In spite of its novelty factor, Windows 7's multitouch capability faces some major hurdles to mass adoption. Touch-screen displays aren't exactly ubiquitous, and few serious PC users would consider reaching out across a desk to touch their displays for any real length of time. It seems Microsoft is tackling both issues with a series of prototype touch-capable mice it unveiled today.
The five mice prototypes come from Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group, which will be presenting a paper on the mice at this week's User Interface Software and Technology Conference in British Columbia, Canada. Microsoft already announced a pressure-sensitive keyboard at the UIST back in August.
For the mice, Microsoft has five different designs to demonstrate. We'll hand off the description chores to Microsoft's PR department:
FTIR (Frustrated Total Internal Reflection) Mouse: FTIR Mouse is a mouse design that uses the principle of frustrated total internal reflection and a built-in camera to sense user's touches on top of an arc-shaped piece of acrylic.
Orb Mouse: The Orb Mouse uses a hemispherical surface with an IR-sensitive camera for multitouch capabilities. This design provides an easy-to-grip form-factor and the constant curvature of the shape ensures that the user's fingers are comfortable, with a smooth gradient while moving from side to side and front to back. The Orb Mouse lets all fingers and the whole hand be engaged in multitouch interactions.
Cap (capacitive) Mouse: The Cap Mouse tracks the position of multiple fingers on its surface through the use of a flexible matrix of capacitive-sensing electrodes just under the top surface of the mouse. The Cap Mouse is compact, uses little power, and is insensitive to ambient lighting conditions.
Side Mouse: Side Mouse is designed to rest under the user's palm and it allows the fingers to touch the table surface directly in front of the device to create a multitouch area that is not restricted to the physical surface of the device. The mouse senses the proximity of the user's fingers as they touch the table surface instead of the mouse. Side Mouse is capable of larger sizes of extended gestures and even two-handed input.
Arty (articulated) Mouse: The Arty Mouse takes the notion of Side Mouse one step further with a base for the palm of the hand to rest on and two "arms" that can be freely and independently moved on the table by the thumb and index finger. This design allows a high-resolution optical mouse sensor to be placed underneath two of the user's fingers for extremely high sensing fidelity. This prototype can support subtle and fine-grained multitouch gestures.
This Microsoft-provided video provides a better idea of how each mouse works:
We don't expect these designs to necessarily turn into five new products for you to buy. And while the input device industry has never been shy about taking chances on unique mice (see this, or this, or this), we cringe at the possibility of having to search through dozens of purpose-built, less-than-intuitive touch mice. Our hope is that these designs will trickle down to one or two different mice that perhaps incorporate multiple touch-tracking capabilities.
Regardless of how Microsoft's designs manifest themselves in the real world, we're sure input device engineers from every major vendor are spending a lot of time thinking about touch input. Based on what Microsoft has shown here, it's plain that a more versatile kind of mouse could make multitouch input more than just a screen-based interface.