Apple and their Magic Mouse


Belorussian translation provided by PC

I picked up an Apple Magic Mouse at the local Apple store Thursday night. It’s pretty nice! It’s amazing to me how Apple brought the mouse to the mass market (well, Dvorak didn’t like it) but have done a poor job in the design, until now.

What I like:

  • the slim design
  • even with batteries, this thing is light, but not too light
  • fewer moving parts, and no scroll wheel to keep clean
  • most of the top surface area is touch-sensitive
  • no more red light for the optical sensor!

What I don’t like:

  • it was a little pricey, but I remember paying $100 for the first Microsoft optic mouse

My other area of complaint can’t be summed up in a bullet. Basically, it’s the gestures. Apple has brought three slightly different sets of multi-touch gestures to the market in three different products: iPhone, the multi-touch trackpad and now the Magic Mouse. I’m going to look at five of these gestures in particular:

  1. clicking (or tapping for iPhone)
  2. content scrolling
  3. content magnification
  4. content rotation
  5. content navigation

iPhone (and iPod touch of course) multi-touch gestures are really, really natural to me, but maybe because I’ve been using them longer than these other devices. Gestures on iPhone for these five interactions are:

  1. clicking: single finger tap
  2. content scrolling: single OR two-finger slide up/down
  3. content magnification: two-finger pinch/spread
  4. content rotation: two-finger rotate
  5. content navigation: single finger slide left/right (as used for photo navigation)

It is interesting that iPhone recognizes both single and two-finger slides for content scrolling. I believe this is done with an eye towards what I am looking for and will elaborate on — a universal set of gestures.

Apple added multi-touch to their trackpads and some gestures to go with them. They differ from those on iPhone, namely because you aren’t interacting directly with a screen, but with an area that is controlling an on-screen cursor. This is a very different model from a multi-touch display which has no cursor to speak of. So, the multi-touch trackpad gestures are:

  1. clicking: single finger click and/or tap (MacBook trackpads can be configured to accept a tap as a click action but they are no configured this way as a factory default)
  2. content scrolling: two-finger slide; omnidirectional
  3. content magnification: two-finger pinch/spread
  4. content rotation: two-finger rotate
  5. content navigation: three-finger swipe left/right (as used to navigate backward/forward in a browser or navigating a photo album in iPhoto)

Now those are mostly the same, with the exception of the content navigation gesture.

So how about this Magic Mouse? Gestures are:

  1. clicking: single finger click (a tap on the surface does nothing)
  2. content scrolling: single OR two-finger slide; omnidirectional
  3. content magnification: none
  4. content rotation: none
  5. content navigation: two-finger swipe left/right (as used to navigate backward/forward in a browser or navigating a photo album in iPhoto)

The Magic Mouse may not support tap-to-click because it has a serviceable button, and having two ways to click would be kind of weird. But the multi-touch trackpads that also have a tactile click for the trackpad itself (including all the new MacBooks, save the MacBook Air which still has a separate button) and can be configured to support a tap to click as well. I personally prefer this configuration since there is less effort to do something that you do all the time.

As for gesture two… well, obviously, a single finger slide on the trackpad is the mouse equivalent of moving the mouse around. So we can’t expect Apple to change the trackpad’s single finger slide gesture to scroll content (unless they add an optical sensor to bottom of their laptops, but who wants to move their laptop around to move the cursor?). The other option is to use two-finger sliding to scroll on the Magic Mouse. Well… actually, that works too — you can use either a one or two-finger slide for scrolling.

What about the gestures for content magnification and rotation? The Magic Mouse is missing these for some reason unknown to me. The hardware should be capable of recognizing such gestures as recognized on iPhone/iPod touch and trackpads.

Content navigation gestures differ in number of fingers across all three: iPhone only needs one finger (granted, the use there is for full-screen pages, like on the Springboard and photo albums; this same gesture can’t be used for navigating forward and backward in Mobile Safari), the Magic Mouse uses two fingers and the trackpad uses three! The trackpad cannot use two fingers because two finger scrolling can scroll horizontally as well as vertically. And while you could conceivably use three fingers on the Magic Mouse (there may be a hardware limitation, but I doubt it), it’s kind of awkward to do so.

All in all, it’s a mixed bag. I can understand the decisions made around making these gestures differ from one context to another, but at the same time, it’s frustrating that they are different. This feels like an area where a real standard should emerge, one that can be used across these devices so consumers don’t have to re-train themselves when they shift from one device to another.

If I had my druthers, I would recommend the following as universal gestures:

  1. clicking: single finger tap and (Mac only) right-click: two-finger tap
  2. content scrolling: two-finger slide (single finger use for iPhone/Magic Mouse)
  3. content magnification: two-finger pinch/spread
  4. content rotation: two-finger rotate
  5. content navigation: three-finger slides

This affects all three multi-touch devices in subtle ways: for the Magic Mouse, Apple would have to support tapping the surface to behave as a click and support both two and three-finger slides for content navigation. They would also have to implement gestures for content magnification and rotation (I suspect they plan to eventually). For iPhone, recognizing three finger slides to navigate content in Safari would be great, as it doesn’t support any gesture for that interaction today. A three-finger slide could also be treated as page turns for other contexts where a single finger slide work now. For multi-touch trackpads, Apple would need to make tap to click a default configuration, so this behavior is supported without having to reconfigure your trackpad to use it.

With these minor adjustments, a single set of gestures can work across all these devices. Optimized versions of these gestures can still be supported — you should still be able to scroll on iPhone and the Magic Mouse with one finger, but the universal gesture would be two fingers.

It’s kind of strange to me that Apple has shifted from a position where they insisted on grounds of usability that a single-button mouse was “The Way” for so long to where we are today: a variety of input devices with rich and complex interaction features that also have varying control schemes. Hopefully some standard will emerge… I’m sure someone at Apple is thinking about this too.

Having said all that, I really do recommend the Magic Mouse, particularly for desktops and for the Mac mini which is where I use mine.

Finally, one last wish of mine: I’d love to see an alternate Magic Mouse driver written that makes this device function just like a multi-touch trackpad. I’d like to just leave this mouse stationary and simply use my finger on the surface as I would a trackpad. So single finger sliding would move the cursor, instead of moving the mouse itself. And if that were possible, I’d also prefer to use the mouse in a sideways orientation, since screens are generally wider than tall. Apple could do this as an alternate configuration for their mouse, but this feels like a third-party thing and one I would gladly pay for.


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Jay Allen Author Profile Page said:

I couldn't agree more about your general assessment. Having just bought a second of the "old" magic mice I totally didn't expect to be buying one but once I used it, I was sold. It is so much better than the old version and brings the mouse closer to the level of my trackpad.

I did ask the guy at the Apple store why those other trackpad gestures were missing and he said that Apple's design goal was to re-implement the magic mouse's feature set (as opposed to the the trackpad's) while still blending in the best and most used gestures from the trackpad. I'm not sure if I buy it since I now lack a middle click, but in general, I get what he was saying.

Anyway, I'm waiting for the Cerebral Mouse. No more hardware beyond that which is needed to read my mind. Make it happen, Apple!

Ok, I'm sold, and I bought it from your Amazon associate link ;)

Brad Author Profile Page said: - My job here is done.

A different Brad said:

Have you tried Wacom's new Bamboo touch tablets? There is a touch-only one that acts just like a trackpad with multitouch features, and for $30 more you can get one that has a pressure-sensitive pen in addition to multitouch. It isn't wireless, but since it stays in one place that isn't too big of a deal. Unless you want to use it on a htpc, but the iPhone works well enough there.

I can't add a link, but just seach for Wacom and multitouch in your search engine of choice.

Brad Author Profile Page said:

"A different Brad": I haven't tried the Bamboo tablet yet, but I've heard good things about them (and used previous Wacom tablets in the past; good brand). But yeah, this is for my "HTPC" so wireless is important. I do use my iPhone as a trackpad sometimes, but I need a general purpose device that stays with my mini, since I can't afford to equip each of my three kids with an iPhone/iPod touch.

firewall analyzer said:

It is strange just how many websites there are about this topic! I don't know if I will need to come back here, but it is good to know I found the one that offers a little helpful stuff if this ever comes up for me again.


This article was published on November 3, 2009 1:47 PM.

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