Apple's "Magic Mouse" - just sleight of hand?

Apple recently released their latest mouse. It's a smooth, minimal design, connected via bluetooth, but of particular significance it claims to be "the world's first Multi-Touch mouse". But how good is it in practice. Do the multi-touch features enhance usability? Does it break Apple's curse when it comes to mouse designs (historically they tend to suck)?

There are many reviews of the Magic Mouse springing up over the internet already - on both professional and personal sites, as you would expect. However using a mouse is such a subjective experience that I feel there is still some value in presenting my own experience so far with it. Not least becausea fair amount of controversy surrounds it

One button to rule them all

Apple are often criticised, if not ridiculed, for only supporting a single mouse button. In fact that is not true and Macs have supported multi-button mice by default since at least the mid-90s, and through third-party drivers since long before then. What they have continued to do until only relatively recently is to ship with only a single button mouse, and advocate that all features should be accessible with only the single button.

In 2005 Apple released the Mighty Mouse, first in wired form, then a year later with a Bluetooth variant. This added not just one extra button - but three (for a total of four)! Unfortunately this mouse had problems - most notably in the very area that it appeared to have finally caught up in! To perform a right click you had to lift your left finger, or else the click was interpreted as a left click! There were also other criticisms, such as the ball clogging with dirt frequently.

Since it was Apple who first popularised the use of a mouse for personal computing, it seems odd that for many years now most discerning Mac users eschew Apple's own mice for third-party devices - usually Logitech. Originally the main reason was the lack of extra buttons, but more recently the implementation of multiple buttons has been badly executed. So the release of the Magic Mouse has been met with much hope that Apple have finally got it right - but have they?

Almost but not quite

Sadly the right-click problem is still there. If your left finger is touching the mouse during a right click then a left click event is fired. If, having read this you are ready to give up in disgust, please read on. Personally I have found this to be not as much of an issue as I thought it would be, and by getting past this sticking point I have been able to enjoy the nicer features this new device has to offer.

First, the USP for the new mouse is its multi-touch ability. Now this is not as fully featured as an iPhone screen, or the newest Macbook Pro/Air trackpads, but since this is in addition to traditional mouse features it's a good first step. At it's most basic it replaces the scroll-ball of the Mighty Mouse, offering full 360 degree scrolling by dragging or flicking (just like on an iPhone screen). Scroll-ball diehards fail to see what the fuss is about, but if you've never liked scroll-balls much, and if you're already used to the iPhone way of doing things, this new surface is very nice indeed. In addition to basic scrolling a two finger swipe left or right invokes the back and forward buttons of a browser, respectively. These gestures are a little more awkward at first, but are still useable. It would have been nice if pinch-to-zoom had been available too, but I suspect that would require a more advanced touch surface to work reliably.

Size matters

What about the form factor. This is another highly individual area. If you're used to the ergonomic styles of many of the Logitech mice, which fill the cup of your hand, you may find the Magic Mouse to be small and cramped. Moving from such a Logitech device myself I did notice the difference, but don't find it a problem. I think the differentiating factor is how long you tend to be tied to the mouse. I can imagine that if you are a graphics designer, or someone who spends the majority of their time with their hand on the mouse, the advantage of an ergonomic design become significant. As a developer I'm generally more keyboard oriented. Switching from mouse to keyboard frequently, if anything, is easier with the smaller design as I only tend to touch the mouse with my finger-tips.

Despite being much smaller than my Logitech, the Magic Mouse is roughly the same weight. This is not unusual since the Logitech I have is a wired mouse. As a wireless device, the Magic is probably at the lighter end of the spectrum - but not so light that it feels flimsy. The weight seems just about right - any lighter and the multi-touch gestures would likely knock the mouse around.

Batteries included

Another criticism of the Magic Mouse is that it takes AA batteries, with no integral charging facility. Obviously rechargeable batteries can be used but then it is up to you to take them out and charge them separately. For a mouse with this form factor I think it would be tricky to get the charging circuitry in too - but I could be wrong. It remains to be seen whether this is a real issue or not. I've had battery powered mice before they've been a minor inconvenience, but then so have those with their own chargers - remembering to dock them all the time. Again this is a very subjective experience

Magic or curse?

So is this the Apple mouse that's finally worth getting? Well it seems this question is tougher to answer than before. It still has the right-click problem, and it has a number of other possible downsides too. However the extent and merits of each are highly subjective, and you may be surprised yourself at the experience. Therefore the only conclusion is to try it for yourself. Fortunately they are readily available for testing out in Apple stores around the world.

Personally I'm really enjoying the experience. The scrolling works well and it feels good for my usage patterns. The right-click problem is less of an issue than I thought it would be. Your Magic May Vary.

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