Challenging conventions with the Magic Mouse

Conventions are an important aspect of product design. Using accepted conventions can help achieve a better user experience by lowering the barrier to learning a new product.

When Apple’s Unibody MacBooks were released they shattered a number of conventions. Trackpads were based on the desktop mouse experience and thus users were faced with the usual left and right buttons below the trackpad. Unibody MacBooks got rid of all the buttons. Furthermore, Unibody MacBooks added a number of gestures through its MultiTouch interface. Pointing and clicking is moving further and further away from the conventional two button mouse which everyone is familiar with. And with more people buying laptops over desktops, the days of the conventional two button mouse may be over.

Now Apple has challenged the convention by introducing the Magic Mouse — getting rid of the buttons and adding MultiTouch to a desktop mouse. It will be interesting to see if other manufacturers follow suit, as most mobile handset makers followed the iPhone in developing MultiTouch smartphones. If they do not, then the convention will remain and the Magic Mouse will forever be a niche product, like the trackball mouse. The two button mouse has proven itself a champion and has been with us for more than twenty users. It will be difficult to unseat.

Another scenario might be more likely: the complete leapfrogging of MultiTouch devices on the desktop to touch interaction directly with the monitor. This scenario could come to fruition long before Apple’s challenge to the two button mouse is played out.

Magic Mouse ★★★★☆

I waited on purchasing the Magic Mouse knowing that the device’s multitouch technology could recognize up to three fingers. New gestures were bound to be released. One could imagine two and three-finger clicks, not to mention pinches and taps of all sorts! The paltry two buttons the device currently ships with is a poor offering.

Sure enough, within a few days a developer released MiddleClick. This app runs silently on your menubar, watching for a three-finger tap (not a click), which it translates into a third click. Excellent excuse to go down to the Apple Store the next day and pick up the mouse.

An even more sparse desktopAn even more sparse desktop

Still, I should like to maintain my hunch that Apple will release a number of gestures in the future. Better yet, they should release a framework that would allow us to customize our own gestures.

My corded Mighty Mouse had long worn out its welcome. Flaky right click response and the inability to track on my hardwood desk had me disappointed the day my iMac arrived. Funny enough, the trackball never gave me any problems (I know the paper trick). I was seriously considering one of Logitech’s new line of Darkfield Laser mice. However, having been frustrated with Logitech’s flaky mouse drivers in the past, I waited for an alternative. I was happy to see that the Magic Mouse’s laser tracking worked well on reflective surfaces.

I have been using the mouse for more than 24 hours and it has worked brilliantly for me so far. Great input response, and great tracking response. Being accustomed to the Mighty Mouse and iPhone, I quickly adjusted to the Magic Mouse. The gestures are easily mastered and it scrolls like butter.

Complaints are often raised about the lack of ergonomic design in Apple’s mice. Yet it must be realized that Apple does not make mice that should be gripped. Apple’s mice are operated by gently pushing them around with your fingertips. With the Magic Mouse’s surface being a multitouch device, this concept is even more pronounced.

Which brings me to a design quibble. If you look at the vertical profile of the mouse (see A below) you will see the sides of the mouse swooping inwards, underneath the mouse. This is conducive of gripping, which makes operating the mouse more difficult than necessary. If you simply push the mouse around with your fingertips you only have contact with the very edge of the plastic surface. I would rather see a sweeping out of the sides of the mouse (as per in B below) to increase the surface area used for pushing, to balance the surface area used for gestures.


Click for larger version

All in all, I think it is a good mouse, with some intriguing potential. Though not for everyone, I would especially recommend it to those still suffering with the old Mighty Mouse.

Fred Hoyle has ingeniously speculated that, if we had been born with eight digits and therefore became accustomed to octal arithmetic instead of decimal, we might have invented binary arithmetic and hence electronic computers a century earlier than we did (since 8 is a power of 2).

pp. 87, Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

Lovely little interview with John Hodgman: famous writer and minor television personality

Back when I was a freelance magazine writer, I wrote a profile of a sculptor. … I was in his studio, and he had a sculpture of, I think, Robert Kennedy. …

And we were across the studio, and he said, “How does that look? Life-size?” And I said yes, it seemed life-size. And he brought me closer, and I saw that it was actually one-and-a-half times life-size. And he said, “If you make it life-size, it looks too small. You have to make it one-and-a-half times life-size.” But he was a sculptor and had spent his working life around various chemical toxins. He was clearly deranged.

As I mentioned in the introduction to the second book, you need to exaggerate life’s strangeness only a small amount to remember how strange it actually is.

Lovely little interview with John Hodgman: famous writer and minor television personality