Apple vs. Microsoft: Multi-touch Mouse Comparison

23 11 2009

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.

Video Gaming


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.

3D Manipulation


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?

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62 responses

6 05 2017
Heriberto Broadbent  

thanks a lot

2 01 2015

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6 05 2017
Nok Hoel

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11 12 2009

Cool blogpost, didn’t thought this would be so stunning when I read the url.

27 11 2009

Once you go Mac, you never go back! 😛 this is very true.

25 11 2009

I keep having the Apple vs PC(microsoft) debate with my roomie. I say that the reason PC’s have such a large share of the market is only due to people liking what is familiar to them. I also think that within 10-15 years that mac will be on par, if not past, PC concerning market share.

He states that Apple will never be adopted by large businesses, and PC’s will always rule supreme.

What do you think?

PS: Apple is also very clever with their product placement in film and television BTW!

kevin mattice:
Blog: cold as mattice

1 12 2009

Our large business only uses mac’s. The productivity rates improve drastically.

11 12 2009
Ryan Peach

Apple doesn’t want large market share. The only reason Macs don’t have viruses is because they don’t have enough share to interest the virus makers. Macs are the most non-secure computers in the world, they don’t have problems not because they are secure, but because no one cares. That’s why apple keeps the prices up, because only rich people who don’t know enough about computers to use Windows will buy into their marketing.

11 12 2009

Re: Ryan Peach

Macs have between 5 and 10 percent of market share. If they are as utterly vulnerable as you claim, then virus makers would flock to them. 1 in 10 computers being freely available would be immensely attractive to hackers. But the actual fact is that there are no Mac viruses. Now how could that be? NONE? Virus makers refuse to take a free shot at 5-10% of the market just because it’s not the majority?!?!??? Your logic just doesn’t work.

Macs are UNIX, and are incredibly secure. Check your facts. The great majority of web servers run on linux and unix and most are not hacked. Why? Because they are not Windows. You can’t claim that web servers are not attractive targets. The simple fact is that they are default-secure, while Windows is default-insecure.

You made a nice argument. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t fit into the real world.

24 11 2009

VERY INTERESTING, the 3d manipulation prototype looks awesome!

24 11 2009
Andrei Cimpoca

Ok about choice vs lack of choice. I am a BSD/Linux fanatic. Like most advanced linux/bsd users out there i am aware of an impressive number of software packages that come with this kind of license. There are over 25.000 packages to choose from, some of which replace each other. Once you get the hang of the general structure of the unix filesystem you will instantly know how to configure and use these even though you’ve never seen them before. You will be in full control of your system at all times. The power of linux/bsd is that they are immensely customizable. Their problem is that they are immensely customizable :). I once(prior to ubuntu and in the early days of suse) started to work on my own distribution because i felt the need for one that would be unified, robust and would just work. SuSE nearly achieved that when the greedy Novel bastards bought it. It has never been the same since. Ubuntu strives to achieve the same goal and in my opinion they are so darn close to it. As for speed they are better then SuSE ever was because they are beginning to understand that you don’t need 2 of each. You just need the best. Chinese say that there are 1000 ways to do something. That pretty much explains the “Made in China” feeling. What Apple did was to use the NetBSD port of unix, coupled with the innovative mach kernel which has the “everything as a file” idea.
If you look into the root filesystem you’ll see the most beautiful and elegant collection of files that are i think below 10 megs in total. Just take a look at /etc/rc file. It’s so idiotically simple and yet it does it’s job flawlessly, booting the system in less then a couple of seconds. This might be great to have in Ubuntu too. A “rescue” mode and a full multiuser mode. Or even simpler then that.
On top of that they added their own graphics server to replace the bloated X server which i feel too it is long due for a simple lightweight replacement. The Google guys are doing the same with their ubuntu spinoff also called Chrome OS
For Apple success is usability and performance. Once they discontinue supporting old hardware such as ppc and 32bit cpus, and remove the support for fat executables(any executable can run on all different cpus by containing code for all). you will see yet another massive speed improvement coupled with a 1-2 GB size reduction. Even though mac dudes are not saints, I can however appreciate what they do and hope that someday they will also go opensource with their system.
This philosophy is the same with this mouse. You have all the options for it summed up in 5 checkboxes that cover up most of what you will ever need.
In the near future, and if my current ideas bring me the amount of money necessary, i will begin developing for Ubuntu(most likely a setup tool cause that’s what it lacks), hoping that some day it will measure up to big time money spenders such as Apple.
Microsoft can’t even hold a candle to Ubuntu. They are so scared that they put bugs in IE hoping that the net will never catch up and borrow them. Once you go online you don’t care what you’re running right? You just need a browser.

24 11 2009

So you are comparing an actual product to prototypes? Wow! Unfair! A lot of decisions go into deciding what will actually go to market. What will the market want? How much will people be willing to pay? How will it integrate with the current OS? What is feasible for reliable mass production?

You are comparing a product that has gone through that design sieve, with conceptual products. A more fair comparison would be to be a fly on the wall in the Microsoft and Apple R & D labs and see what both companies came up with.

Until a released MS product comes out – save readers their time with useless fluff articles such as this.

24 11 2009
Fort Myers Wedding Photographer

This will really help with photoshop!

24 11 2009

I am glad Microsoft has these five prototypes. I hope all five make it to the market. Microsoft is all about choice. It is better to have a choice of 149 mouses with 23 different input methods than what Apple offers, which is one at a time. If you are a Star Wars fan you would not stand for it on account of all types of different creatures.

24 11 2009

It is better to have a mouse that exists.

24 11 2009

Microsoft is not about choice. There business model has never been about choice.

I couldn’t find a choice of which operating system to choose for a new PC. It’s Microsoft Windows and there’s Microsoft Windows.

24 11 2009

Microsoft gives you the choice of paying a lot for a basic OS or a ton for a slightly better OS. Or you can pay a fortune and get a full-featured OS.

Microsoft gives you the choice of getting raped by thousands of viruses, or getting raped by antivirus vendors who drain your wallet and protect you from at least 90% of the millions of viruses out there.

Microsoft gives you the choice of millions of crappy, buggy, incompatible, expensive, poorly-written, under-featured applications you can run on your PC.

Microsoft gives you the choice of using Microsoft Office or going out of business.

24 11 2009

mouse : computer :: key : combination lock ( true / false )?

Statistically speaking, the industry should have gotten it right by accident, already.

There simply has to be a less restrictive input device
and a mouse will never be one of them. Ask a cat.

24 11 2009

Why is it that the Magic mouse can detect so much, but you still need to hold the damn control key to zoom.

24 11 2009

I AGREE, THANK YOU! Some day computers and internet will replace televisions and cable, and that day has come for me. I should be able to buy a mouse which allows me to zoom in on small text from a couch away without having to keep a keyboard on hand at all times.

24 11 2009

i have a logitec mouse on my mac and i programmed the thumb wheel to zoom in and out simple…

24 11 2009

Well, that’s simply because it is not a function of the mouse. It is already in 10.4, for every mouse with a control wheel. Try it…

23 11 2009

What store can I go to and try out the Microsoft mouse?

23 11 2009
Andrei Cimpoca

I see all sorts of inventions nowadays. In a couple of days i will be buying a mac that comes with this mouse so don’t destroy my enthusiasm please. About this ms/mac thing, i won’t even bother with that. It’s like cookies vs meatloaf. Sure Bill has eaten off most people’s back but this is not the case here. I also happen to be intimately familiar with the ms has invented everything arrogance. They just invent after someone else has invented it first; that’s not to say it’s a lesser invention. One thing though, for these open minded inventors. I see that Vista and Win7 have speech recognition. This is good. They’re definitely on the right way. Hope if i ever use windows though, i won’t have to shout at it to close that dirty movie while my mom is coming in. Just picture staring at the neighbors shouting at their red, green and blue blinking from all angles computers to just close that darn application.
But as a constructive suggestion: Why don’t they create all sorts of other pointing and feedback devices? One particularly comes to mind. Electrical sensors connected to the nipples so they know to skip the movie till after the dialog part? It should also send small electrical impulses back to the nipple and notify of a wrong move. For instance in a dating game when the chick calls you a filthy arrogant bastard.
Or a toilet seat pointing device, for when you can’t move your hands but still want some control over the pc. What would you call it? Rumpoint? Asstrack?
This reminds me of my first text only linux distro called Command Line InTerface Operating System(ClitOS for short).
Hope the moderator finds my comment tasteful and will allow it as i find those mice quite amusing and inspiring.

23 11 2009

The main point of this article is….once again Microsoft copies technology that is already working on Mac or Linux.

23 11 2009

What and Jobs and didn’t copy Xerox PARCs alto? OSX isn’t based on Unix? Everything is derivative…..

24 11 2009

OS X is *build on* Unix (Open BSD) you idiot – not copied from.

24 11 2009

Uh… Apple licensed the GUI pieces from Xerox… cheap, though.

23 11 2009
Jim H

Nobody said that Microsoft was having a conspiracy — but it is no surprise that, after Apple announces a product, Microsoft will suddenly make its prototypes available to the press. Remember the cool Table they demoed on the eve of the iPhone? When did that become available? This is what Microsoft has typically done when faced with an innovative PRODUCT from anywhere: their publicity department goes to their lab and shows prototypes of what they may or may not bring out later. These look okay, though it’s hard to see in a demo how well they work. Very often, however, the vaporware that MS announces doesn’t ever actually appear.

24 11 2009

Funny. We all know how Microsoft’s future products are better than what Apple ships today… or has been shipping for two years on many cases.

23 11 2009
Paul S

I have to agree with the comments that the headline is quite misleading – comparing a company’s R&D “products” with a commercially available product makes no sense.

R&D “products” do not have many of the constraints of those that have been commercialized — cost, profit margin vs competing with other comparable products, component availability, and many others do play in the R&D space.

Why not hold a poll:”Which R&D facility would you rather visit? a) Apple b) Microsoft”

I would put my money on “a”.

23 11 2009

“Moving the body of the mouse moves your character forward and backward”

This is impractical. Once your arm is extended, you would need to pick up the mouse and re-position so you can move it more. This will stop your movement and you will in all likelihood be eaten by zombies.

No matter how many touches the mouse supports, you need another input source for movement. Another mouse or a keypad of some sort.

23 11 2009

…a ‘left’ Powerglove to compliment the “right’ Powerglove?

Emergent technology is so l-i-n-e-a-r;

They say, no computer technology allows simultaneous inputs, but
at the same time, I’d like to remain optimistic.

23 11 2009


mouse : computer :: key : combination lock

t / f ?

23 11 2009

“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.”

That’s a bit misleading. the entire top surface of the mouse is a physical button, which is how it determines whether you are clicking. The capacitive sensors are only used to determine if it’s a right or left click.

23 11 2009
Some Guy

Jesus you people love whining. Microsoft has *never* claimed that these mice are being publicly offered. They are not “(as usual) trying to muscle out competition in advance.” They are making experimental, non-traditional mice. That’s called “innovation.” Nothing Microsoft does can prevent Apple (or someone else) from designing and selling multi-touch mice.

The most likely scenario is that zero, one, or two of these experimental mice become products. They are *experiments*, people — not conspiracies, like most of you Microsoft-haters want to believe.

I’ve tried several multi-touch mice. In general, I think they’re awful. They have no feedback — you can’t tell when you’ve clicked something, so you don’t know when to stop pressing on the “button” because there is no button. For this reason alone, I think touch-mice are doomed. But that’s my opinion — don’t go whining about how some guy “muscled out” your ideas, or some such whininess.

23 11 2009

It’s not that Microsoft claimed a public offering… the *article* does. It refers to “offerings” and “introductions” as if those words apply to design prototypes. It is bad journalism to compare these things on an even plane, or at least to refer to them all as introductions and offerings.

As for Microsoft’s vaporware practices, no, they aren’t forcing out competition. What they do is say “we’re going to make this technology” so that nobody else has the inclination to do so (nor can they get venture capital, when the financiers see that Microsoft is allegedly working on it). MS history is rife with vaporware introductions that they never took to market yet which effectively killed off little-guy competitors. (But yes, Apple is immune to this sort of thing… fortunately.)

23 11 2009

You’re an idiot with little knowledge of business, innovation, and innovation under the aura of a business.

23 11 2009

Re: Smith

You can always tell when someone wants to destroy a conversation, merely by the presence of the word “idiot.” Niiice.

But you are absolutely right. I just totally made that up. That’s probably why this only gets hardly over 10,000 results:

23 11 2009

The real tragedy is that Linus Torvalds has nothing to show for himself. Microsoft and Apple seem capable of producting a multi-touch mouse, why can’t Linux? Last Linux mouse I used caused it to kernel panic every time it went over something red, as it confused the sensor.

Maybe Meatloaf’s contributions to the Linux scheduler will improve matters?

23 11 2009

I think you’re forgetting the miracle of modern engineering that is the mouse!

23 11 2009

That’s because Teh Lunix is too busy being a minion of IBM to care about anything else.

After all, “free” isn’t putting that Enzo Ferarri in Teh Lunis’s driveway.

23 11 2009

I use Linux on a daily basis, and never (ever) have a problem with mice. Linus is in the OS business, not the hardware business. If someone wanted a multi-touch mouse to work on Linux, all they’d have to do is write a driver for it. The Linux kernel is very adept at handling that. The 10UI company has built a whole UI multi-touch system that only runs on Linux, so not sure where you’re coming from…

23 11 2009

Are you kidding about Linux Torvald. We are talking about Apple and Microsoft whom are companies with R&D budgets. How much $ have you given tot he cause?

I think Linux is doing quite a bit of new developments in its own right as it cannot and should not compete on every level as A & Ms such as mice hardware. Linux will be able to use whatever the other OS makes create. It would be nice if a company, like Logitech would drive the charge as this is their area.

24 11 2009

For the record – and just for the record – no one is called Linux Torvalds. Linux is an open source operating system. Linus Torvalds is the guy that bootstrapped the whole thing and is the maintainer in chief of the Linux kernel.

23 11 2009

Devin: As a former long-term user of the TouchStream Stealth keyboard/mouse device, I can tell you that gestures involving 3+ digits are quite useful, not at all a gimmick.

Default zoom gesture was thumb plus four fingers, moving away from each other (zoom in) or towards each other (zoom out). It was as natural as opening or closing a hand. Default close-window gesture was thumb plus first three fingers rotating clockwise, as though turning a doorknob. Default “find” gesture was thumb plus two fingers pinching (thumb plus middle pinching was cut). Browser forward/back was thumb plus three fingers swiping right or left, refresh was same digits swiping down.

I was by no means a gesture poweruser, but a lot of them were natural and intuitive enough that I used them all the time. And number of digits isn’t really the issue for complexity. Thumb-plus-ring-finger-slide is a less natural motion than thumb-plus-first-three-fingers-slide, even though it’s two digits instead of four. (The TouchStream let you map both to actions; thumb+ring slide was probably mapped to something by default, but I never used it.)

23 11 2009

What a waste of an article. What versus?

23 11 2009

Shipping is a feature.

23 11 2009

I’ll take what Microsoft is offering…..ugh? Isn’t it sad that a company with the cash reserves of Microsoft is so late to the game?


23 11 2009

They innovate in following their competitors.

So they had to wait until Apple released something, so that they could then copy 😉

30 03 2012

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23 11 2009

none of them are as cool as 10/gui

23 11 2009

10/gui is an EPIC FAIL!

23 11 2009

I agree with Reid in part. I wouldn’t call 10/GUI cool as much as an intelligent answer to window management. Not necessarily ready for FPS fragging from what I saw.

I am impressed more with 10/GUI’s solution versus this pissing and moaning about who has the best ‘mouse’. Apple has really hasn’t done more than re-hash existing technologies and I don’t consider M$ a hardware company even if they did aquire Razor (fine mice by the way).

Anyhow, re-hashed tech or not somebody has to come up with something more ergo and more effiecient than our current mice. I hope it’s not making something thinner and calling it new technology.

23 11 2009

“At the end of the video (2:15) the narrator specifically says multi-touch can be disabled in the settings for simple button-click emulation.”

Great! But that statement has nothing to do with the OP’s original statement of “It is not clear if the Magic Mouse can detect more than two fingers at a time.”

Can the Magic Mouse handle a 3-finger swipe? How about a 3-D rotation around the Z-Axis (aka “Yaw”) by sliding a single finger in conjunction with 2 stationary fingers?

My personal opinion is that maybe one or two seldom used features could be coded to some 3-finger-gesture, but single- and double-finger gestures are what is going to benefit a human the most. And anything above 3 fingers is just a gimmick (the amount of effort required to accurately reproduce a 4- or 5-finger gesture is likely going to exceed any benefit unless the result is truly astounding and/or efficient.

23 11 2009

Re: “It is not clear if the Magic Mouse can detect more than two fingers at a time.”

According to the nifty FingerMgmt program*, which can show you the multitouch *input* seen by Apple trackpads and mice, the Magic Mouse can track up to five touch points at the same time.

So software updates or third-party drivers could presumably add further functionality to the Magic Mouse.

(* = )

23 11 2009
Mark Daniel

Actually, the Magic Mouse can detect up to 7 points of touch simultaneously. Also keep in mind that the MS mice aren’t shipping. The Magic Mouse is shipping right now, and works well on all platforms (Mac, Win, Lin).

23 11 2009

Obvious Mac fanboy is obvious.

23 11 2009

Obvious PC sucker is useless as the MS multi touch mice are ugly.

23 11 2009

Isn’t it a bit unfair to compare a real, shipping product to vaporware?

Especially when you say both companies “introduced” these mice, and compare them as “offerings.”

Microsoft is not offering these mice and they have not made product introductions. They are just (as usual) trying to muscle out competition in advance.

23 11 2009

The Magic Mouse definitely tracks 4 fingers concurrently, and sometimes 5… though the 5th seems spotty.

23 11 2009

“It is not clear if the Magic Mouse can detect more than two fingers at a time.”

At the end of the video (2:15) the narrator specifically says multi-touch can be disabled in the settings for simple button-click emulation.

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