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22 November 2009

Mouse Extinction

Ever since the Apple Macintosh launched in January 1984, with its radically different windows based user interface, the mouse has been an ever-present PC accessory.

We needed the mouse to interact with our windows based operating systems: selecting the desired window; minimising or maximising a window; resizing a window; using the scroll bars and selecting icons, menus and text. Subsequently it proved the simplest way to navigate around the Internet with the web browser's hypertext links.

From these basic beginning the mouse slowly evolved. Additional buttons appeared for context sensitive options, a centre mounted scroll wheel was added and the, often troublesome, rolling ball has been replaced with laser sensors. Even now innovation hasn't stopped, with Apple just releasing their new wireless magic mouse - effectively a sleek-looking integration of multi-touch pad and mouse - with touch and gesture support.

But the mouse about to disappear?

Today we have touch screens to facilitate finger pointing selection and swiping actions for scrolling. Multi-touch to resize, zoom and rotate. Gesture recognition to perform all kinds to generic and application specific interactions. Motion, orientation and acceleration detectors to assist with presentation, layout and 3D control. And even GPS technology to help deliver location-specific content, features and functionality.

Starting with our present day smartphones we can also see a trend for simpler, more intuitive user interfaces, with highly integrated touch, gesture, movement and location capabilities. The next evolution of notebooks, netbooks and tablet devices will include and extend this smartphone derived interface functionality.

As we move towards a cloud computing future, where local applications and storage are not required, there will be further opportunities to simplify the user experience. Examples of what we can expect include the Intel/Nokia MeeGo project and Google's Chromium OS initiatives. These much simpler, browser-like, task-specific user interfaces also facilitate the integration of intuitive touch and gesture control.

So does all this interface innovation, advanced technology and simplified user experience finally sideline the mouse? Well the desktop PC will still benefit from a mouse, but desktops are a rapidly declining market. More innovation could help prolong its lifetime. Maybe Apple could add motion control to its magic mouse to act as a 3D pointer or games controller. But, as our ever expanding range of pocket, mobile, entertainment and navigation devices will be touch, gesture, motion and location enabled, the mouse is destined to become more and more like a quaint accessory from the computing past.

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