Finally, a multi-button mouse from the big Apple; and with a few new cool features to boot. I ran out to my “local” Apple store, a mere 40 miles away, and was the first on my block to fork out my $49.95 for mine. I probably could have saved a few bucks by using either an Education (Student/Teacher) or Developer discount; but frankly the $5 difference wasn’t worth the effort. Even-though I was in the store early, I got one of the last few they had. So was it worth it? Read on.
In the 80’s and the early 90’s I was raving about the superiority of the single button mouse. User studies had showed that people got confused when using a mouse with more than one button, and that double-click and click and drag were far easier for people to understand as well as less error prone than a right or left click (two button mice), or worse, right or center or left click (three button mice).
Around the mid-90’s, my views started evolving along with the user base.
The average user changed since 1984 from people who had never seen a mouse and who’s first inclination was to pick it up and speak into it, into kids that had grown up using them or adults using Windows (or Mac) for their work. Also the Operating System started utilizing behaviors, like contextual menus, which work better with another button rather than with some keyboard modifier. So since enough people were familiar with multi-button mice and had the coordination and training, I felt Apple should give the feature to users or buyers would feel short-changed. So because the times changed, I felt it was time for Apple to adapt.
Of course I came to my opinion without a good user-study to back it up. And while I think Apple should listen to my brilliance, or spend lots of their dollars to do user studies and marketing studies to prove what I say is correct; they decided to take their own sweet time and wait an additional 7 or 8 years before getting around to doing the new mighty mouse. (Probably still without the benefit of a User Study). So you’d think that I’d be ecstatic that Apple finally shipped what I’ve been a proponent of for a while; but my message is a little more mixed — both in implementation and delivery.
I don’t know what inspired Microsoft to get into the hardware business; but they decided to do little wheel mice (and later optical mice). A decade ago, I felt and wrote at the time that they were a bad implementation of Human Interface. My opinion is/was that a wheel instead of a button made for unnecessary confusion and complexity. The wheel is that a small device like that is prone to break, soil, and cause repetitive stress injuries from using one finger to do all your scrolling.
Imagine this; you click a button, and while holding it, the whole mouse becomes a scroll — you can scroll the active window up/down or side to side, using the large and already trained motor-skill of the entire mouse — instead of the small motor skill of a little wheel. (The button would activate scroll mode). I even hypothesized that best would be to put the buttons on the side so you had a squeeze behavior to activate scroll-mode.
Now along comes Apple’s Mighty-Mouse; taking many ideas and missing on others.
I prefer optical mice for their reliability. Apple’s mice have a very clean and elegant design; maybe a little larger than I think they need to be — but still pretty reliable and usable devices. On top of that, Apple piled on new features; side squeeze buttons, right and left button behavior. Instead of a little wheel, they added a trackball, for two-dimensional scrolling, and it behaves as a button if you click. So it has a plethora of new capabilities.
I’ve been working with it for only a couple days and already, the nerd in me thinks it is a major improvement for all the bells, whistles, gadgets and features. I’ll use it regularly, because it makes my life better than the alternative bland old one-button vanilla mouse. And it is honestly better than most of the competition I’ve played with.
The human factors nut in me is still unconvinced about the little trackball on top.
The reason you’d need a discretely separate control on top of another device is so that you could do both actions at once — move the mouse one way, while moving the trackball in another. I’ve tried doing that, and the coordination required baffles my brain. So the actual usage is to stop moving the mouse, change mental modes, then use the trackball to scroll, then go back to using the mouse. Methinks this mode change could be easier done with the squeeze behavior rather than with the trackball. However, that’s unsubstantiated theory. What I can substantiate is that in practice, I find it quite natural to change modes and use the little scroll-ball as intended. I’ve taken to using it already, and wonder how long until my index finger will start screaming in protest. I question that the trackball moves the window without being pressed — this makes it easier to scroll a window by mistake. However, again, in practice I have not found this to be a problem at all — and the few times I have bumped the little ball, it has been side to side, and most windows are maxed in width, or it hasn’t been by enough to matter, so this hasn’t bit me a single time. Thus I haven’t any support for that concern.
The hardware engineer in me looks at the device and again, hates the little trackball on top. It looks and feels fragile. The smaller the contact area of a device, the easier it is to wear and get dirty. I have this feeling of planned obsolescence. That the device will break, wear or get dirty easily; thus people will keep having to replace their mouse. Also the right mouse button appears to be a tilt behavior and I’m wondering about wear on that as well. Again, in practice that is a concern that I will have to wait months to see if it comes to fruition. And in all honesty, replacing a mouse every 6 months may be worth the price of added convenience anyways; so I might just have to suck it up.
The software engineer in me is once again, less than enthused with Apple’s performance. They gave me far less configurability than I would have preferred from the mouse driver software. It is clean, easy to use/configure, and installed without a problem. But I want to change the behaviors more than they want to let me. For example; make the squeeze behavior into the scroll one, or make chording behaviors (squeezing while using the trackball) do something different — and of course there’s no such capabilities. Once again, I can use it the way that Apple wants me to, or go buy something else. Apple’s behaviors aren’t bad; but I suspect I know more what would work for me, or I would like the opportunity to prove myself wrong. In the end, I’ll have to either write something myself, or wait for third party hacks.
Also, the new mouse came in the expected white stylish packaging with an install CD. The readme file warned that this software was for OS X 10.4.2 or above. I could be very annoyed if I had some flavor of 10.3 (or worse), and had just shelled out my $49 bucks for something that didn’t have a big red warning label on the cover that said “we’re too lazy to make drivers for any but out newest Operating System”. Of course, I’m sure that drivers are coming — but color me unimpressed that Apple shipped it half-baked. You’ll have a tough time convincing me that Apple couldn’t have supported older versions of their OS or Windows in the months or years of development of the hardware, if they didn’t want to.
The marketing and business guy in me understands that Apple wants to release it in more limited, added value, production runs and get to up-charge for it. Then release it later as a standard device for their computer if it proves itself. This allows them to test it more, make a little more off of the device, allow their advanced customers to pay for something they want (without forcing the neophytes from paying for something they don’t need or want), to allow their manufacturers (OEM’s) to ramp up, and it lets Apple release it on a schedule that was independent from a major computer hardware release.
In the end, the Mighty Mouse and I have a love hate relationship.
The love part is that I like using it, and am already using it regularly. It has nice capabilities, fair cost, excellent design, the software is easy to install and configure, and the default behaviors seem reasonable. It’s worth the $50 I shelled out for me.
The hate part is all the potential that I feel it missed on; the configurability, supporting older OS’s out of the box, possible better behaviors that I just don’t get the feeling were thought of or tested. Mine also squeaks and creaks when I use it. I’m also concerned because Apple seems to have more a record of late of shipping first and testing later. How reliable is the trackball going to be? The cord seems short to me. What about a wireless option? And so on.
So I recommend to people to buy it for what it is; if they feel like they need the added functionality. I’ll keep a critical eye on a few potential design failures/concerns. And I’ll also sort of grumble because it fell a little short on my expectations –but to be fair to Apple, my expectations are much higher for them than they would be for Microsoft or other competitors. In the end, I still think the product is one of the best mice I’ve seen or used. But I still want it to flesh out to its full potential and be even more.