Reduce your reliance on your mouse by using your head, by activating the head pointer in macOS to move your cursor and click on icons as you move your skull from side to side.
Apple includes many different accessibility tools in its operating systems, allowing many people to access its software and tools without using conventional methods. While intended for users who cannot use a keyboard or mouse, the same features can also be used by anyone, just by turning them on and changing a few settings.
Sometimes accessibility features can help a user’s productivity in unexpected ways, such as with macOS’s Head Pointer feature.
What is the head pointer?
Included since macOS Catalina, Head Pointer is a tool that, in simple terms, turns your head into a mouse. Using a webcam pointed at the user, the tool can monitor the rotation of the user’s head, side-to-side or vertically, and move the on-screen cursor within this direction.
This has obvious utility for people who cannot use a mouse at all, but it can also benefit all users. With a sufficiently large screen and a perfectly placed webcam, the tool could move the cursor near an area of the screen that the user is actively viewing.
Since the mouse can still be used and replaces all head movements, this system could move the cursor close to where a user intends to use it, simply by moving the head and attention. . The mouse could then be used for the last potentially shorter movement to the icon or item that will be clicked or dragged.
The system isn’t quite perfect, as it relies on a correct interpretation of a webcam video feed, which was confused in testing by beards and bushy glasses. It is also not precise enough for applications such as finely detailed illustrations.
But to get the mouse in the general area or for simple tasks, it’s still a handy tool to activate.
Enabling and Using the Head Pointer
The first thing to do is to set up a webcam for your Mac. MacBooks have the FaceTime camera, which can be used, but pretty much any imaging device that you can plug in that the Mac sees as a webcam will do.
How to enable the head pointer in macOS
- Click it Apple in the menu bar and select System Preferences.
- To select Accessibility.
- Scroll down left to reach and select Pointer control.
- Click it Alternative control methods tongue.
- Check the box next to Activate primary pointer.
Once activated, macOS will begin to interpret your head movements from the webcam’s point of view as mouse movements. If you want to refine the controls, click the Options button.
In the General section, you can configure the system to move the pointer “Relative to head” or “When facing edges of screen”. The latter is the more extreme version, while the “Relative” option will be the best for most people.
Although its positioning is not necessarily perfect, most of the time, “Relative to Head” will help you get the mouse closer to where you want it to be without too much effort.
The speed of the pointer will dictate how fast the pointer will move across the screen based on your head movement. Distance to edge is only enabled when using the “Screen Edges” option and will dictate how much you need to turn your head before the pointer starts moving.
The Camera Options button will allow you to select the correct webcam if you have more than one installed, as well as an Expressions tab which we’ll come to momentarily.
Facial actions and expressions
The Actions tab adds additional controls you can perform with your face, related to the basic operation of Head Pointer.
If the first option is enabled, you can press F10 to toggle the head pointer on and off, but you can also set other commands to enable it using the Assign button. In this menu, you can set a “physical switch” or press a button on the keyboard to toggle the action, or facial expression.
You can choose from a list of predefined facial expressions, which will turn it on and off in the same way. The list includes a smile, an open mouth gesture, sticking your tongue out, raising your eyebrows, blinking your eyes, crinkling your nose, or puckering your lips to the left, right or outward.
There is a similar menu to recalibrate Head Pointer if it’s been a while and it doesn’t quite detect movement or the cursor is acting wild. Again, you can set a button, physical switch, or facial expression to request recalibration.
You can even configure how much effort it takes for a facial expression to be accepted by Head Pointer. Maybe you don’t want to stick out your tongue too much or it doesn’t catch the folds properly.
In the Camera Options menu, under Expressions, there are drop-down lists that let you set how much expressiveness you need to count as an intended facial action. The “Default” is the middle setting, but you can set it as “Light” or “Exaggerated” as needed for each.
Click on the mouse buttons
While moving your head to move the cursor is one thing, you can also set up some facial expressions to perform some basic mouse button actions. Check “Enable alternative pointer actions” and click Options to configure this.
In the menu, the F11 and F12 keys are set to left click and right click by default, with an interface to add more commands. Below are checkboxes, each to show visual indicators or to play a sound when facial recognition related to an action is detected.
How to assign a facial expression to a mouse action in Head Pointer for macOS
- Enter the Pointer control part of the Accessibility menu in System Preferences.
- Click on Options next to Enable Alternate Pointer Actions.
- Click it more symbol.
- To select Facial expression then following.
- Select the required Facial expression from the list.
- Enter a Last name for the combination of action and facial expression.
- Select the action you want to be executed. This covers left and right clicks, double and triple clicks, and toggle for a drag and drop action.
- Click on Made.
- To delete the assignment, select it in the list, then click the minus button and confirm with Wipe off.
- To edit an assignment, select it in the list, then click the circle button. Make changes and save as before.
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