I have tried to refrain from talking about them for this long, but for some reason, my urge to talk about something Apple related has risen to the top of the agenda. Being a consumer of their products, and also in the position of used both them and Microsoft operated pieces of technology, I am one of the people who can compare them with knowledge of both sides. However, this post is not going to be a Mac versus PC argument, there are millions of them on the interweb somewhere, and nomatter what anyone says, people will fight.
What I am going to discuss however is a piece of Apple hardware which has split opinion throughout the masses, one which people will refuse to use, yet others love it, it is the humble Mighty Mouse, but one part of it in particular, more on that later. The Mighty Mouse (possibly named after the cartoon character of the same name, I don’t know), was introduced to replace the Apple Pro Mouse, and was the first mouse produced by Apple with more than one button, a trademark of which lasted since the Lisa II in 1983. However despite it having more buttons, the exterior did not reflect this as it uses touch sensitive areas on the top and on the side, which allowed the design to be beautifully understated, like a bar of soap, or a lozenge. People, in general, love the look of it despite many arguing that it is not ergonomic enough to use for prolonged periods of time. I personally have never had any problems with it in this area, the buttons are all in the right place and the shape isn’t too much of a problem.
The one area which has drawn controversy amongst the masses is in regard to the scroll ball. That’s right, ball, not wheel, 360° movement instead of the linear direction provided by the wheel. The ball allows the user, to scroll left and right as well as up and down on the screen, application dependent, to save having to move the mouse to the bottom of the active window and pressing one of the directional arrows. So far, so good. This is where the problem comes in though. On a normal scroll wheel mouse, the wheel has ‘spokes’ and when it is turned, the spokes break an infrared beam (or something similar) inside the casing, this is transferred to an electrical signal, sent to the computer and shown on screen as movement. The way in which the mouse picks up the movement is not a physical connection. On the Mighty Mouse however, the ball is essentially in a cradle, and 4 rollers are pressed against it, these pick up the x and y directional movements, converts them to an electrical signal and so on.
It is this electrical connection which is causing all the bother, after a period of time, a layer of grime builds up on the rollers and eventually doesn’t come into full contact with the ball, meaning that the movement is no longer picked up in one or all of the directions rendering the function basically useless. Most people now would throw the peripheral away and buy a new one, but there are some methods of cleaning it such as turning it upside down and rolling the ball on a piece of paper, or for the more adventurous/technologically minded, carefully take it apart and clean the rollers by hand. Both are not ideal but they do the job fine, and I don’t mind doing either one bit so I would just say peoples thoughts on the scroll ball were opinion not a through and through design flaw.
Taking the stance that is in the majority, that it is a flaw, what could the design team at Apple do to rectify the problem? Increase the size of the scroll ball and rollers, making them more rugged? Probably not, because for one the problem would most likely return, only later than it does now. Utilise a normal scroll wheel? Of course not, that isn’t the way Apple thinks, they are not where they are by taking what is already there, they innovate, try and improve on things. Finally they could have gotten rid of the ball altogether and not used anything, the way their mice used to be. That wouldn’t solve anything, apart from giving the PC users more ammunition to use against the Mac followers.
What would I do as a designer in training? I would do one of two things. The first one being something similar to a trackpad on a laptop, but with the portability of a mouse, a stand alone trackpad, which had the movement laser underneath, and on the top, the trackpad itself could be used with the renowned gestures that feature on new Apple laptops and on the iPhone and iPod Touch. The second possibility would be to remove the scroll ball altogether from the mouse, but not move the feature completely from the device, instead the touch sensitive areas would also be used to track finger movement across the top of it in all directions. The only problem with that one being that many users may accidentally scroll when they are resting their fingers on it.
That’s my solution, we will just have to wait and see to what Apple come up with, if and when they come to update their mouse.