FutureMouse

By Alec Meer on October 7th, 2009 at 12:32 pm.

Yes, yes I do own this. And no, no Microsoft's concept mice don't look like this.

Idle hardware browing leads me to Techradar’s coverage of Microsoft’s concept mouse project. Usually, attempts to redesign one of the most fundamental features of the PC is something I greet with a sneer – how can you be so stupid as to waste so much money on trying to replace the irreplaceable? When it’s Microsoft, though, for all their flaws it’s worth paying attention to.

Key to their research is multi-touch interfaces – of the sort seen on recent laptop touchpads or the iPhone’s screen. Fingers creating gesture-based combinations on smooth, switch-free surfaces, rather than simply clicking physical buttons. God knows if any of these things will ever come to pass, but at least they’re not trying to throw out the mouse’s essential mousiness.

Can you imagine gaming on one of these, pushing fingers against repogrammable surfaces, or is the absolute precision of a hard-wired button the only accurate way to shoot a dude in the face? Microsoft reckon traditional mice use only a fraction of our hands’ abilities – but is that an accident or a necessity for the amount of our awareness that is spent reacting in other ways to on-screen events?

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74 Comments »

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  1. Miker says:

    RATTRAP!

  2. TotalBiscuit says:

    Bugger touch-displays. Nothing beats tactile feedback. I don’t own an iPhone for this reason, typing one a touch screen or even using a non-tactile menu bothers the hell out of me.

    • Tyshalle says:

      In the case of the iPhone, I think you might be suffering from a case of the old man’s “Back in my day!” syndrome. That is, it only seems weird because you’re not used to it, but once you get used to it it not only isn’t that bad, but it adds a ton of versatility you just can’t get with traditional buttons.

      I have to agree on the mouse front though. With the iPhone, unless you’re playing some kind of game or something, you really don’t need tactile feedback at all once you get used to it, especially because you’re always going to be looking at the screen, which is where your fingers are going to be anyway. I can’t imagine the same thing being true for a mouse, which is something you’re not looking at at all while playing, unless something’s gone wrong with it.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    I think one thing to overcome might be the friction of a finger rubbing against glass. Mice are generally quite good at avoiding friction. I tried to play Unreal Tournament on a laptop trackpad once, and was laughably bad at it.

  4. duel says:

    there have been many alternative input devices over the years (force feedback, mind control, etc) but nothing has ever come close to replacing the mouse.

    I think its got something to do with that tactile function which is something you will never get with touchpads or the like.

  5. Radiant says:

    I use a multi touchscreen laptop [the dell latitude xt] which is wonderfully direct but makes the screen a bit grubby; bad for when you need a clean screen to checking art assets / porn geography.

    What I would LOVE is to replicate the touch screen directness but not actually on my screen.

    So imagine that for your desktop instead of a mouse on a mousemat you replace that mouse mat with a same size [width and depth] touch screen lcd that:

    A) Displays a duplicate of whatever is on the screen at the moment with additional contextual ui elements [menus and shit].
    B) Displays the hud/controls of whatever game you happen to be playing.

    Microsoft make this real.

    kthnxbye

  6. Flint says:

    I don’t like all these innovative-or-something ideas for new controlling. Just let me use my button mice, keyboards and pads instead of touchpads and motion control :(.

    • Stuk says:

      “I don’t like all these innovative-or-something ideas for writing. Just let me use my pencil, paper and rubber instead of keyboards and computers :(.”

      Innovation is a Good Thing.

    • Flint says:

      Of course it is, Stuk. I also happen to have my tastes and preferences that can be separate from the notion, not to mention that just because something tries to be innovative it doesn’t mean it actually hits the target.

    • coupsan says:

      I would at least wait for something to be released before saying you won’t use it.

    • Sobric says:

      and I’m pretty sure when it’s released you wont be banned from using your old mouse

    • Dorian Cornelius Jasper says:

      Well I sympathize at least.

  7. Sparvy says:

    I cant stand most touch based interfaces, they give me the creeps. I can hardly use my Ipod Nano without putting some piece of cloth between my finger and the thing. Is there anything wrong with buttons?

  8. GibletHead2000 says:

    Very disappointed that the picture has nothing to do with the story. :-(

  9. Sam says:

    Completely unrelated, but seeing Brütal Legend ads on RPS is bittersweet.

  10. Paul S says:

    Just think Alec; if you made that trip to the post office you could use a gamepad instead of a mouse… :D

    Relevant bit: MS do on occasion make / brand decent hardware. The old Sidewinder II Force Feedback is a thing of beauty. I stripped & remodelled mine for left-handed use. Ahh… happy MechWarrior 3 memories.

  11. wiper says:

    All this talk of new mice does nothing but sadden me – I just want them to make some new trackballs. Is that so much to ask?

  12. Disquete says:

    Option B sounds like some Nintendo DS games do. In fact if DS screens were about the size and resolution of a netbook I’d be in gaming heaven.

  13. arrr_matey says:

    There was an exhibition of alternative input devices for computers like mice and keyboards at the Vancouver Art Gallery one year and some of them were amazing.

    The one that stood out for me was a one-handed keyboard that allowed typists to get a ridiculous amound of speed in typing. The flipside was that it was all done through abstract button combinations (hold down ring finger and thumb to type “r” and things like that) so that it took a lot of memorization and skill to use. (can’t find picture or link for it)

    Most of the alternative devices never caught on because people just didn’t want to learn how to use something new. It’s a shame that we seem to crave new and improved software all the time, but can’t handle any changes to how we interface with that software. (my girlfriend refuses to use my ergonomic keyboard just because it’s “too slopy”)

    • Devan says:

      Was this the one-handed keyboard you saw?

    • Jon says:

      Or maybe it was this?
      I had have an AgendA, and although it did take an hour or so to learn it at first, when I did it was easy to get up to my normal typing speed.

  14. bill says:

    How I rode a Samsung tablet PC to retro role-playing nirvana – at ars technica:
    tablet PC + planescape torment + widescreen/high-res mod.

    I think the guy above has the right idea… multi-touch mousepad.
    It’s just not ergonomic to be touching the screen all the time (for games at least).

    Or, bascially, Wiimote.

    • Radiant says:

      Nice article.
      It’s so difficult trying to find a good touchscreen laptop.
      A lot is talked about it as it’s THE FUTURE! but in reality not a lot of laptop makers are selling really good tablets [that are multitouch and pen].
      Well not selling them for long in any case.

      The two I’ve seen are the Hp tx2 touchsmart series and the Dell Lattitude xt series.
      But it’s only really the xt that is featured enough to be worth the money.

      That samsung with the side keyboard looked interesting.

  15. DMJ says:

    While the humble mouse may be able to shoot the nose-hairs off a joypad user in a FPS, it is sadly lacking for, say, driving games. Lets give a moment of praise for Nintendo, for making what appears to be a genuine effort to innovate in the field of controllers.

  16. LionsPhil says:

    Yay, the comment system discards comments on error!

    Anyway: @Radient: Wacom Cintiq. Graphics tablet which is also a screen. Get bodging. (Winning the lottery first may be helpful.)

  17. SteelMilquetoast says:

    I still use an analog mouse with a rollerball, and I do fine in most games, even twitch shooters. These innovations: they are unnecessary.

  18. brulleks says:

    Let’s face it, all we really need is a trigger. A mouse button’s fine, but turn it on its side and let me squeeze my finger round it a bit more. That’ll do me for future-proofing.

  19. Cooper says:

    The mouse is an evil piece of Human Interface Design. Seemingly made with the sole aim of buggering up the nerves, muscles and tendons of those who use one regularly.

    Within ten years touch screen interfaces will be common place – and there won;t be a difficulty moving over. Sure, people are used to a mouse, but direct screen contact is much more intuitive. Also, in this timeframe gesture recognition without touch sensitivity or fancy wands will be on its way. The mouse is on its way out.

    The really interesting question is what (if anything) will replace the QWERTY keyboard.

    • Rostock says:

      Imagine having your screen in front of you and having to constantly press the screen, I’m sure that would fuck up your arm as well. Maybe the touch screen mouse mat will work well, but I really can’t see how the regular screen being turned into a touch device can be any better in the long run.

    • Rostock says:

      Sorry to come across as a bit of an arse, that was not my intention. What I mean however that I can’t possibly see how having a regular PC with a touch screen is in any way better. Tablets are a big improvement over mice, but also a bit clumsy.

  20. Owen says:

    >> Bugger touch-displays. Nothing beats tactile feedback
    I suspect that our kids, and certainly their kids, will look back on the mice we have nowadays with giggling disbelief.

    “So it was connected with a WIRE? And you just dragged in around on your desk?! Really Grandad?!”
    “Yes that’s right and our mice even had their own little mats”
    “he he, that’s SILLY Grandad”
    “Fancy a Wurhters?”
    “No thanks. I’ve just put a Nike insta-meal sticker on my arm”
    *sigh*

  21. Heliocentric says:

    I would like a really squashy mouse. Like rubber on the palm and foam on the fingers, but the fingers are actually analogue triggers with a little give on them. The sponginess of the fingers would actually be the triggers as opposed to tactile noise.

    • KP says:

      Probably not what you’re saying, but I’m thinking “Nerf mouse” like those Nerf Wii controllers. that would KICK ASS.

  22. Railick says:

    Is a single real button for shooting a dude in the face the best way to do it?

    To answer your question I will ask you another. Do guns have touch pads?

    • Sunjammer says:

      Do guns have mouse buttons and mouse wheels?

    • Railick says:

      That’s a silly question to ask Sunjammer , way to miss my point on purpose to make yourself seem more intelligent, thumbs up.

      However I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a mouse wheel type thing to a gun ;) Would make adjusting the range of the sights a lot easier.

    • Sunjammer says:

      No i honestly just don’t get what you’re implying. That triggers are “buttons” and as such a mouse is a better simulacra of the real life trigger-pulling experience? I’m not sure that line of thinking stands up to much scrutiny.

      It comes down to tactile feedback for me, whether its from a button, a responsive surface, a wheel, a rope you pull or whatever, i think the key sensation is that you physically carried out an action and an object changed as a response.

    • Railick says:

      Yes that was what I was implying that a single action, Ie. Clicking a mouse ,which gives a single response in the game , ie firing the gun, is the same as pulling the trigger on a real gun and getting a single response , the gun firing.
      Guns don’t have touch pads requiring gestures ect because it gets in the way of the required action, that is firing the gun. I don’t want anything to come in between me and the gun in the game. I don’t want to have make a gesture in the mouse or drive and find the right part of the screen to touch. I like being able to push a mouse, hear the button press, feel it , and know exactly when to hit it again to get a rapid fire action. I’ve used touch screens and touch pads, they are inaccurate and often miss input entirely if you try to do it to quickly. I can’t type for anything on an I-phone because my fingers are to fast and it causes a huge mess of letters to come out instead of the ones I actually pressed. DO NOT WANT On my mouse!
      I want my interface to be simple and low tech, something that works every time (unless it is broken for serious) As far as I can click my mouse my gun will fire or the point will click on the screen if I’m playing a point and click game or what have you. Just like I’m sure soldiers what a gun that will fire every time they pull the trigger as reliable as possible so when they’re life is in the line no piece of technology comes between them and survival.

    • Railick says:

      BTW I’m not seriously upset at your response or anything I was just giving you a hard time :P

  23. Sunjammer says:

    I demand tactile feedback. That is really what it comes down to for me. I can text someone BLINDFOLDED on my old nokia phone with one hand, but writing the most basic shit on an iphone is a total chore. The technology simply doesn’t lend itself well to muscle memory.

    If they can offer a tactapad-type interface that will actually provide some physical response to actions, i’ll be intrigued. I want to feel a meaningful impact of some sort.

    Frankly though, mice are shit. I’m a tablet user for life, have been for years, and i play games, FPSes, whatever, just wonderfully with my Intuos3.

  24. gulag says:

    I think they have missed a real trick here. Never mind building touch sensitivity into a mouse, much simpler to stick an altimeter into it. All of a sudden doing things like flicking your mouse up, or picking it up and rocking it side to side can be used to generate a whole range of additional functions on the desktop or in games.

    I’ll leave it to you folks to think of a few, but I’ll start with upward flick to reload, or lift and waggle to copy selected text as examples.

  25. Gabanski83 says:

    The thing with a touchscreen is that it needs to be quick, responsive and accurate. If there’s even a slight lag between what you’re trying to do on the touchscreen, and the actual action, then it’s all but useless for something requiring any sort of timing and precision, such as an FPS game.

  26. Sinnerman says:

    I want buttons that I can press down on that make a really nice clicking sound. It’s all my primitive monkey fingers can understand. I’ve not evolved to the next step of evolution like those superior Apple fans.

    More head tracking might be good though.

  27. IvsnHoeHo says:

    Agreed. never understood why driving games don’t have mouse look. in NfS: S , for example, instead of pressing some random button to look at the rear view mirror, why can’t I just flick my mouse a bit to look that way? Which is of course why I only use the gamepad for racing games now.

  28. Joseph says:

    I feel that there could definitely be a new, better, more awesome, possibly mouse like kind of hand interface device. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mice, especially optical/laser 5 button ones with scroll wheels. It does its job very well. But the feel of the thing… it IS a bit clunky, when you really think about it. Or when you don’t. FEEL IT. It’s clunky. There could be something better…

  29. Vinraith says:

    Mice are very much not broken, concentrate on fixing things that are. Touchscreens can go to hell.

  30. PC Monster says:

    RATTRAP!

    Alec, I love you.

  31. We Fly Spitfires says:

    I think mice will be replaced at some point in the future. Apart from anything else, they will probably cripple everyone with RSI and Carpal Tunnel by 2030.

  32. Starky says:

    Ah, the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”…

    It’s rubbish you know, just because something isn’t broken does not mean we should not seek to improve upon it.

    QWERTY isn’t broken, but it’s probably the least efficient keyboard layout of them all, given it wasn’t designed for efficiency or ergonomics, but to solve a mechanical/design problem on typewriters.

    The mouse is a massive cause of RSI, and while manufacturers are always trying to make them more ergonomic, and less stressful on the wrist, eventually a better solution should be found.

    I don’t think touch screens are it, I have a pretty decent tablet and while it’s okay to use I much prefer using my mouse for general computing.

    Honestly I think what Microsoft is doing with project natal is probably closer to the face of the future than what the Iphone is doing.

    • Vinraith says:

      In as much as mice are a cause of RSI, that aspect of them IS broken and DOES require fixing. Touch screens, however, are not a solution to that problem nor are they directed at that issue at all. They’re messy, imprecise, excessively delicate, smudgy devices that cause far more problem than they solve. Since they’re MORE broken than mice, I say do not fix that which is not broken about mice.

      As to QWERTY, that’s a bit of a larger problem. You have generation after generation of trained typist on this layout, changing it creates a lot of problems, even as it attempts to solve the inefficiency factor. I wouldn’t willingly give up my QWERTY keyboard, learning a new one would be far more effort for me than a new layout would save.

  33. Nerd Rage says:

    Anyone else remember the demo of that big coffee table thing Bill Gates did maybe… 2 years ago? Huge touch screen, you put your digital camera down on top of it, it automatically grabs all the pictures off the camera, put your Zune down it automatically syncs up ala iTunes, so on and so forth… Lots of pushing pictures around with a fingertip, enlarging them with a finger on opposing corners, your standard iPhone stuff really, but the point is that it wasn’t for gaming – not the way we use the term anyway. I believe they did have a card game demoed for the family to play, but it was really supposed to be a family-friendly multimedia fixture for your house, rather than a gaming system. I suspect this is the same deal. Still downloading the video though. So maybe I’m wrong.

    • Nerd Rage says:

      Wow, I completely misinterpreted what I read above. Should have watched the video first…

      This does look rather silly. I was imagining a mousepad sized touch screen.

  34. TheSombreroKid says:

    i think the key is backwards compatability all upgrades are increasingly backwards compatability dependant, mice have evolved over the years but only in ways that haven’t broken the traditional experience, if you can play starcraft with the new mouse it’ll probably take off.

  35. Radiant says:

    Obscura are doing some work on interactive displays:
    http://obscuradigital.com/work/interactive/hp_d5_conference

    Also used to do this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4Qd9tSMx6Y

    Although maybe not so fun in bright sunlight.

  36. Railick says:

    The only thing I could think of to replace a mouse is a metal interface you can place on your head that allows you to move the mouse and click with your mind. It would have to be very advanced technology through (I know they have so now but I have no idea how they work or if everyone can use them or only certain people can figure it out) But if they made it as natural as moving your hand around and clicking a mouse (IE sending impulses to your hand to do this) I think it could be a very effective replacement and it wouldn't cause any CTS or the line injuries. Could also replace the keyboard if you just had to think the word you want and it put it on the screen, still I think that kind of technology is a long long way off.

  37. Rei Onryou says:

    Alec definitely has the coolest toys.

  38. arrr_matey says:

    Yeah, it was that Microwriter one. I wished they had demos but they were all just locked in a case.

  39. TooNu says:

    It looks like a ZOID

  40. JonFitt says:

    He’s the greatest,
    He’s fantastic,
    Wherever there is danger he’ll be there,
    Future mouse,
    Future mouse,
    FUTURE MOUSE!

  41. Max says:

    I like tactile feedback too, but I ended up ditching my last mouse because the left mouse button became more and more difficult to press. After enough missed shots in TF2 because of it, I had to let it go. Touch interfaces wouldn’t have such problems.

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