The death of the mouse, by Apple

The Mouse (19722008)

So, all of the major players (incl MS) are now looking toward making touch devices that interact more like physical objects than computers; i.e. the traditional pen + paper, blackboard or fridge scenario.

Why is this happening? I think the quick answer is that hardware and software have come to the point where touch/pen/voice interactions are possible at the speed that consumers expect. But perhaps a more subjective answer would be that consumers have growing expectations of simplicity and speed when it comes to computers, and perhaps the market has started to show this, and maybe this is why we see hardware and software companies now clammering to react.A quick whistle stop of my thought process:

  1. Both companies and individuals care about how long it takes to learn how to use a device or piece of software. Companies care about lost money, people care about lost time and frustration.
  2. Direct manipulation devices (pen, touch, voice) offer much more immersive and direct metaphors for real life, and because of this, require less time to learn. They also remove the need for highly accurate motor control and the disconnect between mouse and screen that foil many children and first-time computer users.
  3. Software and hardware companies make the most money by pitching based on how much the thing they are selling can save money/time.
  4. Recently, the TabletPC has seen a rise in sales by large organisations – especially educational organisations, now the prices and software have started to hit a sweet spot.
  5. Any HR person can tell you how much software/hardware training costs the company, any PC Support person can tell you how much money is wasted on people who don’t know how to use either properly. Anyone who has ever been in a meeting with a laptop can tell you that you invariably end up falling back onto paper/whiteboard and then spending more time typing up notes later.

In short, everyone (whether they know it or not) wants mobile computing in a variety of forms factors (phone, pda, B5, A4, tablet, projector).

Apple know this, they proved this somewhat by persuing different form factors with the iMac, iBook, AppleTV and the iPod, whilst other computer companies continue producing the same shape/size boxes.

So, Apple have patents for a version of multitouch technology, not as advanced as the PerceptivePixel (Jeff Han) offering (video above), but still with the same amount of ‘wow’ factor (to excuse me for using MS marketing words) So, what makes the most sense as the next move after the iPhone with regard to Multitouch?

Mac Pro
I think if Apple were to add this feature to their Mac Pro series, it would have to be accurate enough to support a stylus and pressure sensitivity for the Adobe suite and other creative packages, professionals will be annoyed by this otherwise. To date I am unaware of whether Apple’s patented multitouch includes pressure or this level of accuracy,

iMac
If they were to add multitouch to the iMac range, this would seem to make more sense, to get a proof of concept out there and get a media swarm around it. I think there are obvious ideal uses for multitouch for ‘normal’ users in things like cover-flow, iLife & media apps, e.g. iTunes, garageBand, iPhoto, Safari. These will show eloquently to the rest of the business where multitouch can be used the best, while buying Apple time to tweak their pro apps (if the technology can use pressure sensitivity).

iTablet
Wouldn’t every Mac fanboy love for this to happen? From a mobile computing perspective, it is inevitable – why might this make perfect sense for Apple to re-enter this market?
– Many companies have been rumoured to be making a ultra-compact laptop, none have executed this particularly well.
– The UMPC is a great idea but has been marketed and executed badly
– The TabletPC is a great idea but has largely also been marketed and executed badly

iPod
So this is already heavily rumoured to get the multitouch treatment this fall, so I will bend your ear in a different direction and continue slightly on the iTablet theme. Another 5 inches in both directions and this device would be ideal for eBooks and note-taking in school and in the office. It definitely would only require the cut down version of OSX to run a note-taker (simplified Onenote killer?) and an eBook reader. Add the same version of Safari running on the iPhone and you’ve got a perfect portable researching device similar to Star-Trek’s PADD.

eMac
What happened to the eMac? Apple are one of very few hardware manufacturers to have made sucessful dedicated educational hardware, and as TabletPC manufacturers know, education is a prime market for touch capable devices. Seeing as kids currently think Apple is cool becaue of the iPod, what better time to capture them again – this time at school?

/thoughts

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4 Responses to The death of the mouse, by Apple

  1. Brendan says:

    A touchscreen desktop computer would be stupid, nobody wants to stand up to interact with their computers and nobody wants raise their hands from their desk when working for longer than a second to point somthing out to a friend. Raise you hands for 30 seconds and touch corners of your screen and you’ll be very tired. I’ve called this one ever since the birth of the iPhone, the next evolution for desktop computer will be a muiti-touch keyboard, no buttons, but a screen that can display anything, and would change for different apps, you could even change your keyboard to DVORAK in keyboard preferences, the limitations are endless.

  2. lewis says:

    Brendan,

    I completely agree, multitouch only makes sense in a drawing-board type form-factor or a tablet/PDA. I think Jef Hann’s video and minority report are a little off the money in this respect; multitouch is a new paradigm and so shouldn’t be forced into ones that already exist when they don’t fit.

    I really think you are on the right train of thought with the multi-functional touch-surface too, this was one of apple’s motivations for the iPhone, and was discussed heavily in their patent proposals.

    However, i think the time has probably come to move away from the Monitor and keyboard. A ‘monitor’ is meant for monitoring (looking at), not as a control surface, which is why i think multitouch will have a heavy hand in the move away from this disconnected view(monitor) and control (mouse/keyboard) setup we all have today.

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