Apple unveils multibutton mouse -- without the buttons

Apple Computer today unveiled a new computer mouse that offers four-button functionality, but because it's touch-sensitive, it acts like the traditional one-button mouse the company has long favored. It also offers a small scroll ball that allows a user to scroll in any direction through documents and photos.

The new Mighty Mouse, which retails for US$49 and is available now, works with PCs running Windows 2000 and Windows XP as well as Apple's own hardware. It connects using a Universal Serial Bus cable. No wireless version is available, and the mouse is sold separately. It isn't being bundled with Apple's desktop computers.

Other hardware companies have offered multifunction mice and input devices for years. Asked what took Apple so long to release a multibutton mouse -- something Macintosh users have long clamored for -- David Moody, Apple's vice president of worldwide Macintosh product marketing, said the company wanted to offer something that could be used as either a traditional single-button mouse or a multibutton device.

"When you look at pictures of it, it looks just like a mouse with a small scroll ball," Moody said. "It's as easy to use as Apple's original single-button mouse. There's plenty of multibutton mice on the market today, but they compromise design to get the functionality. We wanted to give customers a way to use their mouse as either a single-button mouse or multiple-button mouse."

Scott Brodrick, Apple product manager, Mighty Mouse product marketing, praised "the simplicity of the original design," which he said was important in creating the new mouse.

"It has a seamless shell," Brodrick said. "You can click anywhere [near the front of] the top shell and use it as the button. That's true of left-handed users as well as right-handed users, kids and adults."

He said capacitive sensors under the front part of the mouse's shell determine where a user's finger is. Depending on how the user programs the mouse, either side of the mouse's top can serve as a primary or secondary click -- which most users know as a "right-click."

"I refer to it as the 'secondary click,' because as a left-handed user, you can reverse the buttons," Brodrick said. "That's a nice feature that's exposed by virtue of having the sensors under there and by the [hardware] preference pane. It works for all kinds of users. And if you don't want to have access to those additional features then you can use it as a single-button mouse."

He also praised the small scroll ball on top of the mouse, which in addition to scrolling vertically and horizontally can scroll diagonally.

"Today's mice often use a scroll wheel, which is designed to scroll vertically," Brodrick said. "The latest versions of those can tilt the wheel, which is not optimal. The scroll ball allows you to scroll in any direction. That's great for applications such as iPhoto or Photoshop. You might want to scroll around anywhere in a photo."

The scroll ball can also be pressed, serving as a button that by default launches the Dashboard feature in Mac OS X Tiger. Two side buttons serve as the fourth button and are set by default to launch the operating system's Expose window management feature when pressed. Those functions can be changed, however, to launch applications.

"The integration with Mac OS X makes Mighty Mouse work well," Brodrick said.

Although the mouse can be used with earlier versions of the Mac operating system, full functionality requires Mac OS X 10.4.2.

"It also works with Windows 2000 and Windows XP, with the standard driver installed with those operating systems," he said. "You don't get the configurability, but it will work as multibutton scrolling mouse on that platform."

Apple officials also used today's announcement to tout the popularity of "widgets" that have been offered by third-party developers to work with Dashboard. Widgets are small programs similar to the desk accessories once offered in earlier versions of Apple's operating system.

"We're really happy about the momentum," said Chris Bourden, Apple's senior product line manager, Mac OS X Product Marketing. "We now have more than 1,000 widgets in a little bit more than three months. Developers have been hard at work, [and] it's not just quantity. There's a lot of really great widgets. We have some great stuff from major news organizations, [such as] from the Weather Channel. You can get all sorts of weather information. Yahoo has made a traffic widget for local traffic reports. There's a lot of creative innovate things being made.

"It's a mode of using your computer that has gone unfilled until now," Bourden said.

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