Apple hauls mouse technology into 1990s

Three-buttoned beastie unleashed

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If you thought Apple's decision to adopt Intel processors was a sign of a seismic shift at the Mac maker, today's announcement of a new mouse will really rattle the continents: it's got more than one button.

Yes, while the rest of the computing world has long since adopted mice with at least two buttons and a scroll wheel, Apple has insisted on sticking to single-button pointers, forcing users to adopt kludgey solutions like holding down the Control key to activate on-screen contextual menus.

No longer. The Mighty Mouse - as Apple's calling it - provides two buttons on the top, horizontal and vertical scroll controls, and two further buttons on the sides.

Now here's the clever bit: the top buttons are touch-sensitive devices built into the rodent's casing. The scroll control comes from a ball built into the upper surface of the mouse - a kind of modern answer to the trackballs of old. Press the ball and squeeze either side of the mouse and you activate buttons three and four.

Implementing the left and right buttons through touch sensors is smart in one sense at least: you can set the mouse to operate as a single-button job if you prefer. Apple's record on touch-sensitive switches is not great, as any Cube owner will tell you - it's the only computer that turns on without you actually pressing the button - and some users may rather have the positive feedback given by a physical switch.

Trackballs, like old-fashioned ball-controlled mice, suffer from finger-grease, dust and fluff, so it will be interesting to see how Apple has designed the Mighty Mouse to cope with these tracking hazards. However, since it's used solely for scrolling rather than pointer control, the small ball is inherently less sensitive to these problems than trackballs were.

Then there's the price: "just" $49/£35 seems a little steep for a mouse - particularly one that isn't wireless. A decent Logitech or - dare we say it? - Microsoft optical job can be had for less than half that. In any case, the Mighty Mouse goes on sale later today. ®

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