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The Devil's Advocate
by John Kheit

Squeeze-The-Charmin: Mouse Improvements For Today's Mac
May 16th, 2003

On the heels of another installment of the great mouse button debate, I thought of a few improvements for the basic technology.

Bluetooth and USB. The only reason to keep USB around is to offer a cheap way to recharge a wireless mouse from time to time. Otherwise, we should have tail-free mice on our desks, and Bluetooth seems to be up to the task of taking mice (and keyboards) wireless.

Add a scroller mechanism. A mouse needs a scroller like a fish needs water. Scrolling without a scroller requires dexterity. Whether the scroller is a traditional scroll wheel found on the Microsoft mouse, or the rotary jog-dial scroller found in this patent application, scrollers are a big time saver. In my non-scientific polling, I find even moms and grandmas understand how to use the scroller. Moreover, whenever the cursor hovers over a window, even when that window has not been selected and brought to focus, engaging a scroller should make the window scroll. Such a scrolling mechanism would reduce a lot of physical stress.

Employ at least 4 mouse buttons. The primary mouse button should be the entire body-rocker button as employed on the current Apple mouse. The secondary button could be a pressure sensitive or light-click variant of the rotary wheel discussed in an earlier column. Another two buttons should be by the thumb, like on the Microsoft Explorer mouse, which would allow fast page forward/page back commands (or custom programmability).

Disable all alternative mouse functionality by default. What I mean by this is that Apple could simply make all the buttons act like a simple primary click regardless of what mouse button is pressed. This would keep things simple for novice users that have difficulty telling the buttons apart (as well as their left from their right) because engaging any of the buttons would result in the same thing -- a simple click. However, Apple should then provide a system preference that would allow more professional users to enable the various buttons and customize the behavior to suit themselves.

Make the mouse squeezable. A squeeze could be natural gesture for dragging items on the screen. A squeezable mouse could use pressure sensitive touch-pad material on its sides and include a user setting so you wouldn't have to squeeze too much or too little. This would allow you to grab a document or window at any point, and not require the user to grab onto the relatively small window bars at the top of each window. When you grab something with the mouse, the cursor could change into a grabbing hand for some feedback.

These synergetic features would create functionality that is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, if you squeezed the mouse over a document, and then use the rotary dial, you could scroll through items in a contextual menu. In another example, if you click on an item in a document (e.g., a graphic element), then squeeze and rotate the dial, you could then naturally rotate the graphic item without having to go through a series of menu selections. This could act as a decent stop-gap until gesture driven touch screens ala Minority Report become common.

Sales for Microsoft
At the very least, Apple should create a more advanced mouse and give users a choice when buying a new computer. In my last mouse article, some of the commentators pointed out that mice were very subjective items, and as such, Apple should peddle off the lowest common denominator, i.e., a one-button mouse, as no single mouse will satisfy everyone. However, as other commentators pointed out, if Apple were to offer two different mice at check out, one with a single button, and another with multiple buttons and a scrolling mechanism, that an overwhelming majority would buy the multi-button mouse. As it stands now, Apple is generating a sale for a five-button Microsoft mouse for almost every Macintosh sold.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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