In mouse design, Apple lacks the Magic touch
Fri, 18 Dec 2009
Have you ever had a four-year-old try to tell you a knock-knock joke? A knock-knock is universally understood as a straightforward, five-step transaction that begins with “Knock knock” and ends with “Dwayne the bathtub – I’m dwowning”. But by the time the kid gets there, the narrative has been embellished beyond recognition. It was a simple, taut and effective piece of comedy before she started ‘improving’ it with pirates, vampires, and a sparkly pony named Eric.
(Oh, come on. What? She’s crying? Really? OK, look, if she wasn’t prepared for a frank appraisement of her work, then she shouldn’t have asked me what I thought about the joke.)
I wish the folks at Apple who design mouses could learn from little Courtney’s example. Every time they come out with a new model, its most important functions are buried under unicorns and talking doorknobs that only speak Italian.
A mouse is such a simple device. Move it on your desktop and the mouse pointer moves. Click a button or two to select. Tickle a wheel to scroll. Above all, it needs to fit comfortably in your hand, and you should be able to orient your fingers on it without taking your eyes off the screen. Yet Novelty always seems to trump Functionality in an Apple mouse’s design.
Honestly, I can’t think of a single good Apple mouse released this millennium. Ideologically, they’ve all been covered with spray-glitter and rainbow stickers. None of them have remained on my desktop long enough to pick up any scratches or lose the kinks in its USB cable. Why did the Mighty Mouse and its ‘the body is the button’ forebears make dragging so damned hard? Now we have the Magic Mouse, which seems like a cool idea: the whole top is a multitouch input that recognises the same swipes and gestures as a MacBook trackpad.
I love the concept. But I need to know if I can click and drag with the thing. I’d also like to figure out if I’ll do the same thing with Magic Mouse that I did after 30 minutes with its precursor, the Mighty Mouse: I disabled the silly touch-sensitive feature that triggered Exposé every time I rested my hand on it.
No grand gestures
Is the Mighty Mouse as useful as the Kensington Expert Mouse? I don’t know why trackballs have fallen out of vogue. I love the iPhone’s interface because it simulates the physics of inertia so well. A trackball doesn’t need to simulate it. Flick the Kensington’s cueball and its mass keeps it spinning; nudge the pointer a few pixels or warp-factor it from one side of the screen to the other – either one is a natural, controlled gesture. Big, fat, clicky buttons are always under the finger of your choice. The ball is surrounded by a scroll ring that can be twirled lazily and with precision. It’s not particularly cool looking. Unless you replace the standard trackball with one painted to look like a glossy, realistic severed eyeball. Which you can do, I happily report.
Is the Magic Mouse as innovative as the Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch? Instead of taking the multitouch trackpad off a MacBook and putting it on top of a mouse, Wacom put it on a compact tablet. All of those familiar fingertaps and gestures work, right on your desk’s surface. There’s a pen, too. The pad isn’t big enough to let you draw the cover of next month’s Wonder Woman, but the pen’s a bonus when someone emails you a document that needs to be signed and returned.
Let’s dial expectations back: is the Magic Mouse as invisible to your workflow as a basic mouse that costs a third as much?
Maybe you don’t even want to ‘improve’ the mousing experience. All I really want is a device that fits in my hand comfortably, has two buttons where they ought to be, and is as precise and responsive as a reasonably sober mongoose. I want to feel as though my hand is moving the pointer, not operating a USB device that interacts with an operating system.
Wheely well done
My favourite mouse is as basic as things can get: it’s the Microsoft Wheel Mouse. You get a left-clicky and a right-clicky, with a wheel in the middle and high-resolution optical tracking. And that’s it. List price: about 15 quid.
Microsoft didn’t innovate with this mouse. That’s to its credit. Its daring decision was to use hardware that costs 10.5p per unit instead of the one that costs only 7.2p, and a rubberised scrollwheel that’s manufactured in a two-step process instead of one. It feels like quality. And it fits my hand superbly. Bonus: I can’t accidentally activate Exposé by grabbing the Wheel Mouse wrongly. I don’t know why Microsoft doesn’t include that in the feature list on the packaging.
Apple’s new Magic Mouse is different enough that I’ll need to spend several days with it before I figure out my opinion. If it stays on my desk after a week or two, it’ll be such a victory that I’ll commission an epic tapestry to mark the event.
How did Apple earn this reputation? It’s justly famous for paying close attention to interfaces and industrial design. It’s not Bang & Olufsen – a company so committed to obtuse style that when you see one of its gadgets in a bathroom you don’t know whether to shave with it, make a phone call on it, or jab it into the toilet and start scrubbing.
Macs should come with the best, most comfortable mouse out there. It should feel like soft clay contoured to your hand. With every motion and click, it should reassure you that it’s done precisely what you intended for it to do.
It’s important. The mouse is the most tactile part of the user experience. In its way, the mouse is the concierge to the entire user experience. From the Mighty Mouse backward, the Mac’s concierge has greeted the user dressed in sweatpants and a stained undershirt and, not bothering to put down the source of those stains as it waves you in, asks you if you don’t mind staying in a room that hasn’t been cleaned yet.
The problem is easy to fix. Apple seems to think that bringing in a mouse that acts like Harry Potter is the way to go. Ever since I bought my first Wheel Mouse, I’ve been confident that the right man for the job is Harry Porter. (You wouldn’t know him. He used to work at the copy shop near my office. There was nothing flashy or remarkable about him except for the fact that he did his job perfectly.)
Posted by: Andy Ihnatko
Apple USED to make good 'mouses' back in the '90s. No gimmicks (ONE mouse button!) but a very comfortable easy-to-use (-for-long-durations) pointing and clicking device. I held onto mine for almost the entire decade.
Nice blog entry btw. You have a wonderful way with words. (I hope I don't sound like your grandmother saying that)
I've just replaced my mighty mouse (whose trackball is stuck for the last time) with a MS mouse - I just found the Magic mouse uncomfortable to use when i tried it.
I quit using an Apple mouse back in 1998. They just don't get mice, always trying to reinvent it.
And a mobile phone is just a mobile phone. Innovation is always an easy target and I think you took a cheap shot. I like the Magic Mouse and appreciate having an option.
I'm still using an old, long discontinued Kensington 4-button 'ThinkingMouse.' . Honestly, it's the best timesaver since learning how to type.
I suppose that when all mice-makers went to adding scrollwheels the idea of four symmetrical buttons was dropped (too complicated?) but I just dont see why that should be so.
When I first heard of Apple's 'Magic Mouse' I thought it would be a quantum leap forward. I imagined a contour mouse with a surface similar to the touch screen on the iPhone - progammable for one, two, three, four or six buttons and with the ability to scroll vertically or horizontally with one finger.
I imagined a new mouse like my old ThinkingMouse but with no moving parts to get dirty or jammed, plus scrolling, but no.
Until SOMEONE makes a mouse with a fully programable surface - which is quite
easily done these days - all mice will be stuck in the '90s.
Yes, the new mice are terrible. If you have a small mousing surface, it's nearly impossible to pick the mouse up and move it to extend its reach while also keeping its button depressed, something that used to be easy.
I think Apple's best mouse might be the one that came with the original 128k Mac (and 512 and Mac Plus).
Love the new Magic Mouse. Feels effortless... excellent.
Mice are so '80s. Steve Jobs obviously doesn't care, so why would you expect Apple to produce a great mouse? Remember how proud he was of the original iMac mouse? How could anybody think Apple is a leader in mouse design after that fiasco?
The Apple laptop trackpad has always led the industry, and the latest edition is so much superior to most mice it makes them even less relevant.
I can't understand why you don't love the Magic Mouse, unless of course you haven't used it much yet. At least the people I know are really excited about it, even more so after experiencing the flick scrolling hands on. I wish you would express your opinion only after using it for a week or two as you mention in your article.
And as for people who complain about a small mousing surface, I seriously recommend the Apple Wireless Keyboard, which will give you back the seldom used ten-key area for you mousing comfort.
I think the Mighty Mouse is a great tool. Admittedly it took a day or 2 to get used to - particularly the finger lift thing.
I find the scroll ball is fantastic for moving in the timeline in FCP
I've had the scroll ball jam a couple of times but a little blow + its come right again
I only hope they don't discontinue it as if mine fails I will want another 1.
If they made 1 like the Microsoft Wheel mouse, which I owned and gave away (to my brother who thought he had a bad mighty mouse til i explained the finger lift), I would be less productive in the app i use most..
I havent seen or tried, the Magic Mouse but when i do i'll approach it with an open mind.
Options are a wonderful thing and as there are so many other ones out there which you are happy to use why knock Apple for trying something different?
It is Ok for you to use a non Apple product when they don't make one that suits you. Nothing wrong with that at all.
Love my Magic Mouse.
Another vote for the Magic Mouse. It's got the functionality of the Mighty Mouse but without the dirt-gathering scroll ball. It's even easier to pick up while holding the button down than the previous mice.
I am someone who has very simple needs when it comes to a mouse, and I have found the Magic Mouse works well for me. If I needed one more button it would be in a drawer, but Apple gave me, the simple home consumer, a nearly perfect mouse. I find myself irritated now when I have to use a "normal" scroll mouse, as I have grown to like the flick to scroll ease of the Magic Mouse. Wish it got better battery life though.
I recently replaced my MacBook Pro with a shiny new quad-core iMac which, of course, included the new Magic Mouse.
The mouse works just great for me, especially the "slide your finger" scrolling style. That improves significantly on every scrolling feature I've seen before, including the wheel.
I do have two complaints: It seems harder than I would hope to get it to right-click - it seems like there is a very precise position your fingers have to rest on.
The second one is that you'll only get about three weeks, or even less, on a set of AAs. I've had my iMac for three weeks and have already had to replace both keyboard and mouse batteries.
Apple has always put a huge amount of effort into making their mouse unique. I think in the case of the Magic Mouse, they have made it good as well.
The old 1 button mouse with the Power Macs like the grey G3 tower were the best, one of those with a right click and a scroll wheel would have been great. Comfortable to use, just the right amount of cable, great click action. Surely Apple could make a simple Mouse that simply does what the old single button mouse did and add the basic simple useful features that we actually use.
And wireless, why? Every wireless mouse I have used is a pain in the **** & batteries how green is that?
I'd buy a magic mouse if it had the same profile as the old mouse, which was comfortable to use all day, and if it were wired or had a recharging unit. Otherwise it's more waste, we need less reliance on batteries than more.
Being Apple, could they have come up with a way of using the energy in mouse movements and clicks to help recharge the mouse? It's an opportunity missed in my opinion :(
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