Apple and the Future of Computer Mice

Apple 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.

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