Hands On With the New Microsoft Touch Mouse Family

Last week Unplggd was given the opportunity to meet with some of the Microsoft team to get a preview of their latest accessory, the Touch Mouse — Microsoft’s first multi-touch mouse — scheduled to come out mid-August. Alongside the touch-capable mouse, we were able to experience the rest of the Microsoft Touch family, including the Microsoft Arc and Explorer Mouse. After the jump we can let you in on the experience and what we’ve learned about the mouse which should be a welcomed addition to Windows 7 users who are craving a multitouch experience.

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The Touch Mouse was born from a research project Microsoft began 2 years ago titled Mouse 2.0 which started investigating the possibilities and benefits of multitouch technology with mice. From that study, Microsoft began moving towards designing their first multitouch mouse. They approached the project with the goal to create a multitouch capable mouse which was simple yet did not compromise on the experience. They teamed up with industrial designer Chris Kujawski to create an ergonomically sensitive mouse which provided enhanced touch functionality.

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After much prototyping (some of which you can see in the image gallery above) they discovered that the 23 degree slope on the front of the mouse was the sweet spot for an angle to comfortably fit in the palm of one’s hand, coupled with the flatness needed to let the fingers engage easily with the surface. Another consideration with the design was to wrap the multitouch sensor around to the sides of the mice in order to involved the thumb in the gestures.

The paint finish is a flat matte so when using the mouse for long periods of time the surface doesn’t get smudged or oily. There is a laser etched pattern on the mouse which indicates where the touch sensor is. This provides subtle texture for the fingers to glide across and sense when a gesture will be recognized or when it won’t. Another obvious feature in the design of the mouse is a slit going down the center. Don’t be confused, this does not delineate two separate buttons — the Touch Mouse is after all, a single button mouse — but it is placed there to give users a familiar scroll wheel sensation. This was a feature added by Microsoft after user testing when people felt “lost” without one.

We’re on the fence about these last two design features. Although we can see the benefit of both, we think they clutter the design. For one, we don’t see anyone ever trying to use the rounded part of the mouse as a touch surface and we found the etched slit to be annoying when we were using other multi touch gestures. It interrupted the otherwise smooth movement of our fingers and being early adopters of Apple’s Magic Mouse notorious for its smooth surface, we found it unnecessary.

The gestures are fairly standard... nothing revolutionary in that department. They are not customizable. Microsoft instead wants a standardized gesturing language across all of their mice so each experience is the same. There are also visual cues that play small animations alongside your cursor when you perform a gesture so the user knows they did one successfully, even if their gesture didn’t perform any action (ie. if you try to snap a window to the left when you have no windows open.) Microsoft will be releasing the touch API so designers will be able to create software better integrating the touch technology.

  • One finger scrolls in any direction
  • Swiping your thumb along the side of the mouse goes back and forth in a window (helpful for internet navigation or picture viewing)
  • Two fingers side-to-side will snap whatever window you have selected to the side of the screen.
  • Two fingers up and down will maximize or minimize windows.
  • Three fingers up will bring up a Mac Expose-like interface which will display all of your windows for you.

And we’ll briefly mention Microsoft’s Explorer mouse which will round out the touch family for the moment. This mouse is the least expensive version of the three and will feature a five button mouse where the central panel is touch sensitive. There are three customizable buttons within that central panel. It will also be the only mouse to come in a variety of colors.

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The Touch Mouse is obviously a much needed addition to the Windows experience being the first of its kind to hit market, well behind Apple’s Magic Mouse. It’s hard not to make comparisons to the mice since they do attempt to do very similar things. Although we believe Microsoft’s new mouse is possibly the most attractive mouse they’ve released to date, after comparing the Touch with the Apple Magic Mouse, this device still falls a bit short beyond the aesthetics department.

We appreciate how Apple has taken care to design products so they seem to fit together cohesively as a group and we don’t get that sense from the Touch Mouse. On the other hand, the Touch Mouse feels ergonomically satisfying and users might gravitate towards that design even more. The gestures will require a bit of a learning curve which is to be expected, and we predict basic scrolling and back/forth thumb motions will be adopted by nearly every user, but more advanced two-finger/three-finger gestures will be mostly used by a select few Windows power users, as they’re not so intuitive. Annoyingly the Touch Mouse is only compatible with Windows 7. But other than those few things, we think this is an excellent mouse (as well as the rest of the series) which we can see many people buying into. We really look forward to Microsoft releasing the API for the gestures and hopefully some really inventive applications will be designed around them.

Price list:
Microsoft Explorer Mouse: $49
Microsoft Arc Mouse: $59
Microsoft Touch Mouse: $79

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