BTT is that you can constantly experiment to see if a new gesture works and then sticks.

Screenshot from Mike's BTT Library
Screenshot from Mike’s BTT Library

It’s never easy deciding on the type of gesture to use. I guess it’s trial and error. I try and group similar types of actions together but that is not always possible. I think I might review all my gestures in the future. I am quite happy with most of them though.

4. Generally what causes you to create a BTT action and gesture? Do you base actions on your needs or do you see what BTT can do and decide from there? 

Some of my actions – such as the screen capture ones – were set up due to frustration. I don’t like repetitive tasks. If I have to repeat something more than three times then I look into automating it. Other actions I set up because I like experimenting. Automation is an enjoyable new hobby of mine. Also the time I invest now will pay me back in the future. Trial and error is a good way to learn what the program can and cannot do.

5. What did you and/or do you find challenging about using BTT?

It took me a while to get started using BTT. I thought it was just a nice little tool to have installed on my computer. I had no idea how powerful it was until I started getting serious about automation.

I don’t think it’s too complicated either although sometimes prep work needs to be done in other apps (Keyboard Maestro is an app that works really well with BTT) . It’s just a matter of getting started. It takes a bit of time in the very beginning and that can put people off. Thinking up the best gestures to use is a bit of a challenge, as is remembering them. It might be a good idea to document some of them because it’s easy to forget.

It’s useful to watch how other people use BTT. I have picked up a lot of good ideas from training videos and mini tutorials. Twitter is a great resource too and other users are always willing to help out.

I am struggling a bit with the BTT remote app on iOS. I haven’t spent much time with it yet. It’s very good at playing and stopping videos on my Mac but I know it can do much more.

6. You mention that Keyboard Maestro works really well with BTT. Could you share a few examples of how you integrate them in your workflow?

Keyboard Maestro is great for automating repetitive tasks. It can launch a series of actions, or macros, with just a single trigger.  A macro can then be assigned a keyboard shortcut and this can then be used in BTT to create a gesture.

I haven’t harnessed the power of Keyboard Maestro yet. I’m using Mac Automation Tips to help me with that. I have assigned a few shortcut keys to my processes in Keyboard Maestro (note also that SuperTab —a type of enhanced dock—is great for easily assigning keyboard shortcuts too).

My favourite is the one that helps me save a SnappyApp screenshot with an assigned name. Basically when the macro is run, it simulates the Cmd + S keystroke, pauses until a name has been entered and the Return key pressed. It then closes the app with Cmd + W and plays a sound. It’s fairly simple but when you get something like this to work it feels like magic.

KM macro mapped to a BTT gesture.
KM macro mapped to a BTT gesture.

A recent macro I’ve assigned to BTT is one for recording a quick temporary macro. It starts a process that lets me record repetitive steps such as keystrokes, hotkeys and/or a series of mouse clicks in an application. I can then play back the macro using another similar BTT gesture. Very useful.

7. Now that you’ve had time to work with BTT, are there any additional features that you would like to see added to the application?

It’s hard to know. I am sure there are a few features that are missing but I haven’t come across any yet. I will have to let you know at some point down the line. I am glad though that BTT is now a paid app so it will continue to be actively developed. [Editor’s note: totally agree.]

8. And finally, what advice do you give to anyone thinking about starting out using BTT?

My advice would be to just get stuck in. Stop and have a think about which gestures might be useful and try them out. Maybe only one or two at a time. Don’t overdo it. If you don’t know where to start just try out something simple like a 3 Finger Swipe Up to enter full screen mode. Then take it from there.

 About Micheal Coyle                                                                                                                                                                                                    Michael Coyle works as both a graphic designer and systems administrator. Mike CoyleAlthough Michael uses mainly the Windows platform for his day job, in his free time he uses Apple products. His mission is to find the best software and workflows. He lives near Turin in the North West of Italy and is partial to the occasional cappuccino.

Your Turn

I want to thank Micheal for sharing how he uses BetterTouchTool in his daily workflow. And I also appreciate him taking my course, the BetterTouchTool Finger Gestures Course [Note: subscribers to this site can get 50% off the current price of this course], and for sharing with me what he has gotten out of the program.

The purpose of Mac Automation Tips is to build a community of Mac automators who share tips and strategies for how they are using Mac automation. While I’m the creator and blogger of this site, and I’m eager to share how I’m using these programs, it’s equally important to hear from readers like Micheal and Tiffany White who provide their unique strategies for Mac automation.

If you’re an avid Mac automation user, and you’re interested in writing a guest post for this site, shoot me an email using the contact form. We can work together to develop the article for publication.

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Subscribe: Guide to 50 Sample BTT Actions


Guide to 50 Sample BetterTouchTool Actions

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My FREE guide gives you a list of 50 sample finger gesture actions for your Mac or laptop, using your trackpad or MagicMouse. BTT saves clicking, using hotkeys, and manually performing redundant tasks.

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