There’s something to said for the longevity of the mouse and keyboard as the primary input devices for computers. Although we’ve come a long way in terms of alternatives you’d still be hard pressed to use those alternatives as full on replacements, save for a few niche applications such as graphic design. Still that hasn’t stopped the input innovators from trying and we’ve had many different devices and schemes thrown at us. In the end however they all meet the same fate: the mouse and keyboard just plain work for their purpose and none of them have really managed to take over.
Now I’m a bit of an input fanatic having churned through nearly every imaginable input device over the past few years and even buildinga couple of my own. Still on my desk at home you’ll find a mouse and keyboard just like everybody else. The reason? Simplicity. Nothing else really comes close to making me as functional as I can possibly be than my keyboard and mouse. I might include the microphone on my headset as well but apart from chatting on Ventrilo I couldn’t really say I use it as a primary interface for my computer. No out of all the alternatives I’ve tried nothing really fits as well as the old K and M but it seems like some companies think otherwise.
A couple days ago saw Apple revamp some old products whilst launching a couple new ones. Amongst the refresh of their iMac and MacPro line there was a curiosity that caught everyone’s eye and I’m not talking about the Apple Battery Charger. No the apple of everyone’s eye was the Magic Trackpad, a large multitouch bluetooth device that some have been saying is a mouse killer. Whilst I can appreciate the idea that any kind of device that Apple releases will garner this kind of attention I can’t help but think that calling it a mouse killer is a bit premature at the very least and, more likely, completely wrong. Sure it’s a nice looking piece of kit and I’m sure it will find a home with many people but if you think the computer of the future will come equipped with something similar I’d probably rethink your position.
You see about 15 years ago I actually had something quite similar to this, it was a trackpad that plugged into the PS/2 port that emulated a mouse. Now it wasn’t as large nor did it have multi-touch, but then again this was quite a while ago. It was functional enough that I could have used it as a direct replacement for my mouse at the time. You might be wondering what a 10 year old was doing with something like that, well it was given to me by my dad. He’d bought it thinking it would be a good replacement for his mouse but after a day or so of trying to get used to it he didn’t like it and gave it to me to tinker with. I put up with it for about as long as he did with the pad finally ending up in the computer parts pile.
For us mere mortals the mouse is actually quite a refined and elegant input device. The shape conforms to the natural at rest shape of our hands and minimal effort is required to move the cursor on the screen. The track pad however with much more limited tracking area and lack of sensitivity made both normal and precision work quite tedious. Additionally, and I know this will be squarely in the “don’t care” area for most people, gamers will tell you that anything bar a mouse and keyboard for gaming will instantly put you at a disadvantage save for something like a flight or racing sim. If you get one of these trackpads you’ll find yourself trying to pick it up every so often as you try to scroll across the screen unless it happens to be the first input device you’ve ever used.
Taking a step back from Apple’s offering for a second you’d notice that they aren’t the first ones to release a multi-touch trackpad either. Whilst most of the devices aren’t as slick looking as Apple’s device they certaintly have been around for quite a while yet you don’t see them on every computing device, not even all laptops. There’s also the integration to consider as whilst they might have integrated the gestures into their OSX line of products but unfortunately that won’t translate across to their competitors. You could argue that’s not Apple’s intent but if you’re going to call this thing a mouse killer you’d better start thinking about how that product is going to work cross platform, or it isn’t killing anything (apart from your wallet).
All this being said I still think it’s a rather cool looking piece of kit and I can see it as a viable alternative to a mouse for those who want to shell out for it. However if your needs extend past the usual email/web requirement or if you don’t run OSX then there’s no real need for you to rush out and buy this latest “innovation” from Apple, save for the fact that you can’t contain your rabid fanboyism for all things Apple. In my eyes this should have gotten just about as much press as Apple’s new battery charger (which is actually not bad) but of course anything that they do in the multi-touch space will ultimately be trumped up as the next revolution in computing. Of course no one will remember this when the mouse isn’t killed and is still here for decades to come, but I’ll let that one go for now.