How Microsoft made the Touch Mouse

Touch mouse

SIZE IS EVERYTHING: The gestures you can make on a mouse are limited by the size available - the Touch Mouse is big enough for most hands

The signal processing that the mouse does can encode lots of individual points on the touch surface at the same time but, as he put it, even though the touch surface goes almost to the very edge of the mouse "we have a real limitation with space and with your hand."

You can turn off gestures you don't use and switch the mouse to be left or right handed, but you can't make up your own gestures.

"We spent a lot of time optimising the gesture set so you can do these three different functions. Given the amount of time it took us to nail this experience," he suggests it might not be easy to design your own unique gesture that won't be mistaken for anything else. "You don't want to have the crosstalk problem: is it this gesture or is it that gesture?"

The future for the Touch Mouse

The team is thinking about more ways to use the multi-touch sensors, though. "We've thought about the authentication aspect," Benko told us enthusiastically; the way you move your fingers is often unique enough to identify you, so just gesturing on the mouse could be enough to log you in or load preferences for a different user if someone else uses your mouse.

"It would be really cool to do simple things - like we can totally detect handedness and we could switch the settings automatically. It would be really interesting - but at this point we're still nailing the basic experience. We want to come out with a great experience at launch."

Now that the Touch Mouse is almost done (it will be on sale in May), Benko's team is experimenting with what else they can do with multi-touch. "We've built some different mice with this type of sensor," he told TechRadar, mentioning one particularly intriguing idea we hope we get to see at CES 2012. "We've wrapped the capacitive surface around a pen and used it as a sensor."


Liked this? Then check out The idea that clicked: a history of the mouse

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Mary (Twitter, Google+, website) started her career at Future Publishing, saw the AOL meltdown first hand the first time around when she ran the AOL UK computing channel, and she's been a freelance tech writer for over a decade. She's used every version of Windows and Office released, and every smartphone too, but she's still looking for the perfect tablet. Yes, she really does have USB earrings.