Apple’s new multitouch mouse misses the point

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Last week Apple updated its product line, ahead of Microsoft’s Windows 7 launch, and one of the new announcements was a replacement for the “Mighty Mouse”, which was quietly killed off a few weeks back after years of doing anything but living up to its name (as Adam Pash notes in Lifehacker’s coverage of Apple’s new lineup).

I first heard about Apple’s new “Magic Mouse” on Twitter:

“RT @real_microsoft: RT @Mirweis Once again #Apple seems to have nosed ahead of #Microsoft with the multitouch mouse: ”


and Apple’s latest mouse is a multitouch device that uses gestures to control the screen. As should be expected, it looks great but, as TechRadar reported, it doesn’t support a key gesture – the pinch zoom that we first saw on the iPhone and that Apple has made synonymous with multitouch through its advertising.

Furthermore, there’s no touch screen on any of Apple’s refreshed line-up. In fact, the iMac changes are mostly evolutionary (and there’s a new unibody entry-level MacBook). Meanwhile, with the launch of Windows 7, Microsoft now has advanced touch capability available within the operating system. A multitouch mouse is cool – seriously cool – but the real advantages of touch come with touch screens and other displays that take concepts like the Microsoft Surface table into mainstream computing uses.

Some people might not think touch is really a big deal, or that it’s just a bit gimmicky right now – but step back and take a look at what’s happened with smartphones: in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and all we’ve seen since then is an endless stream of competing devices – each with multitouch capabilities. Now that’s crossing over into the PC marketplace and, unlike tablet PCs, or early Windows Mobile devices, there’s no need for a stylus and that’s why I believe touch will become much more signifcant that it has been previously. Only yesterday, I watched my young sons (both of whom are under 5) using one of Ikea’s play kiosks and they instantly knew what to do to colour in a picture on screen. As soon as prices drop, I’ll be buying a multitouch monitor for them to use with a PC at home as I expect touch to replace the mouse as the interface that their generation uses to access computing devices.

Far from nosing ahead of Microsoft, I believe Apple has missed the point with its new mouse (please excuse the, entirely accidental, pun). Just as in the years when they insisted that mice only needed a single button (indeed, one of the problems that made the Mighty Mouse so unreliable was that it offered all the functionality of a multi-button mouse with several contact switches under a single button shell in order to maintain the appearance of a single-button mouse), now they are implementing touch on trackpads and mice, rather than on screen. Sure, fingerprints on glass don’t look good but that hasn’t held back the iPhone – and nor would it the iMac or MacBook if they implemented multitouch on screen. For now, at least, Apple is holding off on touchscreen displays, whilst mainstream PC manufacturers such as Dell are embracing the potential for multitouch applications that the latest version of Windows offers. As for the criticism that multitouch monitors are spendy and Apple’s mouse is not, the monitors will come down in price pretty quickly and, based on my experience with Apple’s previous mouse, I won’t be rushing out to spend £55 on the latest model.

As it happens, I bought a mouse to match my white MacBook a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, its from Microsoft – the Arc mouse – and it manages to look good, feel good, and fold up for transportation with its (tiny) transponder neatly connected (with a magnet) to the underside. It seems that Jonathan Ive is not the only person that can design functional and stylish computer hardware (most of the time).

8 thoughts on “Apple’s new multitouch mouse misses the point

  1. I am seriously considering a Magic Mouse, but then I never had any problems with my Mighty Mouse either.

    I expect that the pinch-zoom control will be added in the future if consumers request it, but for now the functionality replicates what Mac users will be familiar with using control-mousewheel.

    I don’t know why people have to compare Apple and Microsoft when the products aren’t comparable. Apple has nothing like Microsoft Surface, which blew me away when I first saw it demoed.

    One of the biggest advantages of Apple cordless mice and keyboards is their Bluetooth connectivity, increasing available USB ports on my iMac by 50 per cent!

  2. Hi Alex, I’m pleased that you never had a problem with your Mighty Mouse. Unfortunately I’ve had mine replaced by Apple at least once (It should have been twice, but I just gave up on it instead – and I used mine a lot less than you do yours) and reading the comments on the web, including the one that I linked from Adam Pash, it seems I’m not alone.

    You make a good point that Apple and Microsoft don’t have equivalent functionality: and that’s entirely the point of this post. I beleive that Apple deliberately timed its announcements to co-incide with the Windows 7 launch (otherwise, why not launch updated hardware alongside it’s own new operating system a few weeks ago) and touch is a key part of Microsoft’s “Your PC, simplified” messaging. I can’t believe that Apple didn’t expect people to compare the Magic Mouse with Windows Touch – I would even consider that’s what they wanted people to do – and that’s why people (including myself) are drawing comparisons.

    As for freeing up USB ports… are you saying one mouse gives you a 50% increase on an (Apple) desktop PC? I’d get a PC with a few more ports if I were you ;-) Seriously – and avoiding the Mac vs. PC argument as I’m only teasing you really – my Apple mice have always been daisychained from my keyboard, which I think is one of the reasons that Apple doesn’t see a need to put more USB ports on its PCs.

  3. That arc mouse just looks good. It’s about time for MS to realize that being flashy and stylish are important to people.

    But still, hands down to Apple for their designs. Even their landing pages makes me drool when I see them.

  4. Mark, I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with this post. Seriously, a touchscreen iMac???? I don’t mind smudges on my iPhone/Android because it’s a phone, and I can quickly clean it. I can’t stand people touching the screen of my computer though, even if I also have a screen cleaner.

    No, I think Apple did the right thing, and I’ve just ordered mine. And although you have an interesting thought about being able to ‘pinch’, I don’t even see how that would work, as you keep your thumb at the side of the mouse…

  5. Sorry, I’m now checking back in, having owned one for 3 days. My sentiments remain the same. However, I will point out two big flaws with the mouse – no middle button (I use it prolifically with tabbed browsing), and no side buttons. I’m hoping Apple comes up with a solution to that soon.

  6. @Mark – thanks for your comments – and I’m glad to hear that you are (mostly) enjoying your mouse. I also understand how you feel about fingerprints on screens (beleive me, I do – I have two small children and a lot of screens!) but my experience of using touch devices indicates it’s not as bad a problem as you might think at first. I also think its the computing paradigm that the next generation will grow up with and using a mouse will one day be as quaint as using a green screen terminal is today; however I’m sure I’ll look back at this in 10 years and find that something else has become the mainstream input device. Pretty sure it won’t be a touchpad style mouse though…

    I do appreciate the constructive feedback though: thanks for taking the time to leave comments here :-)

    Cheers, Mark

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