Minimalism. It’s what Apple’s good at. Today this company needs no introduction. Their designs are beautiful. Simple. Clean. We are all aware of that.
Therefore, today we’re celebrating minimalism. Specifically, the Apple Magic Mouse. The original one. Although the latter celebration might be short-lived.
Apple was already well-known for their touch game in 2009. The iPhone, the iPod Touch, the MacBook with its amazing trackpad. But they had one more
thing trick up their sleeve — the original Magic Mouse. A pointing device that was heavily based on touch gestures. And boy did they raise some eyebrows when they unveiled it. It was sleek. It was simple. It was minimal. However, as it turned out, there was a reason no other company considered that design for their mice.
I suppose the idea sounds lovely in the idealistic world. A beautiful device you interact with naturally. Swipe, tap, flick. The user and the product, working in tandem, working as one. Isn’t that the ultimate industrial designer’s dream?
It’s difficult to describe how pretty this product is. It’s symmetrical in two axes, with a curved, transparent sheet of hard plastic that makes the mouse look… Organic. It’s reminiscent of a water droplet that has landed on a beautifully shaped piece of aluminium. It being wireless declutters the device completely. There’s truly nothing left to take away.
However, as we learned from the Pressure Balance article, design is not just what we can see. And what we can’t see when we look at the Magic Mouse is not so great. It comes equipped with a laser tracker which is rated at 1300dpi, but feels more like 600dpi — it’s slow. It only has one button, meaning that customisability is very limited, and features like the “middle click” just aren’t there. It’s clear that Apple has sacrificed some of the function to satisfy their form fetish.
This might get ugly… Let’s begin with the basics. The ergonomics. A mouse is a device you hold in your hand, sometimes eight hours a day, multiple days in a row. The Magic Mouse is small. It’s got sharp edges. It’s uncomfortable. The mouse relies heavily on gestures due to the lack of buttons. But that’s not a viable alternative, unfortunately. Let’s make an experiment. Make a fist with you palm facing down and extend your middle and index fingers. Now move the two fingers from side to side. Do you feel the strain? It’s because this movement is not natural. Your fingers were designed to curl, not to shift sideways. Every gesture you make moves the mouse pointer on the screen as it’s nearly impossible to keep the mouse steady while performing these acrobatics. That’s why mice come with buttons. Easy to press, easy to hold, natural movements. Now for the tracking speed. Prepare to cover some desk miles, because you will be wiggling the mouse like a maniac. It’s very slow, even with all the settings maxed out. It only results in more strain on your hand.
Enough with the criticisms. As an industrial designer I feel the need to fix design problems. One of them is rectifying the bad ergonomics without horribly disfiguring the original design. First of all, the mouse needs to be somewhat bigger. The user’s hand has to rest while holding it. This could be achieved in a couple of ways — by increasing the height of the arc or by scaling the whole body up. This creates more room for buttons that could be placed on the side of the mouse. Precision machined aluminium buttons that protrude ever so slightly would look neat and make many users that much happier. Lastly, add a three-finger-tap gesture for the middle mouse button function to complete the experience.
I’m sure Apple isn’t satisfied with this design. They simply can’t be.
It’s a failed product. The fact that Apple has released a revised model of the mouse and changed nothing about its bad ergonomics puzzles me even more. That’s why I see designers with MacBooks and Magic Mice on their desks subconsciously ignoring it and using trackpads instead. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, it’s a pleasure to look at. But must we sacrifice the functionality and our comfort just to have something nice in our workspaces? Is that the kind of minimalism Apple is striving for? If that’s the case, I’d rather have a pot of IKEA’s fake grass on my desk…
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