Is Apple's Magic Trackpad a gesture too far?

Remember just a few years ago when Apple was lambasted for shipping only a one-button mouse, with the usual justification being that more buttons would confuse people? The new Magic Trackpad looks similarly simple and elegant, but is actually far more complex than even a multibutton mouse.

Apple Magic Trackpad
Apple Magic Trackpad Sarah Tew/CNET

Remember just a few years ago when Apple was lambasted for shipping a one-button mouse with its Macs, and there was constant speculation as to why the company stubbornly refused to offer a multibutton option? The given reasoning was that more buttons would confuse people, even though PC users seemed to do just fine with them. Not that Apple has always shied away from a bit of complexity in the mouse arena--just look at the first Mighty Mouse--but still, there has been something about one-button products that Apple has consistently liked; both the iPhone and iPad have only one button on the front surface. At the very least, Apple likes to minimize as much as possible the quantity of buttons on its products, sometimes quite effectively, but other times with frustrating results.

Yesterday Apple launched the Magic Trackpad, which seems to be aiming to do away with the computer mouse, that interface device first popularized by Apple with the Macintosh. The Magic Trackpad is intended to mimic the rich capabilities of laptop trackpads (and the similar capabilities of iPhone and iPad touch screens) and transfer them to a desktop setting. It sits nicely alongside the existing Apple wireless keyboard, and behaves just like the much smaller trackpads on laptops, complete with multitouch gesture support. Personally, if I'm using a mouse, it's mostly because it works better than a trackpad for precision graphics, but I can see the Magic Trackpad working for a lot of people.

I love the fact that Apple is building a physical vocabulary of gestures that will surely continue to grow and find new applications across multiple product types. However, the number of things this trackpad can do is so large Apple actually includes a cheat sheet on the back of the box. It may look sleek and uncluttered, but this Magic Trackpad is a complex device. It does make one rather nostalgic for the simple old days of single-button mice. Was the old mouse really about not confusing people, or was it more a statement about minimalist aesthetics? My guess is the latter.

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About the author

    Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.

     

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