Is the Magic Mouse a gimmick, or are we all destined to be using multitouch mice? We dissect Apple's new Magic Mouse.
Most of your won't remember the days before the advent of the mouse. Your friendly pointing clicking rodent scurries about your desk unheralded and unloved, carrying out your every gestural whim, happy to be enveloped in the clammy caress of your uncaring palm.
The evolution of the mouse is simple and, to all intents and purposes, without deviation. It's true that the cable used to poke out of the other end when it first hopped onto the desktop courtesy of the boffins at Stanford University, but you would still recognise the first commercially marketed mouse for what is was if you were to come across a complete Xerox 8010 at your local car boot sale.
The mouse is the great white shark of the computing world. Not that you are likely to have your legs torn off by one while your having a nice paddle at the seaside. No... it's developmental path has, like a shark, been simple and linear because the people who originally designed it got it right in the first place. It has been quite happily doing its job for nearly 30 years, and no amount of wirelessness, flashy livery, space age laser light shows and bristling multi-button madness could detract from the fact that it had a simple job to do - pointing at stuff and moving stuff about on a screen.
It's almost ironic that Apple, the company which championed the commercial birth of the mouse in 1984, has fought a bitter battle with the rest of the world to keep the mouse true to its simplistic origins. PC users regularly bemoan the fact that Apple rodents are a little deficient in the button department. One journalist who shall remain nameless (rhymes with Dick Barrel) still regularly mocks the Apple Mighty Mouse for having only one button when anyone who has ever actually used one will be aware that, in reality, it has four, plus a three dimenisional scroll wheel.
And now along comes the Magic Mouse. A shining trilobite of swooping retro curves and Apple design loveliness which the Cupertino company hopes will change the way we interface with our computer forever.
Imagine if you will a traditional wireless mouse. Then imagine the giant glass multi-touch surfaces which have become a familiar feature of recent Apple notebooks and the ubiquitous Iphone (and its incommunicative halfwit cousin the Ipod Touch). Now put the two in a cage and poke them with a sharp stick until they breed.
The resulting lovechild will hopefully be a buttonless mouse covered with a smooth touch sensitive surface... or a Magic Mouse, if you will.
It's still a mouse to all intents and purposes. It still slides about on your desktop carrying out traditional pointing and clicking duties using a laser tracking system. But it's that sensitive shell that makes all the difference. It not only knows where you fingers are on the surface, and how many fingers you are using, it also knows which direction you are swiping them in and how fast.
You can scroll 360 degrees around large documents using a single finger, or flip between pages in a document using sideways swipes. You can zoom and contract the view using key modifiers or two finger pinching, and all of this is infinitely customisable using a simple system preferences widget.
We're sure this is going to take some getting used to and it might not change the world. It certainly won't change the PC world any time soon because, until such time as Microsoft decides there's a buck to be made and steals the idea, the Mighty Mouse is Mac only (and it only works with Snow Leopard at that).
But it's an interesting idea and we're intrigued to see if the concept catches on or if, like the trackball, it is restricted to a few die-hard enthusiasts and RSI sufferers.