Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Apple, The One Button Mouse And Gestures (Short Take)

Image representing Magic Mouse as depicted in ...
One of the things that has always frustrated me about Apple is the one button mouse. There is no doubt that Steve Job's is a genius in many different ways but that particular decision has never made sense to me. Yes, it's simple to the first order but it leads to additional complexity quickly in the UI as you have to make that one button do a lot. It's analogous to the difference between entering text on a full keyboard versus the old non smart phone keypad methods. It can be done, but it's not going to be as fast unless you spend a LOT of time gaining proficiency.

This approach is replicated on the iPad as well, though at least you have gestures and multitouch there. On the iPad it took me for ever to discover that pushing the button twice gives a list of running apps. Yes, I probably should have read the documentation but it's an Apple product and I'm a veteran geek, why should I have to? (That last sentence is meant to be somewhat but not entirely tongue in cheek).

I always feel like I've had part of my brain removed when I have to use a mouse with less than three buttons. Part of this is the fact that I still use the X-Windows system native to Linux/Unix on a regular basis. X uses all three buttons. No middle button means the normal paste functionality doesn't work. This makes coding and pretty much anything else a lot more difficult.

The thing I really find ironic is the fact that for some reason Apple/Jobs decided that multitouch on touchscreens is totally cool. In fact you can apparently do up to ten finger multitouch. They even have the magic mouse which apparently allows multitouch of some sort. Why is it user friendly and intuitive to use ten fingers on a touch screen but not more than one mouse button on a mouse?

OK, you probably could argue that touch and gestures are more natural to humans than pushing a button. I won't argue that point but is dealing with a button ten times more difficult than dealing with complex gestures that require a fair amount of dexterity and practice? It may be a sign of my age, but I'm still not all together comfortable with even two finger gestures. The thought that I can use three or more does not give me any comfort at all.

With the invention of devices like the Kinect though this is probably the general direction we can expect things to go in. Human computer interaction is moving away from the simple ones and zeros represented by button clicks and towards a more analog, or real world model. Having said that, the kinds of gestures currently supported by touch screens seem too abstract and complex to me. The Kinect essentially moves gestures from 2D to 3D. I'd expect touch pad like devices to have 3D gestures in the next decade. No doubt I'll be complaining about them as well if I'm right.

Image via CrunchBase

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