Dial Up The Great Mouse Button Debate: Apple Applies For Rotary Mouse Patent
April 25th, 2003

[Author's Note: Just a note. In my haste to break the story on the mouse, the original story went up suggesting that the patent application disclosed two mouse buttons. Upon a more careful read, it looks like the disclosure details only one button. The column has been updated to reflect this. Although the disclosure talks of only one mouse button, my hope is that a second button might be considered. A tap sensitive touch-pad surface for an alternative mouse click, or scroll wheel light click would suffice. - John Kheit]

Apple has been tilting at windmills for a long time with its rather backward policy of offering mice with only one button. Why on earth the company doesn't offer an alternative "Pro" mouse with two buttons and a scroll wheel is beyond me. To those fervent apologists clutching on to their one-button mice, please spare me and save the drama for ya mama. I don't plan on taking on the requisite Kool-Aid consumption required to believe that scroll wheels and second buttons are bad.

Apparently, Apple is considering a reduction in mice Kool-Aid output as well. Apple filed a patent application on February 7, 2002, that was published today on the USPTO Web site on a mouse with a little bit of iPod thrown in. Although a patent application does not guarantee that the USPTO will grant a patent, let alone whether or not the company will ever release a product based on the technology, here is Apple's latest take on the mouse:

Illustration image included in patent application

In its patent application for a "Mouse having a rotary dial", finally, Apple seeks to provide these now plebian features with some new panache. According to the patent application, with this new type of mouse:

… the user can manipulate the disc 182 side to side … for horizontal scrolling 184 and the user can manipulate the disc 182 backwards and forwards as shown … for vertical scrolling 186. Another advantage of the invention is that pressing down on the disc for clicking does not cause the disc to rotate, i.e., since the motion of the disc is orthogonal to the direction of clicking (button press) the user can press on the disc itself to activate the button.

Although the description above seems centered on just one button, i.e., pushing on the disk rocks the mouse button body, an alternative interpretation might suggest that the dial could be used as a second button. Not only can we use a second mouse button, but also, we could gain the ability to scroll documents both vertically and horizontally. Hallelujah!

No doubt, annoying Apple apologists will make every excuse for why Apple shouldn't provide a two-button, scroll enabled mouse until Apple actually releases it, after which those very same apologists will support the move. To be fair, this device is innovative and could answer the metaphysical "two vs. one button mouse" quandary in a rather clever manner.

By providing such a dramatic difference in appearance and approach for mouse buttons, Apple could address one of the major arguments made by single mouse button proponents; namely that two buttons are confusing to new users. With such a "Dial" Mouse, the first and main button could still be the entire mouse body, i.e., you rock the entire mouse body for a primary mouse click. The dial could then act as a secondary button and easily be discernible by being smaller and separate. Such stark tactile variation between primary and secondary mouse buttons should make it relatively easy for any sentient entity to understand the differences between primary and secondary mouse button functions--even for those that cannot easily tell their left from their right.

Regardless of the metaphysics surrounding the great mouse button debate, such a device cannot come soon enough for my tastes. Now if Apple would only provide a second button on their laptops, then we could have eased access all around.