Do you scroll backwards, and is it natural?

Do you scroll backwards, and is it natural?
Mac Tip #497, 03 August 2011

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Lion changed how we scroll — though you can set Preferences to stick with the old ways if you like. The new ‘Natural’ Scrolling reverses the direction a page moves in if we scroll using the trackpad. What’s more the scrollbars have changed and the scroll arrows have disappeared. Here’s what you need to know.

I only use a trackpad (and graphics tablet). I’m not sure how Natural Scrolling plays out for those with a mouse, a mouse with scroll wheel or a magic trackpad.You may need to experiment a bit. Please help us out by telling us about your findings in the Comments.

Trackpads and Gestures

Magic trackpad from Apple.

Magic Trackpad from Apple.

Many people now use trackpads to control their Mac, rather than a mouse. A trackpad is a flat smooth area, either built-in to laptops, or available as a separate device you plug in, that you work with directly with your fingers. Magic Trackpad.

Trackpads are very flexible because there are many ways to interact with them. You can:

  • tap — with one or more fingers.
  • tap in a certain place, such as a corner.
  • slide one or more fingers in any direction.
  • ‘flick’ 2 fingers
  • slide two or more fingers together in a pinching motion or apart in a spreading motion.
  • rotate 2 or more fingers clockwise or anti-clockwise.

These movements are known as Gestures. Many of them resemble how we work with an iPad.

The old scroll

Before Lion one way of scrolling longer pages was to use 2 fingers on the trackpad and drag down or up.

Drag down and the text you were reading would move up — in the opposite direction from that of your fingers.

Drag up and the text you were reading would move down — in the opposite direction from that of your fingers.

So, to scroll down a long web page, for example, you would simply slide your fingers down the trackpad, moving down the page.

Natural scrolling in System Preferences.

Natural scrolling in System Preferences.

The new scroll

‘Natural’ Scrolling reverses how we scroll up and down. If you select this in System Preferences you ‘push’ the text and images on the page up and ‘drag’ them down.

You choose

Keep in mind too that there were other ways to scroll: click in the scrollbar, drag the scrollbar ‘thumb’ up and down, click the scrollbar arrows, on web pages press the Spacebar (or Shift (⇧) Space to scroll up).

I’ve been using Macs for around 22 years now, and bought my first Mac laptop maybe 12 years ago. Those first laptops didn’t have a trackpad though. It’s been only a few years that I’ve been using the 2-finger scroll. But that’s long enough to ingrain the habit.

Among people who’ve already upgraded to Lion there has been some strong discussion about the change in scrolling direction.

I decided to go with the flow and change. It’s been a little tricky — I frequently scrolled in the ‘wrong’ direction. But the feedback’s instant: you see the page going the ‘wrong’ way.

Now, 10 days later I still occasionally dither, but the old way seems wrong. Because the new way is consistent with how I read on my iPad there’s no longer a disconnect between scrolling on my Mac and scrolling on my iPad.

But you can choose to stick with the old way if you like. Here’s how.

  1. Open System Preferences and click on the Trackpad icon in the second row (Hardware).
  2. Select the Scroll & Zoom tab.
  3. On the first line deselect the checkbox beside Scroll direction: natural. Watch the brief video on the right-hand side of the Scroll & zoom tab — it shows you how scrolling will work with your selected setting.
  4. Close System Preferences.
Scrollbar settings in System Preferences.

Scrollbar settings in System Preferences.

The scrollbars have changed too!

But 2-finger scrolling isn’t the only change in scrolling — the scrollbars have changed too. And again, this has stirred up some heated discussions.

Scrollbars in Lion have changed appearance, sometimes hide and no longer have arrows.

Choices for how scrollbars should behave in Lion.

Choices for how scrollbars should behave in Lion.

  1. Open System Preferences and click on the General icon in the first row (Personal).
  2. In the second section select one radio button for Show scroll bars.
  3. In the second section select one radio button for Click in the scroll bar to.
  4. Close System Preferences.

Here’s how these settings play out for me. If I choose to Show scroll bars Automatically based on input device then the scrollbars are invisible until I start to scroll or plug in my graphics tablet. With the graphics tablet plugged in the scroll bars are always visible.

If I click in the scrollbar above or below the ‘thumb’ then my document moves 1 page down or up, depending where I click.

Now I need to be honest and say that I have never seen any difference between ‘smooth scrolling’ being on or off. I think it must just be me, though. See Make over your Mac — 10 transformative settings for a bit more on this.

No more scroll arrows in the scrollbar!

No more scroll arrows in the scrollbar!

No scroll arrows

Take a look at the screenshot in Make over your Mac, linked above. In Snow Leopard you could choose a setting for how to place the scroll arrows. In Lion that setting has disappeared, along with the arrows themselves.

If you used to scroll by clicking on an arrow in the scrollbar, well, that option is just no longer available.

Adapt to the changes

These changes in scrolling and scrollbars are significant as they dramatically alter the way most of us interact with our Mac.

I think it’s best to just leap in and learn these new ways from the start. Apple clearly want to make working on a Mac and working on an iPad more consistent with one another, and I doubt they’ll reverse their thinking on the scrolling. What do you think? Have you used Lion yet? What have you done about scrolling and how is that working out for you?

Thinking of moving to Lion? The best thing you can possibly do is invest a few dollars in the ebook Take Control of Upgrading to Lion which takes you through everything you need to know.

Tell us about your experiences with scrolling on Lion in the Comments at Could you write a guest MacTip? If so, contact Miraz.

Credit where it’s due

This Tip was written by Miraz Jordan,, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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  1. Pau said:

    At first, it was hard and confuse to adapt to the new scrolling. But only during the first week. After that you find it even more confortable than the old scroll. Even more, now when I take my brother’s Mac, who don’t want to use “natural scrolling”, it anoys me.

    I encourage all Mac users to do this change (Its just one week). In Lion, they left the option to disable this new scrolling, but its obvious that future versions of OS won’t have this option. Before or after, we will all change it, better now.

    The only drawback is when I use a Windows-PC, that I always scroll to the wrong direction with the mouse.

  2. Stinky472 said:

    “I think it’s best to just leap in and learn these new ways from the start.”

    I have to disagree for those who work with input devices other than ones specifically geared for Apple products and are required to work with multiple operating systems. I work in a design field and we use things like Wacom’s Lenscursor Mouse and we have to bounce between Windows/OSX workstations frequently, and occasionally even Linux.

    This setting is quite jarring and I’d agree, people can get used to it, but what’s best is a sense of *consistency*. For those of us who have to work in multiple operating systems and sometimes on different people’s machines, falling in love with the Apple way just makes us hate the original way, making us fiddle even more with the system to get things working consistently. And I’d emphasize *original* way here, since Apple neither invented nor contributed much to the design of the scroll wheel which was designed to *scroll* in the same direction as finger movement for a very good reason.

  3. Gary Lea said:

    That’s funny, I never thought of it as ‘backwards’. Purchasing Smart Scroll for iMac three years ago, I was delighted with its smooth scrolling and inertia effects. I had purchased a Fingerworks iGesture Pad years before that. If I no longer had to grab a scroll bar or ‘click’ on an arrow, why not have a display mimic finger travel? With Magic Mouse and now Magic Trackpad, it seems that Apple has been homogenizing the user experience, no matter the device.
    I live in North America and really appreciate a headlight control (stalk or knob) on the left, and ignition (button or key) on the right–it seems ‘natural’. No matter the car, truck, SUV or van, familiar control locations and use seem natural and help me concentrate on tasks at hand.
    For people with wrist problems, wouldn’t pressing an up or down arrow key from the keyboard hurt less than positioning a mouse cursor onto a scroll arrow before clicking?

  4. chris_b said:

    Apple seems to have forgotten that using stuff like this when one has wrist problem is impossible.hey need to put the arrows back for those us us who can’t do that because it causes pain.I’d think this would be something the ADA would be interested in.

  5. Miraz Jordan said:

    Eric emailed:

    “The scrolling applies to the mouse too and I have reversed mine. I couldn’t get used to the new way. Matter of fact I have a trackpad but can’t get the hang of it. Another 20 odd year user.”

  6. Duffy Hawes said:

    Like Graham, it took a couple of days for natural scrolling to feel, well, natural on my MB Air using the Trackpad. My troubles then moved to my iPad, where I suddenly found myself scrolling in the wrong direction. I was so used to scrolling in opposite directions that scrolling in the same direction on both devices just felt odd. I gave it 3 more days, but it still felt wrong, so I turned off natural scrolling on my Mac. All is now right in my world.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      That’s an interesting problem Duffy. I hadn’t thought about that problem of expecting Mac and iPad to scroll in opposite ways.

  7. Pete Hanson said:

    It took me all of 2 days to fully adapt to “natural scrolling” on my MBP, but then I spent most of the next 5 days working on my iMac with Magic Trackpad sans Lion. The confusion of going back and forth ended up with me upgrading my iMac a bit sooner than I expected, and I’m now happily using “natural scrolling” on both. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I gave it a chance, and now I’m glad I did.

    I do have one lingering propblem with natural scrolling though – I end up hesitating on the scroll direction when I need to use menus.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Thanks Pete. I was actually just pondering the problem for people who use both Lion and other OSes. I think you’ve just answered how that works out. :-)

  8. Graham McKay said:

    I’ve done some testing on Lion but haven’t yet installed it on my day to day laptop. I agree that one should just “bite the bullet” and adapt to the “natural scrolling” direction – it doesn’t take long for it to become “natural” :-)

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Thanks Graham. I guess there are always folk who cry out at big changes like this. I believe they’re usually called King Knut. :-)

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