I was super frustrated with this MacBook Pro trackpad cursor dancing problem all day long. Fortunately, I resolved it with an “imperfect” solution (will explain why later).
So, I figured it might worth putting together this article like this — sharing my experience and hopefully, it would save you a trip to Apple Genius Bar.
What Happened to My MacBook Trackpad?
I am on a MacBook Pro, and as I can recall now, it all started with a temporary freeze on my Mac (unlike the classic Mac freezes issue though)…about five seconds or so; I couldn’t do anything.
Then, I noticed my MacBook Pro started to act up — the cursor kept jumping around, web pages automatically opened and closed, screen resolution adjusted itself, etc. This really scared me as my Mac was literally out of control.
Things I Tried But Didn’t Work
Although the erratic trackpad/cursor issue persisted at that time, I still could perform some basic operations though not that smooth.
At first, I thought my Mac was infected because the situation reminded me of viruses and malware issues back in the PC days.
So I immediately opened BitDefender Antivirus for Mac and ran a full scan. Around 20 minutes later, no threats found (to my surprise).
I then suspected my Mac internal hard drive was malfunctioning, so I went ahead and pulled out Disk Utility and several other apps to check Mac hard drive health. It turned out the main drive is working fine without any problems.
I also reset SMC and NVRAM on my MacBook Pro, thinking that would fix the issue as the symptoms I was facing were quite similar to what the Apple support articles describe. In case you don’t know, resetting NVRAM and SMC is pretty straightforward. Check out this and this article from Apple.
And guess what? Nope, the Mac cursor still kept jumping and clicking and moving on its own after that.
I also disconnected my Magic Mouse, USB flash drive, and unplugged the charger. The last thing I tried but didn’t work either was performing software updates via App Store.
All these took me a few precious hours…until I finally fixed it with a simple trick.
The Solution? It’s Oddly Simple!
Check an option called “Ignore built-in trackpad when mouse or wireless trackpad is present” via the System Preferences setting.
Here’s how to do it in just a few steps:
Step 1: On your Mac desktop, click the Apple logo, and select System Preferences.
Step 2: In the preferences pane, click Accessibility.
Step 3: On the left pane, scroll down to locate the Mouse & Trackpad tab, see that “Ignore built-in trackpad…” option? Check it.
Now the erratic cursor jumping issue should disappear and you should be able to use your external mouse to navigate smoothly on your Mac.
Why This Solution Isn’t Perfect
I tried to uncheck that option above, and guess what…the trackpad problem appears AGAIN on my MacBook Pro.
That means I can ONLY rely on the Apple Magic Mouse to navigate, which I’m okay with. But for those of you who don’t have a mouse or you are used to relying on the trackpad for navigation, it can be troublesome.
Frankly, I don’t know the cause (or reason) of this trackpad issue, I guess it has something to do with the hardware. For example, it might be a sign that my trackpad could be failing soon and it’s best to have a holistic diagnosis.
Update Note: really appreciate one of our readers “Avery Ryder” for sending over this tip. Since it’s challenging to navigate to System Preferences without a mouse, he wrote an AppleScript that can help cure the macOS jumpy cursor and can toggle on and off the trackpad. Note: we recommend this tip to Mac power users only.
Once you’ve fixed the trackpad erratic cursor dance issue, and brought your Mac to life, make sure to do some maintenance to prevent such annoying issues in the future. For most Mac users, you’ll love this app called CleanMyMac — it will keep your Mac in great shape for years. Apart from cleaning junk files, it also offers you a handful of utilities to quickly optimize your Mac’s performance to avoid potential issues.
Anyway, I hope the simple guide has helped you resolve the erratic trackpad issue. I tried the solution on my MacBook Pro, and it worked. Though I can’t guarantee that it will work with an iMac or MacBook Air.
Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know how it works for you? Or if you have come up with another better resolution, share it with me, and I’ll consider updating this post to make it more useful.
Andreas is a freelance tech writer based in California. He works on a Mac in the office and lives with a PC and many old computer electronics at home. While he is not reading or writing, you’ll probably find him playing online games with friends.