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Chrome Mouse Gestures in OS X Lion and the Ghost Arrow

I suppose a confession is necessary first. Well, no, perhaps I had better start with an explanation because not every Mac user has upgraded to OS X Lion yet and even if you have, you might not be using a Magic Mouse or TrackPad. So let's do the background first.


OS X Lion (10.7) can be used with an ordinary mouse, but if you use a Magic Mouse (or a TrackPad), you can control many things with "gestures". Here's a nice list of those things if you'd like a refresher.

One of the things that you can do is swipe left or right (one finger swipe or three) to move between pages you have visited in Safari. Even if you'd never read about gestures, you'd be likely to figure that one out because Safari animates the action and begins to slide the other page in as you start the swipe. As it's easy enough to accidentally start a small one finger swipe, you'll notice this.

Here's a picture of Safari sliding in a page:

Safari page swip animation

How Chrome lost its swipe

I don't use Safari. Oh, Safari is fine, it's just that Chrome has some extensions I really like so that's what I almost always use.

When OS X Lion first came out, Chrome lost its swipe feature. Actually, I had never noticed that it had it at all, but apparently it had a two-finger swipe action and that was usurped by Mission Control Desktop/Spaces in Lion. So, momentarily Chrome was "broken", although because I had never used that feature, I never knew that it was gone.

Of course Chrome fixed that quickly and changed to the 1/3 finger gesture. As I had never noticed that to begin with, of course I didn't know that it was fixed. Ignorance is bliss.

Ghost Arrow

Now it is time for the confession. Every now and then, I'd see a ghostly arrow icon appear on my screen. I could not understand what it was or where it came from. It seemed random and capricious - it would suddenly appear, flicker momomentarily and disappear. Sometimes it would be on the screen only very quickly, sometimes a bit longer.

I thought it might have something to do with my mouse, but I couldn't figure out what. I wanted to try to capture it in a screen shot, but it was too ephemeral - I couldn't catch it in the act.

So, I drew a picture. A crude attempt, as you will see, but I posted that and a plea for help on Google Plus.

Ghost arrow

It was Brett Legree who realized what I was seeing - apparently Chrome actually does use left/right swipes and those arrows are its way of showing you that a swipe is in progress. Brett spotted that in spite of my crude drawing skills.

Here's what the arrow really looks like. I found that keeping my finger on the mouse allowed me to keep it on the screen so that I could hit the screen capture keys with my free hand.

Chrome page swip - no animation


A Chrome swipe requires more commitment. That is, because of the lack of animation, nothing happens (other than the ghost arrow) until you get well into the swipe and then the other page pops in all at once.

So, mystery solved (thanks to Brett) and now I can swipe left or right in Chrome and I know to extend the gesture long enough for it to work.

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