Next-gen Apple mouse may dump scroll ball for touch housing

in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
One of the Apple fellows behind the company's multi-touch iPhone interface has shifted his attention to a next-generation mouse design that will forego the use of buttons or a scroll ball in favor of a touch-sensitive housing, a recent company filing has revealed.

In a December 6, 2006 patent filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, iPhone interface designer Brian Huppi describes a next-generation Apple mouse design method that is capable of switching between operational modes based on the way a user holds or grips the device's enclosures.

"The method generally comprises first sensing in which hand position the mouse is being held, each hand position indicating a corresponding mode of operation of the mouse," Huppi wrote. "If the mouse is being held in a first hand position, the mouse performs according to a first mode of operation, whereas if the mouse is being held in a second hand position, the mouse performs according to a second mode of operation."

The Apple interface designer said the first mode of operation may be a cursor control mode and the first operations on the display screen may be cursor movements on the display screen. The second mode, he continued, may be a pan and/or scroll control mode and the second operations on the display screen may be scrolling and/or panning movements on the display screen.

For example, Huppi in the illustrations accompanying the filing shows that when the mouse is held in its conventional form -- with the index finger somewhat centered near the upper housing and remaining fingers spread towards the sides -- it will function in cursor control mode. However, should the user shift their grip on the mouse downwards or engross the top housing with four fingers, it would shift into pan/scroll control mode.

As part of the invention, Huppi notes, the mouse is configured to provide command information, which informs the host system (Mac) as to which of the GUI movements (e.g., cursor or scroll/pan) to implement when the mouse is moved along the surface.

The Apple Mouse Held in Cursor Control Mode

"The command information is generally provided by a switch arrangement that is actuated by the user during manipulation of the mouse, i.e., the user may switch between cursor movements and scroll/pan movements," he wrote. "For example, the switch arrangement may activate the cursor movements when the hand is positioned proximate the modal areas and it may activate the scroll/pan movements when the hand is positioned away from the modal areas (or vice versa)."

The position of the modal areas relative to the mouse housing may be widely varied, Huppi added. "For example, the modal areas may be positioned almost anywhere (e.g., top, side, front, or back) on the mouse housing so long as they are accessible to a user during manipulation of the mouse."

The Apple Mouse Held in Pan/Scroll Mode

In one particular embodiment of the invention, the Apple designer said optical sensors are used. "In this embodiment, the optical sensors are located within the mouse housing, and the mouse housing has light passing portions close to the optical sensors that allow the optical sensors to work through the housing," he explained. "The light passing portions may be formed from a translucent or semi-translucent material or from a material that is filtered so as to allow only certain spectrums of light (e.g., infrared) therethrough."

The Apple Mouse Designs Sans Scroll Ball

Like Apple's existing Mighty Mouse, Huppi's invention calls for the device to include one or more concealed buttons that provide a clicking action for performing actions on the display screen. "By way of example, the actions may include selecting an item on the screen, opening a file or document, executing instructions, starting a program, viewing a menu, and/or the like," the filing states. "The buttons may be widely varied. For example, the buttons may be mechanical buttons that are disposed in the housing or a unified button/housing that incorporates the functionality of a button (or buttons) directly into the mouse housing."

The patent application, revealed for the first time Thursday, remains under review.


  • Reply 1 of 50
    Maybe I am just to fussy but I do not care for my mighty mouse because it lacks enough tactile feel. I can't see myself going for a mouse like this.
  • Reply 2 of 50
    While a cool use of technology, it's not exactly intuitive.
  • Reply 3 of 50
    emig647emig647 Posts: 2,455member
    Originally Posted by bigdaddyp View Post

    Maybe I am just to fussy but I do not care for my mighty mouse because it lacks enough tactile feel. I can't see myself going for a mouse like this.

    I agree! I'll stick to my Logitech G5, Thinking about a Logitech G7
  • Reply 4 of 50
    I can see some potential here, but it sounds like more work to move your hand into pan/scroll postition than just putting your finger on the scroll ball. Maybe it isn't explained well enough why you want these different operation modes instead of having them available at the same time without moving the hand.

    Personally, the Mighty Mouse is the best Apple mouse yet, but it still has it's problems as have all Apple mice. They are made to look good, not function well.
  • Reply 5 of 50
    ishawnishawn Posts: 364member
    I see this more as a solution to issues with the scroll ball. A really cool idea, but pretty far off.

    Lots of users are complaining about the scroll ball getting too dirty to work correctly. If fact, my Might Mouse won't activate the dashboard with its button because [assuming] it got too dirty too. I don't consider myself a very dirty person, but I'm not going to wash my hands each time I go to the computer. . .
  • Reply 6 of 50
    thetoethetoe Posts: 84member
    So... not all of Apple's product line is going touch-screen, eh?

    I suppose that while touch is great for tablets and phones, graphics pros on 30" screens may prefer an input device.


    End tyranny. End representative democracy.
  • Reply 7 of 50
    Hm... Well, I hope it works better than the Might Mouse. I was excited to buy mine when they first came out, but after using two different Mighty Mice, I have to say it's a very unreliable, often frustrating mouse.

    The only reason I think Steve hasn't yet thrown his Mighty Mouse at the designers is that he uses it in single-click mode without ever reaching for the scroll button
  • Reply 8 of 50
    It seems like the basic idea behind this is to mimic the cursor icons for pointing (an index finger up), and pan/scrolling (The hand with all 5 fingers outstretched)

    Sure it's a cool idea, but as was pointed out. It takes more effort to put your fingers in the appropriate position than to just move the scroll ball a little bit. I like the scroll ball, and I think it's the best feature of the mighty mouse. They definitely need to stick with it. If it gets dirty, just clean it!
  • Reply 9 of 50
    zzcoopzzcoop Posts: 28member
    Those are the ugliest hands I've ever seen!
  • Reply 10 of 50
    I wrote an article about that very topic over a month ago.
  • Reply 11 of 50
    Glad to see ET's hand-modeling career really start to take off.
  • Reply 12 of 50
    aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    Originally Posted by DeaPeaJay View Post

    If it gets dirty, just clean it!

    If only they let you. At some point, the ball WILL stop working beyond what a wipe with an alcohol swipe will cure. For me, that point is roughly every 6 months, when I complain and get another new Mighty Mouse free from Apple. I'm on my fourth.

    IMHO, you should be allowed to pop the cover off, remove the ball and clean the stuck spindles.
  • Reply 13 of 50
    I'll happily embrace a change to the current Mighty Mouse. I applaud the additional buttons, but the scroll ball isn't able to be cleaned. Once something gets in there, you basically toss the mouse or deal with a loss of that functionality.

    I believe there's a lot of room out there for touch screen mice. This is a new technology for the mouse so it's going to seem odd to a lot of us. I hope it's something that works better than the Mighty Mouse. If I could have the finger gestures on the new mouse similar to how the iPhone works with scrolling I'd buy it in a heart beat. There'll probably be a few features to them that we're completely not expecting.

    Anybody think this will be held for Leopard?
  • Reply 14 of 50
    The ONLY thing I like about the mighty mouse is that it has a short cord. All third party mice seem to have this wicked long cord for PCs that need the mouse to connect to the back of the computer instead of a nice short cord to connect to the keyboard instead.

    I get extremely frustrated using the Mightymouse, as it is way to easy to accidentally click with the side buttons, or have your finger resting in just the right position to right click, etc.

    The scroll ball is another mess. As a service provider, we exchange those buggers on a regular basis for customers. Apple has to see that there is such a high return rate on them to know they have to change something.
  • Reply 15 of 50
    tofinotofino Posts: 697member
    whatever it takes to get a working scroll mouse out of apple. as much as i love my mighty mouse, i'm tired of having flashbacks to the eighties every time i need to clean the silly little scroll button. it always seem to get stuck at the most inopportune moment. i've also often contemplated what kind of hands you need to make the side buttons work for you. buttons '4' are usually the first thing i turn off when i set up a mac.
  • Reply 16 of 50
    jce10jce10 Posts: 36member
    Originally Posted by aegisdesign View Post

    For me, that point is roughly every 6 months, when I complain and get another new Mighty Mouse free from Apple. I'm on my fourth

    That's funny because I've had my mighty mouse for a year and the scroll ball is still working fantastically. People always complain more than giving compliments so I thought I'd chip in.

    Keep hands clean. It's always a good idea anyway. I swear to god some people just don't care about personal hygiene. I'm a guy, and if you pay attention to what other people are doing (or not doing) in men's restroom, you'll think twice before shaking hands with a total stranger.
  • Reply 17 of 50
    Originally Posted by emig647 View Post

    I agree! I'll stick to my Logitech G5, Thinking about a Logitech G7

    Best mouse I ever had was a logitech marble mouse. Only reason I don't use it know is because its not wireless. I know its going to sound sacrilegious but I went back to my microsoft wireless mouse and keyboard because that mouse may have less functionality but has a better feel then the mighty mouse.
  • Reply 18 of 50
    You are lucky that you haven't yet had problems. One can only keep their work environment so clean. Eventually dust and grime will build up in the mouse. Unless you do daily cleanings, this will happen. Some people have sweatier hands than others, so it may happen more often to them.

    The design of the ball is such that when it does happen, there is no recourse. Back in the old days with ball mice, at least you could remove the ball and clean it. Here, you're simply screwed.
  • Reply 19 of 50
    Why can't they use optical technology in the scroll ball instead of the wheels, which are apparently getting stuck and dirty.

    I had an optical scroll ball mouse once, I don't remember dirt being a problem with it. I remember it had little markings on the ball, presumably for the optical sensor to use in tracking. Perhaps the scroll ball in the mighty mouse is too small for optical technology to work with it?
  • Reply 20 of 50
    louzerlouzer Posts: 1,054member
    I've always felt the mighty mouse as a whole was a solution looking for a problem. Apparently Apple is the only company out there who thinks that having two specific buttons is a major headache/design flaw, and building a mouse as a big button that depends on finger location to know left or right click was the cure.

    And the ball is another "Look what we can do different!" feature that solved the never-ending problem of scroll-wheel reliability/usability.

    Apple just needs to stop always putting design and form over function. I mean, the macbook pro looks nice and all, but couldn't they make it a little clunkier but easy to replace the harddrive???
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