These days, the big-brains up in Redmond are hot in pursuit of the Next Big Thing in interface design. Recently, they have shown us Project Natal, a pressure-sensitive keyboard, and Windows 7’s built-in support for multi-touch applications. The same teams behind those innovations are busy trying to create “Mouse 2.0“–a multi-touch mouse.
Multi-touch mice, eh? With laptops ascendant, touchscreens multiplying, and stuff like Natal on the horizon, isn’t it barking up the wrong tree to be putting this stuff on a mouse? A little bit, but not entirely. The mouse is still the standard interface for probably 90% of computers out there, and if they can improve it, they can both extend the life of the decades-old device and introduce multi-touch controls softly into both the OS and the user’s mind. If Microsoft can make a device that is as easy to use as a normal mouse, but with the added benefit of multi-touch (I see the Cap mouse doing this in the shortest time), people will eat it up, provided it’s not too expensive.
At any rate, it’s projects like this that push the boundaries of input technology. If multi-touch mice aren’t a hit, there were advances made and experiments done that will enable or ease other advanced input techniques.
Good points. But one additional grand strategic point is worth bearing in mind: For the last ten years or so, we’ve been in an innovation trough when it comes to interface design. That is, all computers and mobile devices, regardless of make, have shared pretty similar interfaces—mice and keyboards. Touchscreens, inaugurated by the iPhone, have busted things wide open, and additional advances in gestural interfaces have further opened the field.
It’s now the Wild West–It’s anyone’s guess as to what the particulars of interface design will be, even five years from now. A lot of those capabilities will ultimately rest on software platforms. And if you own the patent on whatever interface people eventually prefer–well, that begins sounding awfully like Microsoft’s tried-and-true strategy of dominating OS standards.
Is Microsoft viewing interface design as a new way of jumping back into a position of software leadership? After losing so much ground to Apple, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
For more images and video of the five new mice in action, check out Gizmodo.