Mouse Makeover: Microsoft Touch Mouse Brings Multi-Touch to Windows

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 1, 2011 — After decades of dependable point-and-click service, the humble mouse is getting a makeover. The result is introducing Windows 7 users to a new way of interacting with their PC.

August 31, 2011
The Microsoft Touch Mouse combines multi-touch gestures with the pinpoint control of the humble mouse.

The new Microsoft Touch Mouse combines the virtues of the old familiar mouse – which has been continually optimized since the 1960s – with multi-touch gestures. Now available online and in retail stores in late September, the new mouse offers the millions of people who use Windows 7 a natural way to navigate the operating system, said Scott Rockfeld, director of product management for Microsoft Hardware.

“This is the first time we’ve married the control and precision of a mouse with the interactivity that touch delivers on your PC,” he said. “We give you control of your PC that you can feel in your fingertips.”

The Touch Mouse lets users do everything they’re used to doing with a mouse, such as point and click, but adds multi-touch functionality that helps them navigate Windows 7 easier and faster with a flick of their fingers, said Hrvoje Benko, a researcher with Microsoft Research (MSR) Redmond who helped develop the Touch Mouse.

“This mouse is designed to optimize your experience with Windows 7,” he said. “The tasks you do every day – minimizing and maximizing windows, scrolling through Web pages – all that functionality is available right at the top of the mouse with a touch of a finger.”

Or two or three fingers. As shown in this video, users can navigate with Touch Mouse in a variety of ways:

  • One finger allows users to scroll 360 degrees through the document they’re in.

  • Two fingers allow them to manage the active window they’re using and perform tasks such as maximizing and minimizing windows or snapping them left or right.

  • Three fingers allow users to manage their whole desktop by switching between different tasks or clearing all open windows.

  • A flick of the thumb allows users to move forward and back in programs such as Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, and Windows Photo Viewer.

Building Mouse 2.0

August 31, 2011
The newly announced Touch Mouse Artist Edition features a design created by New York-based artist Deanne Cheuk.

Hidden inside the Touch Mouse’s deceptively simple design is more than two years of cross-company research. The product evolved from the Mouse 2.0 project, a joint effort started in 2008 by Microsoft Research teams in Redmond and Cambridge and the Applied Sciences Group from Microsoft Hardware. Their goal was to combine the standard capabilities of a mouse with multi-touch sensing.

“We were looking at how to merge the excitement of the multi-touch gestures that were just starting to infiltrate computing devices with the flexibility and control of the mouse, which essentially has been optimized for two-plus decades,” Benko said. “We wanted to bring these rich new interactions to the desktop without losing the tried and true mouse.”

The team initially explored a wide range of technologies and interaction models, relying heavily on user feedback. They ended up with five different research prototypes representing different types of multi-touch sensors: camera-based; articulated, meaning they stitched together three mouse sensors; and capacitive, which have functionality similar to a laptop’s track pad.

August 31, 2011
Microsoft Hardware’s portfolio of touch products, including the Arc Touch Mouse that flattens for portability, aim to bring multi-touch computing to millions of Windows 7 users.

After careful consideration of the technological tradeoffs, the team decided on the capacitive-sensing model because it allowed for multi-touch gestures without abandoning the familiar mouse shape. They wrestled long and hard with the shape – it had to be comfortable in the hand and yet provide the right surface for natural gestures with all five fingers. The team conducted extensive user research and tested hundreds of forms and models before settling on a mouse with a 23 degree slope, a “sweet spot that gives you the comfortable shape and enough flatness to perform gestures,” Benko said.

Over several months, they continued to refine the sensor design and tweak functionality. The result became the Touch Mouse, which lets PC owners use natural gestures to access the features in Windows 7 they want to use most.

Benko said he was excited to bring touch to a much broader range of devices. Touch is an increasingly popular way of interacting with technology, but it’s primarily taken hold in small handheld devices. “For desktop scenarios with large, vertical screens, you’d need gorilla arms to go longer than 10 minutes through touch alone,” he said. “In terms of optimizing the effort of controlling the real estate you have on large screens, it’s really hard to beat the mouse.”

August 31, 2011
The Touch Mouse emerged out of a Microsoft Research effort to reimagine the mouse. The Mouse 2.0 project initially produced the five prototypes of multi-touch mice above.

That’s why the Touch Mouse is a happy marriage, Rockfeld said. Direct touch technology is good for some things but not for others, he points out. It makes scrolling and flicking through digital pictures a breeze, but clicking in a small cell in Excel – not so much. “Desktop users need the precision and control of a mouse, but they also want that feeling of power that touch gives them,” he said. “With the Touch Mouse, without taking your hand off the mouse, we can deliver both to the millions of Windows 7 users.”

Only a fraction of Windows 7 users have touch enabled natively in the hardware. Touch Mouse is part of Microsoft Hardware’s effort to bring touch to millions of Windows 7 users. Other examples are the Explorer Touch Mouse, the Arc Touch Mouse, and the soon-to-be-released Touch Mouse Artist Edition.

“The Touch Mouse is our stake in the ground with multi-touch PC input devices, and it’s really just the beginning of things to come,” Benko said.

The product highlights the value Microsoft Research can deliver, Benko added. “This is a good example of how the algorithms and ideas and prototypes developed in research directly translate and make certain things possible for product teams that wouldn’t have been possible,” he said. “You could not make this mouse without the software.”

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