What about the button? Will future MacBooks have a physical mouse button?

Yesterday's post about the potential for glass touchpads on upcoming Macs gained a lot of attention.  Most of the analysis on the Web focused on whether or not there would be a screen below the glass trackpad - frankly, I don't think it would be that useful in a traditional setting.  How much time do you spend looking at your trackpad?  On that issue I am torn. 

What surprised me is that no one is talking about the potential "death of the mouse button."

Now I don't know whether the next MacBooks will have a mouse button or not.  But when I heard that there would be a glass trackpad, I immediately wondered if Apple was going full tilt with the multi-touch interface.  Steve Jobs recently told an (arrogant?) New York Times reporter:

Indeed, many of the new features in the Leopard operating system version are incremental improvements. But Mr. Jobs said he was struck by the success of the multi-touch interface that is at the heart of the iPhone version of the OS X. This allows a user to touch the screen at more than one point to zoom in on a portion of a photo, for example.

“People don’t understand that we’ve invented a new class of interface,” he said.

He contrasted it with stylus interfaces, like the approach Microsoft took with its tablet computer. That interface is not so different from what most computers have been using since the mid-1980s.

In contrast, Mr. Jobs said that multi-touch drastically simplified the process of controlling a computer.

There are no “verbs” in the iPhone interface, he said, alluding to the way a standard mouse or stylus system works. In those systems, users select an object, like a photo, and then separately select an action, or “verb,” to do something to it.

This means that Apple was going full force on the mult-touch for Leopard at least a year ago, enough time to transform the gestures-based device into a controller for the operating system to the point where it may soon be mature enough for mainstream use.  Maybe that wacko Gartner Analyst was right - the mouse is on the way out?

This actually isn't such a far flung idea if you think about it.  Current MacBooks can use gestures to control the machine.  Also, a setting can be activated that allows clicking by just tapping the trackpad.  In fact, many PCs have been doing this for years.  The loss of a mouse button won't be as drastic as you might initially think.

Additionally, Wacom tablet users  know that once you are used to the multi-touch interface, there is often little use for a traditional pointing device.  Ever try giving a Wacom user a mouse?  Right to the desk drawer it goes...

As this video shows Multitouch can control the MacOS.

Finally, Apple will most likely be going with the new 16:9 ratio screens.  The added width and subtracted depth will make a potential mouse buttons a very tight squeeze.  Already EEE class devices are trying to compensate for this by putting mouse buttons to the left and right of the touch pad.  Apple's solution will probably be much more elegant.

Oh, and we also know how much Steve Jobs hates buttons....


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