Both Apple and Microsoft have introduced mice with “multi-touch” sensing. This is arguably the first substantial improvement to the mouse since it was invented in 1968 by Doug Englebart. Apple’s product, the Magic Mouse, is commercially available for $69. Microsoft has 5 prototype mice that are still in the R & D stage.
Regular mice only allow movement via the palm and the clicking of a left, right, and middle mouse button.
Why not detect inputs from all 5 fingers all over and around the surface of the mouse? Multi-touch sensing technology for touch screens has allowed detection of multiple simultaneous presses all over a display screen. A multi-touch mouse simply applies multi-touch technology on a mouse.
This article will compare the Apple and Microsoft offerings.
Apple: Magic Mouse
The Magic Mouse is a straightforward application of multi-touch to mousing and is a tame improvement compared with Microsoft’s more radical designs. The Magic Mouse is based on a regular mouse body but covers the top with capacitive sensors. These sensors are the same that would be used in standard touch screens, like on the iPhone.
These sensors detect where your fingers are on the mouse and whether you are pressing down on the mouse. So one of the new things you can do is perform a “click” by pressing anywhere on the mouse. Also, you can scroll windows both vertically and horizontally by swiping your fingers up and down or left and right, respectively. Finally, you can scroll through different files by swiping with two fingers.
It is not clear if the Magic Mouse can detect more than two fingers at a time. Currently, only gestures using one or two fingers are used in Apple’s applications; however, the Magic Mouse is capable of detecting at least five fingers simultaneously.
The video below demonstrates all these features.
Microsoft: Five Prototypes
Researchers at Microsoft developed 5 prototype mice with multi-touch technology. The researchers used multiple designs to experiment with bolder possibilities.
One of the designs was almost identical to the Magic Mouse. Prototype three (the “Cap Mouse) also uses capacitive sensors. It is demonstrated at 1:58 in the following video. The researchers said that in user tests the similarity between Cap Mouse and existing mice caused testers to use it in a traditional way and not take advantage of all the advantages of multi-touch.
All five are demonstrated in the following video.
As shown at 1:30 in the video, the second prototype (the “Orb Mouse”) has special features for navigation in a 3D first-person shooter. The Orb Mouse consists of a standard mouse with an infrared camera mounted inside and pointed at a hemispherical mirror, which allows it to see the entire surface of the mouse. It can detect exactly where all your fingers are touching the mouse.
Moving the body of the mouse moves your character forward and backward and turns you left and right. Sliding your fingers sideways on the surface of the mouse causes you to strafe. Moving your fingers up and down causes you to jump. Rolling your palm on the surface of the mouse causes you to lean left and right.
In this way, everything you used to need a keyboard and mouse for you can now do with just a mouse.
At 4:20, the fifth prototype (the “Arty Mouse” short for “Articulated Mouse”) is used to show multi-touch can make it easier to manipulate 3D objects. The Arty Mouse has two articulated arms. It works by having three optical sensors, one under the body as usual and one under each arm. It does not detect touches on the body of the mouse itself. The researchers reported that the Arty Mouse received the best reviews from the testers out of all five mice. It was reported to be the easiest to use and most physically comfortable.
If you move the right arm in and out it spins the 3D object vertically, but if you move the left arm back and forth it spins the object horizontally. Twisting the two arms around each other will spin the object in the plane.
Another interesting application of the mice is scaling images. This is demonstrated at 3:25 in the video using the fourth prototype (the “Side Mouse”). The Side Mouse consists of a standard mouse with an infrared camera viewing the sides around the mouse. It does not detect the position of your fingers on the mouse itself but their position around the mouse.
The video shows how scaling out is performed by pressing down with two fingers and moving them apart. Scaling in is performed by moving the two fingers closer together. This is much like on the iPhone, but this mouse would allow you to do it on your computer.
Microsoft Surface on Your PC
At 0:37, the first prototype (the “FTIR Mouse”) is used to show how Microsoft Surface applications can be controlled on the PC with multi-touch. This mouse detects multi-touch using Frustrated Total Internal Reflection. Infrared light is shot through a transparent acrylic surface where the user puts his fingers. When a finger touches the acrylic it scatters the infrared light. A camera in the body of the mouse detects the scattering and can determine where your fingers are.
The simple demonstration in the video shows how multi-touch detection allows controlling applications for the Microsoft Surface on your PC. The Surface is a table-size device controlled via a standard multi-touch screen. With a multi-touch mouse, the Surface’s touch screen control system can be simulated.
COMMENT BELOW: Which multi-touch mouse do you want the most? Or are they all gimmicks?