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Apple and the Future of Computer Mice

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Apple (s aapl) has released a Bluetooth peripheral that completely replaces the computer mouse as we know it. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Apple’s hatred of buttons and love of touch that began as early as 2003 with the 3rd generation iPod and continued with iPhone, iPad and multitouch trackpads should have clued us in that the mouse wouldn’t be here forever.

Apple’s not going to just release a $10,000 touchscreen table computer (ie. Microsoft Surface) and hope people will line up to buy it. Instead, Apple will slowly shift our computer mannerisms $199 at a time (iPhone) until we’re completely touch. Buttons will be a distant memory like typewriters and Windows Me. This dream of using computers, Minority Report style, starts with the death of the computer mouse.

A simple truth is that my 10-year-old sister has grown up never using a computer mouse. She’s used notebook trackpads with her index finger and the touch-sensitive glass on my iPhone and iPad. The Magic Trackpad will be her input device of choice no matter what device she uses and the mouse is simply foreign in the way that the keys of a typewriter never felt right to me. Apple’s taken the steps necessary to remove the mouse forever, including making the Magic Trackpad compatible with Mac OS and Windows Vista & 7.

The Magic Mouse comes with the iMac and Mac Pro which are two out of six computers that Apple sells. One out of three Macs comes with a Magic Mouse, and for $69 more, you can swap that out for a Magic Trackpad and never have to use the mouse at all. The Magic Trackpad is the same height, depth and length as the Apple Keyboard and fits snugly right next to the keyboard or a foot away, depending on your preference. The trackpad is the button and the box has a list of gestures to get started.

Of course, this isn’t a review of the Magic Trackpad since I haven’t used one yet, but I’m trying to weigh in on the future of how we interact with our Apple computers, or at least how Apple wants us to interact with them. The keyboard still reigns supreme and I prefer a physical keyboard to the one on my iPad or iPhone, but there are small changes I see that are making it obvious that change is coming faster than we think. Keyboards of today require very little pressure compared to keyboards of the 80’s and typewriters in the 40’s and 50’s. Pushing today’s keyboard keys are so easy that a child can type without issue. This decrease in pressure requirements is preparing us for touch keyboards that require no pressure, just as improvements to Apple’s trackpad have eventually turned into a dedicated peripheral that we will happily buy because we love the trackpad on our MacBooks.

I have to think big picture, though, and make that claim that iOS will soon make its way to our laptops and desktops, and soon the keyboard will be obsolete. Then, Apple will announce the last iteration of the Mac OS as iOS becomes a unified standard for how we get work done. The App Store will be the only way to get apps on your devices, software pirating drops, we touch instead of click and our fingers become the only input device you need.

Wow, that was quite a glimpse into the future in the length of two posts to Twitter, but that’s where I see it going.

This future is both far off and not so far when you look at where we’ve been in the past four years. In 2006, the Mighty Mouse had more than a few buttons and our keyboards had many keys and our phones were all keyboard from Windows Mobile to Palm OS to Blackberry and touch was something we did on notebook trackpads. This was before the glass trackpad and our trackpads had physical & clickable buttons. Today, Apple’s product line is 50 percent mobile and we do the majority of our “mobile input” with our fingers on iPods, iPhones, iPads and MacBook Trackpads and soon (let’s say a year from now) Apple will say that it has sold millions of Magic Trackpads and we’ll learn that a majority of desktop users use their finger as the primary input device. This shift is happening fast.

The computer interfaces depicted in Minority Report are still a decade away, but we’re prepared now and our fingers are moving more than ever, controlling objects on retina displays and interacting with 30″ displays via trackpads. We’re doing it all right now and, once again, Apple is ahead of the curve, but still tip-toeing. Apple isn’t ditching the mouse completely but it’s testing the water to see how we react. Judging by yesterday’s buzz around the Magic Trackpad, I’m confident we’ve sent a message to Apple that iOS is ready for the mainstream and we’re ready to make touch the default input for tomorrow’s computers.

19 Responses to “Apple and the Future of Computer Mice”

  1. The thing is this doesnt have to be all or nothing. I’m looking at getting one becasue of the kids. They seem to use touch interfaces much more naturally than using the mouse, which is a bit more remote for them. The Magic mouse lack of all the touch guestures turned me off, and it missed the squeeze buttons of the mighty mouse.
    But a mouse will remain connected, because it is simply better at some things.
    Where I might really use the touch pad is with the media PC – I’m going to machine up a tray to stick a wireless keyboard and the touch pad together (left or right hand position, and this will be on the coffee table in the lounge for use with the mac mini under the TV. I currently use a logitech keyboard and track pad, but the buttons are too small for full speed typing, and the kids are nearly at the stage of needing to do wordprocessing and proper school homework, and the computer they use is in the family room. This will also free up the iPad for me to use 8)
    I see this as an obvious device, and I have always wondered why someone hadn’t made one yet. Maybe I should have taken out a patent a few years ago 8)

    • Adam Jackson

      Oddly enough, a few friends that use Mac minis as home theatre PCs, are buying these for that same reason. It fits in pretty well with the array of remotes at your desk.

  2. Michael

    I can see what Apple is trying to do and to be honest I’m liking the new fresh ideas. Although this will not solve many things when it really comes to using a mouse. I am a graphical designer who likes to have a grip on my tools when making something. This is a good way to use your mac like browsing the web. I still have a wired Mighty mouse and I haven’t found a reason yet to upgrade to a newer mouse. Come to think of it, I do have a few problems with the scroll ball getting stuck sometimes. But it’s to rarely to be buying a newer mouse. My choice will definitely go to the Magic mouse though. It will solve the scrolling if it will end up turning bad with my current mouse.

    Got to admit though, Apple is trying out new things and I appreciate there work.

  3. IcyFog

    Though I’m not a gamer, I agree with Gustavo. It’s really hard laying out and designing products, and editing photos using a trackpad. Give me a mouse to perform those tasks please. I won’t be replacing my mouse for a trackpad anytime soon.

  4. I ordered the MagicPad as a secondary pointing device. When it comes to precision work on the screen, pads are just not there. However, the MagicPad will replace my Bamboo which is to the left of my screen and will be used not for pointing, but solely for gestures, such as scrolling (the scroll wheel is not that good ergonomically)

  5. You know COLD WATER has a point, Apple can’t make a decent mouse for some reason. I worked on a Mac for 9 years and I never had a decent mouse over 4 generations of Apple computers. Maybe that’s why my hand still hurts so much today when I use my ergonomic PC mouse. I can’t figure out why nobody wants to work to address this problem of creating a really good input device. Come on people, this has been an issue now for 20 years.

  6. Chris Maddison

    I can see everyone’s point. I will be buying the magic trackpad as I’ve been in need of a new mouse for a while and was pondering the magic mouse but I was never sure about it. I love my macbook trackpad and actually get frustrated when using my iMac with mighty mouse because of it. The magic trackpad will be perfect for about 80% of my computer use, but as a graphic designer i can’t see myself completely abandoning my mouse.

  7. Will this trackpad be able to recognize multitouch events? Such as the ones from Flash Player 10.1 sites or Air 2.0 applications? Just wondering … if so, it could act as a very nice device to test multitouch applications which are being built for MT Tables.

    Also, can I use it with Windows 7?

    • Adam Jackson

      1. Since both of those products are Adobe engineered, I doubt Apple will waste much time going out of their way to support the multi-touch events in Air and Flash but maybe Adobe can build support. Remember, the Magic Trackpad is just an Apple trackpad originally in notebooks, only slightly larger and works over Bluetooth. Not much else is different.

      2. I found this. It’s trackpad drivers for Windows 64-bit. I assume this works with Windows 7.

  8. Apple store iMac does not have the track pad as a replacement for a mouse at $69 but an addition to the mouse – copied below:

    Magic Mouse + Magic Trackpad [Add $69.00

  9. princ3

    Reading this article, i concluse that your brain is realy washed by apple:)
    Anyway, this is just a simple bigger touchpad, i don’t understand what this has to do with iOS as you stil need a mousepointer.
    Softwarepirating drops? I don’t think so, i think it raises, cause you don’t have to deal with different copyprotection anymore.

  10. Alexandre

    The people who post comments in here are not representative of big markets at all. Programmers? Hey, there are still people using VI! Of course for you the mouse will hold for a long time. For average people? Not ture.

    Cold Water, the magic mouse is amazing.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t hold my breath about minority report. I don’t want to keep my arms raised the whole day.

  11. I absolutely agree that this kind of input will become more and more popular, but the death of the mouse may spell problems for some people. My job involves spending a lot of time at the computer, and a few months after buying my MacBook I developed a painful repetitive strain injury in my right hand, including a bad case of trigger finger. I switched to a magic mouse (the previous model) and the injury went away. Though I love using a trackpad, I agree that this is very much a baby step from Apple to test the water, and companies will rapidly have to move past this kind of input device (fixed hand position with extensive finger movements) and towards larger touch interfaces like the iPad.

    • Adam Jackson

      I admit that I’m with you. I have a MacBook at my desk at work but bring in my Magic Mouse each day because it’s better after 8 hours of work.

  12. I really don’t know. How would I code on these devices? How would I design using these devices?

    I love my iPhone’s interface, and think that touch is brilliant, but fundamentally I have a much greater expressive power in a ‘full desktop’ environment than I would ever expect to have on a touch equivalent. I could be wrong, and would love to do away with the RSI devices, but for them to gain traction the expressive power has to match the current input methods.

  13. Cold Water

    I don’t know if this is a function of the fact, or a cementing of the legacy that Apple cannot make a decent mouse.

    For what it’s worth, when I hook up to the monitor and USB hub on my desk, I often forget that my (Logitech) mouse is there. Having a bigger trackpad can only be better.

  14. Gustavo

    Sorry guys, I’m not one of the people to whom this is targeted… I’m a developer/designer/gamer. The trackpad is nice for remote (and by remote I mean on the couch or something) control of the computer but Hippo Remote and my iPhone does that quite well as well.

    I can’t use a trackpad for gaming, at all. Selecting text and manipulating photos are also a pain when using a trackpad compared to when using an actual mouse. Good idea, just not my market.