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10/2/2009
12:40 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Is Apple Getting Ready To Re-Invent The Mouse?

Apple is the company that introduced the world to mouse computing; could it now be planning to re-invent the mouse, maybe introducing a new kind of input device that combines the mouse and keyboard? That's the speculation buzzing on the Apple blogs today, fueled by a patent out of Cupertino.

Apple is the company that introduced the world to mouse computing; could it now be planning to re-invent the mouse, maybe introducing a new kind of input device that combines the mouse and keyboard? That's the speculation buzzing on the Apple blogs today, fueled by a patent out of Cupertino.The new mouse would replace the four-year-old Mighty Mouse, getting rid of its problematic rollerball in favor of an expanded "touch sensitive housing and multipoint touch detection mechanism," according to a report on AppleInsider.com. In other words, the new mouse would incorporate multitouch technology and gestures from the iPhone.

Twenty five years after introducing the world to mouse-based computing, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is now hoping to deliver significant advances to the input device by applying the company's extensive research and development in multitouch technologies, AppleInsider has learned.

Apple's latest twist on the venerable mouse could arrive as early as this year, possibly in conjunction with the imminent release of new iMacs, the company's flagship desktop computer. Existing iMacs are reported to be in short supply in many locations, according to people familiar with Apple's retail channel inventory.

The company's existing standalone Mighty Mouse product, which ships in both wired and wireless models, is also currently on a two week backorder through at least one of the Mac maker's direct fulfillment channels. Mighty Mouse availability hasn't been an issue within the past two years, people who deal in those channels say. This could be seen as further evidence that a new mouse may be hiding around the corner....

A recent Apple patent application for a device with multitouch gestures, which some Apple watchers believe points to the rumored upcoming tablet computer, actually points to a new input device, according to PCWorld:

The patent, unearthed by AppleInsider, describes a touchscreen typing and pointing device, combining both so your hands never have to leave. Palms would be differentiated from fingers, and the device would know when you're typing and when you're pointing....

From the language, it seems clear that Apple's talking about a new kind of keyboard and mouse combo, not an oversized iPod Touch. Here's a snippet of the patent:

"Many attempts have been made to embed pointing devices in a keyboard so the hands do not have to leave typing position to access the pointing device . . . The limited movement range and resolution of these devices, leads to poorer pointing speed and accuracy than a mouse, and they add mechanical complexity to keyboard construction."

The patent application says there's a need for higher-resolution pointing methods that are still accessible from the typing position. This device would know when the user wants cursor motion, and ignores other gestures when the user is simply decelerating with the pointer.

So let's think about this: If you're using a tablet computer, why would you need a cursor? Everything's right there on the screen already. The capability to tap directly on icons and buttons eliminates the need for mouselike functionality. And with a virtual keyboard taking up most of the screen, that pointer would be pretty useless unless the output is coming from a different screen.

David Coursey, also writing at PCWorld, is unenthusiastic. "Advice to Apple: Don't Mess With The Mouse".

He likes the Mighty Mouse. I don't. Because the Mighty Mouse has a single, unbroken surface on top, rather than distinct buttons, it's too easy to left-click when you meant to right-click, and occasionally vice-versa. I use a Logitech TrackMan Wheel trackball.

When I was on Windows, I used to really like the pointing stick built in to the ThinkPad laptop, even going to far as to hunt down an external keyboard that I could hook up to my desktop that incorporated the stick.

I'm excited to see what Apple might have in store for the humble mouse and keyboard. It seems that most of Apple's love these days has been going toward the iPhone and iPod Touch, with some for the notebooks, and desktop computers being forgotten stepchildren. I'm an iMac user myself, so I'm looking forward to us desktop guys getting some gee-whiz for a change.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Dell's $3.9 billion buy of Perot Systems. Download the report here (registration required).

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