Apple Magic Mouse: A Touch of Magic?

In 2005, Apple released the first Mighty Mouse. A year later a bluetooth version was released. As much as we appreciate Apple’s attempt to creating a good looking mouse, the Mighty Mouse was heavily criticized for its usability – right click was awkward and the scrolling wheel was difficult to keep clean. How many times did we bang our heads because the wheel had stopped working?

The future of Apple’s mouse family is all of a sudden looking brighter with the introduction of the new Magic Mouse. If you are inline with Apple’s design philosophy, you would love the hardware design of the Magic Mouse – it’s simple, and it’s beautiful. The Mighty Mouse was a great piece of design with only a visible scrolling wheel on the top surface, the Magic Mouse takes one step further and presents you with one clean, curved top surface. From purely the appearance perspective, the Magic Mouse is absolutely breathtaking.

Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

The Power and the Connectivity

The Magic Mouse consumes two AA batteries. Bundled with the Magic Mouse are two Energizer alkaline batteries. The Mighty Mouse used to (at least for a while) bundle with two Energizer lithium batteries which offer longer battery life and significant lighter weight. I wish Apple had done the same with the Magic Mouse, because even though is very small, actually weights a bit. Having lithium batteries will help reduce the movement resistance and will therefore offer more responsive feedback.

Bluetooth mice have always had problems with regards to the connectivity. The Magic Mouse, when paired with a Mac, offers almost seamless integration. I say ‘almost’ because as smooth as the connection between the mouse and the Mac is, sometimes the mouse would not connect after the Mac woke up from sleep. Having said that, when it does work, the pairing happens almost instantly! The Magic Mouse is by far the most responsive bluetooth mouse I have ever used.

Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

The Ergonomics

Let’s be honest, a lot of things, such as cars, are not often practical if they look really good. The Magic Mouse obviously isn’t an exception. The question is, how much trade off is there? Or in other words, is it worth trading the loss of ergonomics with the good looking?

The short answer is, yes.

When I ordered the Magic Mouse, I did not expect much. In fact, I can safely say that I only ordered it to see what the fuss is about. I was fully expecting to have a sore wrist after extensive uses, but that did not happen. After three full days of usage, I am beginning to like the feel of the mouse. Sure, it doesn’t have the grip because it’s very flat, but by some appropriate amount of adjustment to my mouse handling technique, I am now used to it.

The trick is to not try to grab the mouse, but to lightly rest your two mouse fingers on the mouse surface. Secure the mouse by holding it with your other three fingers. Your palm should not touch the surface of the mouse.

Magic Mouse

Magic Mouse

Multi-touch and Gestures

Apart from the look, if I had to choose one thing I love about the Magic Mouse, it would be the scrolling. We are all so used to scrolling wheels, I am actually very surprised that the wheel-less multi-touch surface worked so well. A gentle swipe on the surface would scroll the content horizontally or vertically, with momentum (which can be turned off in the preferences panel). In applications such as Photoshop, you can move your finger on the mouse surface to move the content around – something a traditional scrolling wheel cannot do, and a Mighty Mouse scrolling wheel sucks at.

The scrolling gesture does not come without side effects though. For instance, because you rest your fingers on the surface, sometimes a slight, accidental move will trigger the scrolling. Also, because the scrolling is so smooth, it does not work very well in situations such as scroll between browser tabs (this is especially noticeable when momentum is turned on).

Oh, and because there is no physical scrolling wheel, we also don’t get a middle button (a function that is often provided by a scrolling wheel on a modern computer mouse).

Gestures

Gestures

If you use Firefox/Safari with a mouse gesture plugin, or if you use Opera, you are already familiar with the power of mouse gestures. I for one cannot live without it – holding down the right mouse button and dragging to the left to go back to the previous page – this is something that is so regularly used and a lot of times I wouldn’t even realize its importance until I don’t have that functionality (e.g. when using other people’s computers).

Using Magic Mouse, the mouse gestures become even more powerful because we can now swipe two fingers, it essentially doubles the amount of gestures we could use. Although admittedly, the two-finger swiping isn’t as easy as it sounds. Due to the way we hold the mouse (remember, we don’t grab the mouse, but hold it lightly with our three fingers), sometimes it becomes a challenge to perform two-finger swipes and to keep the mouse from moving side ways.

At the time of writing, the version 1.0 of the Magic Mouse software still has some issues and lacks some features. For instance, the tracking speed is extremely slow, you need to install MouseZoom to speed the tracking speed up to an acceptable state (especially for higher resolution monitors). Also there are not enough built-in two-finger gestures as there are for the Macbook trackpad for the time being, although it is logical to assume that Apple is working on improving the mouse software.

Below you can see the list of gestures available for the Macbook trackpad and for the Magic Mouse:

Preferences: Trackpad

Preferences: Trackpad

Preferences: Magic Mouse

Preferences: Magic Mouse

And by installing MouseZoom, you could speed the tracking speed up considerably.

Preferences: MouseZoom

Preferences: MouseZoom

The Gestures for the Pioneers

No doubt Apple will be enhancing the mouse software to make it more useful, and it is likely that some vendors will be looking at incorporating multi-touch gestures to their software too. However, for the time being, there is something we could do to make the Magic Mouse a tad more useful.

I present you, MultiClutch, by William Henderson. To quote the author’s explanation on what MultiClutch does:

Basically, MultiClutch allows you to assign custom keyboard shortcuts in a given app to a given gesture. Want swipes to change tabs in Safari? Done. The same in iChat? Done. Want zoom-in to open emails in Mail, zoom-out to close windows in every app, and a swipe down to bring up Quicksilver? Done done done.

Installing MultiClutch is very easy – download the file, extract it, double click to install to System Preferences, and you will be presented the following screen:

Install InputManager

Install InputManager

Click “Continue and Install” to complete the installation. You may now assign keyboard shortcuts to a number of gestures:

MultiClutch

MultiClutch

The solution isn’t perfect, but it does what it supposed to do and does it quite well.

The Verdict

After years of frustration with the Mighty Mouse, Apple has finally produced a device that lives up to their high standards (and our expectations). If you are still worried about the ergonomics, I urge you to try one out in a store.

The Good

  • Great design
  • Excellent build quality
  • Can easily fit in your laptop bag
  • Very responsive
  • Scrolling is fantastic
  • Multi-touch gestures could lead to many creative uses
  • Fast Bluetooth pairing

The Bad

  • A bit heavy for such a small mouse
  • Ergonomics can take some time to get used to
  • Scrolling can have side effects
  • No middle button
  • Multi-touch gestures support is limited for now
  • Clicking the right button requires lifting the finger off the left button
  • The fancy stuff do not work on Windows/Linux (yet)

I hope you enjoyed reading this review. In any case, please go out and try it out yourself if you haven’t already. Seeing is believing!