There is no doubt that the rise of smartphones can be attributed to the rise of the touch based interface. While touch works when you are interacting directly with the screen, it is a whole other proposition when working in a traditional PC environment.
As we have seen all too many times to date, Windows 7 and touchscreens just don’t work well together. While Windows 7 is capable of touch interface, it is still designed around the high resolution pixel perfect interface that works oh so well with a mouse.
Much as Apple introduced gesture based touch with its Mighty Mouse, Microsoft has finally released a touch sensitive mouse for Windows, unexcitedly dubbed the Microsoft Touch Mouse. Unlike the Microsoft Arc Touch mouse, which replaces the scroll wheel with a touch sensitive area, it features a large touchable surface that covers the front half of the mouse. This allows one to not only scroll around via touch, but to use one, two and three finger gestures to navigate in Windows.
Use one finger and you scroll and pan around. Two fingers are used to minimise and maximise windows, as well as moving them around using Windows 7’s Snap-to feature (usually done by holding the windows key and hitting the arrow buttons). Three fingers are used to show the desktop or open up a carousel of open windows to select from. If you swipe your thumb left or right you can step forward and backwards in windows that support it (from our experience this also includes Chrome).
Microsoft swung by our office early this morning and showed us the mouse in action. After being told it only takes a day or two to get used to the new gestures, we decided to put the claims to the test, swapping our normal work mouse for the Touch Mouse and getting on with our workday.
After nearly a day using the mouse we are pleasantly surprised. On a dual screen system that often has Outlook, Photoshop, Word, Excel, Indesign and Chrome open at the minimum having a quick way to navigate between windows is excellent. We have to admit we were already pretty familiar with the snap-to feature in Windows 7, which is a handy way of staying on top of multiple windows over two screens. Being able to do it with a gesture makes something that was already handy even better.
While Microsoft uses a one-piece shell for the Touch Mouse, it has kept physical left and right buttons below it. These have a nice solid click, and at no point did we have any problems with it. What is driving us a bit nuts is the lack of a middle mouse button, which severely impacts our attempts to open every hyperlink in a new tab, which is also a big reason why we wouldn’t want to use this mouse for gaming.
Scrolling is quick and easy, and the touch surface is responsive enough to allow pages to be flicked through quite quickly. It lacks the vibration-based haptic feedback of the Arc Touch, which replicates the clickiness of a scroll wheel, but it isn’t something we particularly miss.
Being huge-handed this writer often has issues with mouse design, but the only major problem was the sheer awkwardness of using the thumb for forwards and back navigation. The thumb tends to rest on the non-touch sliver of plastic below the shell, so using it involves contorting it under the fingers. It likely won’t be an issue for most people, but it has been mentioned by a few in the office as being annoying.
One thing we do like is that the touch surface is responsive enough for deliberate gestures, but we rarely found ourselves doing anything accidental when undertaking normal mousing behaviour. Like all good technology the gesturing is there when we need it without getting in the way when we don’t.
After a day of use we are quite impressed with the Touch Mouse. It does take some getting used to, and for a variety of reasons (largely gaming based) it isn’t something we’d want to be using at home. But for work, where zipping between Windows is an important part of our day, it already feels like a useful addition to the arsenal.
The Touch mouse is set to hit local shops sometime in September. It comes with a RRP of $99, so you should be able to find it for less than that once it ships.