Long Live The Mouse

Posted on July 28, 2010

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If you believe the hype then Apple have redefined yet another everyday item. The new Magic Trackpad will make everything better and the old mouse will be thrown out without a second thought. At least, that appears to be the thought of many people. This includes the technology editor at New Scientist when he writes “The mouse’s demise now looks all but assured.” Admittedly he attributes this to a combination of the Trackpad and touchscreen devices but I still feel the personal computer as we know it will have to be long dead before we let go of our mice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the trackpad on my Macbook (if that’s what we are to call them, to me it’s the mouse pad thing). The difference when I use another laptop is instantly noticeable and I have to spend a not inconsiderable amount of time ‘re-learning’ how to get by without the Mac trackpad. When I use a desktop computer though I feel instantly at home with almost any mouse and have never felt it was inadequate in any way.

The first issue many people will have with a trackpad is where to put it. With laptops the trackpad is usually located under your hands between yourself and the keyboard and for many positions when using a laptop this is fine. Within easy reach of the resting position for your hands and just inside your periphery vision so you can find it easily when needed.

However, if you put the trackpad in front of your keyboard on a desk suddenly issues arise. Desks and office chairs are designed to have the keyboard very near the edge and as close as possible. Placing the keyboard further away, behind a trackpad, would make typing an inconvenience and, for many people, uncomfortable. Desks with retractable keyboard shelves would be as good as useless and traditional desks would still require stretching to type. Furthermore, the Magic Trackpad is not flat like laptop pads which would mean as well as reaching a fair distance you had to position your arms around or over it.

So what, you might think, the trackpad goes where the mouse currently lives. After all, this is where Apple show it in their marketing photos.

With this more traditional setup you have your normal typing position and you’re used to having your hand out on the right when you want to move the cursor. So far, so good. Where is your cursor on screen? Where is your mouse in relation to the area you’re happy to use it in?

I suspect there is some link between where your cursor is and where the physical mouse is. If the cursor is top right then the mouse will be near the top right of your mouse pad or the area on the desk where the mouse happily goes. Now, mice are more intelligent than providing a one-to-one ratio of movement and for many mice, a quick movement moves the cursor further than a slow movement over the same distance. Even so, you can reasonably deduce that whichever area of the screen your cursor is in your mouse will be in a similar position on the desk.

With a trackpad this correlation disappears. You reach over to the pad, put your fingers on it and start moving, but where did your fingers start? Without looking it’s unlikely your fingers will fall into a similar position to the cursor so you could find yourself running out of space on the trackpad quickly and having to readjust. Perhaps only a minor inconvenience but still one that you don’t have with a mouse.

And then there’s gaming. PC gamers take great pride in their mice skills and a recent report suggested that Microsoft had to cancel a proposed cross platform PC-to-Xbox gaming system because even average PC users were that much more precise and could react that much quicker with a mouse than the console players ever could with their controller. Would the trackpad replace these mice? I doubt it.

So yes, the Magic Trackpad probably has its advantages and I’m sure some people will find it irreplaceable and cast aside their mice as soon as possible. While it may match or even beat mice for some precision tasks I don’t believe it could ever combine the speed and precision found in a mouse and, after all, people aren’t too fond of change. Our little rodenty friends are going to be here for the considerable future.

P.S. As for touchscreens replacing mice, how far away is your monitor? Now imagine having to reach that far everytime you wanted to move the cursor. Not going to happen is it?

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