Friday, August 05, 2005

On Apple's (not so) Mighty Mouse

I got a chance to stop by the Apple store yesterday and check out their new-fangled two button cum trackball cum squeeze button contraption they call the Mighty Mouse. I was prepared to be blown away. I was expecting a well crafted input device that felt solid in the hand, with assertive input response and tactile feedback. What I got was an ergonomic nightmare that felt no more solid than any number of substantially cheaper alternatives.

First, lets be entirely clear. This is not a two button mouse. It is a single button mouse, with the same scissor action of Apple's old mouse. Instead of having two physical buttons, there is just the entire-mouse-as-a-button implementation. What Apple has done is to add sensors that tell which side of the front of the mouse your fingers are touching when you press that single button. If there is a finger on the left when the button is clicked, it is a left click. If there is a finger on the right - and only the right, it is a right click. This last point is very important. To get a right click to register, your index finger can't be anywhere near the surface of the left side of the mouse. What this means in practice is that instead of pressing the right mouse button, the real action is to lift your index finger, then press the right side of the mouse with your middle finger. This formula, while aesthetically appealing, is a complete ergonomic failure. They have made right clicking twice as hard with the mouse. More importantly, they have made you THINK about using the mouse. If you make a "right" click, and have accidentally left your index finger too close to the surface, you get a left click instead. The result is that you find the computer not doing what you expect. Apple has broken the cardinal rule of interface design with this mouse.

Second, lets talk about the wheel. This is sad to say, but at this point, I still have no idea whether that little nipple on the front of the mouse actually moves. When I started using the first mouse, I thought I had gotten a dud. I was convinced that the little ball was broken and wouldn't roll. But sure enough, the web page was moving up and down (I can be slow like that some times). At this point I thought that maybe it was just sensing my finger moving over the surface of the ball. Once I starting using it though, I had the sensation that it was moving. I'm not sure if it was my brain tricking me into thinking it was moving because I was getting feedback from the screen or not. Like I said - I still don't know if that sucker actually moves. Once again, the mouse was disconnecting me from what I was trying to get done on the screen. As far as the fact that it is a ball that lets you move sideways, I found it to be less than appealing. Our fingers just aren't designed to have as much control in the yaw axis like that, and the range of motion is so small, that you spend a lot of effort wagging your finger back and forth. That is my other beef with the ball - it is too small to really use effectively, there is a very small amount of physical range of motion to translation to scrolls on a giant display.

Third, and finally, the squeeze buttons. I'm sure you can guess by now where I am going with this. a) they are positioned in such a way that you have to work to squeeze them. b) there is no physical feedback, so I found myself giving the little sucker a death-grip each time. Again, the physical device was making me work too hard to get the result on screen that I want.

The frustrating part of this mouse is that it almost feels right. In fact, I really worked hard to like this thing. I wanted to throw $50 at Apple. At the end of the day though, it was a death by a thousand cuts. As I went through a number of tasks on the display machines, I kept being jarred out of the flow by little problems. My right clicks wouldn't register at completely random times. I had to work to make fine scroll adjustments. I had to reposition my had every time I wanted to squeeze. Over time, I knew there was no way I could use this mouse. the $19 Microsoft Optical mouse is still the best thing going.

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