The Future Of Mice (If There Is One)

While touring Microsoft's Hardware division, I saw some concept mice that renewed my faith in the quintessential desktop accessory, ones that had capacitive touch surfaces and cameras that enabled an array of precision multitouch gesture. Take a look:

The name of the game is multitouch. The Applied Sciences Group at Microsoft—who helped create with Natal—are basically researching hand-cradled versions of the laptop trackpads and camera gesture systems that are evolving in parallel elsewhere. Though large populations of computer mice may be dying out because buyers prefer laptops over desktops, the mouse still roars in gaming and artistic fields.

The irony is that Microsoft's reveal of these concept mice comes on the heel of Apple rumours that a new, multitouch Mighty Mouse is on the way to market. Regardless, before Apple lets its mouse out of the bag, take a look at these, because there's a lot going on here:

Cap Mouse - So named because it's capacitive touch, it's possibly the most completed concept design, mapped with a series of sensible gestures, not just momentum scrolling and pinch zooming, but even thumb flicking to shift photos and toss windows around the screen. The designers made a conscious decision to leave the click mechanism in place, because, like on the MacBook Pro trackpad of their arch-competitor, that physical clicking reduces user confusion. In the video below, you can see the finger activity in the window on the left, while you see the results on the right:

FTIR (Frustrated Total Internal Reflection) Mouse - Loser of the "coolest mouse name" competition here, this one uses an infrared camera that's gauging the positions of fingers on a curved acrylic surface. The amount of finger positioning you could see on this baby was astounding, though it probably isn't economical to use full-rez video of hand positions as a control.

Orb Mouse - It's similar to the FTIR but with a semi-sphere where the hand rests. The team mapped gaming commands to demonstrate how regions of the sphere could control different pieces of an app. Something about that sphere makes sense, like it would be easier to remember gestures at different clock positions or something.

Arty (Articulated) Mouse - A smart low-bandwidth multitouch concept, it basically makes sense of assorted pinching gestures. There's no camera, instead, the two finger pads each have a little mouse tracker in them, and the system measures how all three "mice" move relative to one another in order to fire off commands.

Side Mouse - This strange half-mouse has a tracker and clicker, just like mice have had for eons. But it also has a camera that looks forward, interpreting what your fingers are doing and why. The beauty is that it's basically a Natal for your hand — you can even set it a foot away, and gesture at it with both hands, if that's what an app calls for. The catch is that when you are using it, you have to rest your fingers on the table, and it's apparently a bitch to program around all of that involuntary hand movement.

I couldn't help feel a bit sad when talking to these brilliant guys about their mice. After all, even though I used to be a huge mouse fanatic, it's been years since I've used one. Perhaps it's laziness or forgetfulness, or my couch-friendly work habits, but I do get the feeling the mouse's days are numbered. Am I wrong?

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