It’s Time To Exterminate The Mouse

It’s Time To Exterminate The Mouse

If you’re buying a new computer and it comes with a mouse you’re probably looking at a shitty machine bundled with a relic. The age of the mouse is over. Anyone pushing them with new computers is selling crap.

Giz Au Editor’s Note: I don’t agree with Mat on this score, and my rebuttal of his rant can be read here.

I’m so tired of mice. I’ve gotten used to touchscreens and trackpads, and now whenever I have to use a simple pointer, I feel like I’ve travelled back in time. I almost expect all my icons to go 8-bit. And for years now, they’ve just been awful. When was the last time you really loved a mouse? When was the last time you were like, “damn, this is a great mouse and I enjoy using it?” Odds are, if you have had that experience in the last five years, it’s been with a mouse that does a lot more than simple mousing. It probably had a touchpad on its top, or a gyroscope inside of it, or other way to manipulate data in a non-linear, two-dimensional fashion. In other words, it was probably much more than a mouse.

We’re getting trained by our phones and our tablets do do more and more with our hands. Some of those mobile gestures are making their way to the desktop — think of the way you can pinch to zoom on a trackpad now. And as we become more and more accustomed gestures, mice, and the single-point, two-dimensional actions they demand, make less and less sense. They feel constraining. Limiting. And that’s because they’re outdated.

If the mouse were an automobile, it would qualify for collecter car plates. Douglas Englebart created a mouse prototype in 1963, and then showed it off to the world in 1968 at the now-famous Mother of all Demos. The Macintosh took it mainstream in 1984, and for nearly 30 years now it’s been giving us all a way to move a cursor around the screen and select. And little more.

Today at any given time we may be running 20 apps at once, with a dozen or more browser windows open, while trying to sort through more data in a few seconds than an early Cray supercomputer saw over the course of its lifetime. And yet we still use tools designed for a simpler time, with simpler needs.

And the thing is, the thing we’ve all been waiting for, the thing that’s going to make us work faster, and more efficiently and be less prone to repetitive stress injuries and wrist strain and just plain old frustration — that thing is already here. It’s gesture-based computing, and your operating system already supports it.

Gesture-based computing gives us far more precision and control over the interface. We can manipulate not just points but entire screens. We can perform complex actions that once required keyboard shortcuts, with just our fingertips. Combining one movement with another lets us do things that the mouse’s limited range of motion could not — at least not without throwing a staggering numbers of buttons into the mix.

Apple, as usual, is ahead of the curve on this. The touchpads in its laptops, combined with the gestures built into Mountain Lion let us perform all sorts of tasks with a few simple swipes. The Magic Trackpad is taking this action to the desktop. And the lone mouse that it does sell, the Magic Mouse, is essentially a multitouch device that also does mouse things.

It’s not something lost on other hardware makers. All the smart ones are already moving past the mouse. When Vizio showed off its new line of stunning all-in-ones at CES this year, for example, there was a gorgeous keyboard and trackpad, and even a remote, but nary a mouse in sight.

But if Apple is ahead of the curve, Microsoft is already around the bend. While Windows 7 supports some gestures, Windows 8 takes it to an entirely other level. It’s going to make touchscreen computing a reality. But you don’t even have to wait for that to ship to see Microsoft’s real mouse-killer: Kinect.

The Kinect is the most revolutionary input device on the (mainstream) market. It’s transformative, as a legion of hackers show day after unexpected day. It’s the first mainstream device that’s lets us manipulate data in three dimensions with just our bodies. It is the gateway drug to an era where the input device is simply something in the background, an unobserved and unblinking eye that captures everything without being noticed itself.

It’s no coincidence that the Kinect came out of gaming. If you want to see the future of how we’ll work, it’s already out there in the present of how we play. The gaming industry’s devices for play have the capability to completely alter the way we work. Gamers often have the need to perform many complex actions simultaneously. And the industry has responded to that with all manner of input devices, many of which are single function, while others may use your entire body. It’s made for an industry that’s not only open to experimenting with interaction, but that recognises this experimentation can be a selling point in itself. It’s why the PC with the most innovative multitouch trackpad on the market today came out of the gaming industry.

There is one place mice still rule: first person shooters. Thanks to their precision and speed, mice are still beloved tools for FPS aficionados, and a handful of other tasks as well. Yet that doesn’t make them right for everyone, or even most people, in most situations.

I mean, if I want to rope a steer, I’m still going to want to be on horse. But that doesn’t mean I want to commute to work on one. Giddyup.

Original image: Nathan Meijer/Flickr