Hardware

Poll: Which technology will eventually replace the computer mouse?

Despite its remarkable longevity, will the venerable mouse be the preferred method of human-computer interaction for the next century?

The venerable mouse has been part of computer history for nearly 40 years. And, I've put together a gallery of drawings that traces the mouse's evolution through the 1970s and 1980s. These U.S. patent drawings showcase the dramatic changes the mouse underwent during its first two decades of existence.

Image taken from U.S. Patent 3,541,541 - Digitized by Google
Image taken from U.S. Patent 3,541,541 - Digitized by Google

Despite its remarkable longevity, will the mouse be the preferred method of human-computer interaction for the next century? Several alternative interface technologies, such as touch screens and touch pads, are trying to unseat the mouse from its place on the desktop.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

83 comments
egmccann
egmccann

"None of the above." Some will replace the mouse in specific circumstances, absolutely. I can see uses for a touch screen, for instance - using a mouse or touchpad wouldn't fly with a tablet. But I can't see using it for everyday desktop computing - point at icons on the screen?Even slower now than using a mouse. Same with gestures, "force feedback," voice control - imagine a crowded office with everyone using voice control! Even in a quiet environment, it screws up. And then there's gaming... No, we'll be using the mouse, or something mouse-like, for quite some time to come.

codybwheeler
codybwheeler

I tend to enjoy the sitting position in which my mouse lets me sit. I can't imagine having to move my hand around a huge screen all day. I envision a small touchpad that would allow the same movements as a mouse, but more functionality. Integrity HR

john3347
john3347

I don't know if trackballs are included as mouse, or as "other" in this poll, but I abandoned a mouse in favor of a trackball 15 or more years ago. I even much preferred the trackball that was built into some HP computers for a short period of time (had one at work). I have never understood how the touch pad has gained favor over a built-in trackball for portables. I have been retired for several years now and I am in my "twilight years" and I do not picture anything replacing a trackball for me personally for the rest of my life.

zclayton2
zclayton2

I have not seen anything that replaces the mouse for a GUI yet. It will happen, just not with anything shown on the poll. humans are intrinsically digital and what ever replaces the mouse will use that trait. it will be an easier to use/more precise mechanism/mental interface than what has been demoed to this point.

firstaborean
firstaborean

The notion that is wrong, here, is that some means of controlling the computer will completely replace the mouse. That is not how new technology acts. Rather than replace an older one, it displaces it. The oldest technology humans ever invented was knapping, the breaking of rocks by means of striking them with other rocks in order to make something useful. It was never fully replaced, merely displaced as the chief means of creating tools. The acoustic horn (remember the phonograph???) is still in use, although not for making commercial sound recordings. The mouse will still be with us, even when computers easily read a person's oral or gesticular expressions. For what new input means will become ascendant, I vote for both voice and gesticulation.

Ray Baker
Ray Baker

Eye movement/position and blink. If we get to brain interface, just put the whole computer in and display in the visual cortex as an overlay. Or skip visual and go thought.

NexS
NexS

In my opinion, after all the hype of the ipad and all its competitors dies down, (hopefully) the world will gets it's sh!t together and realise that there is a time and place for everything. There are somethings that a multitouch pad would be the preferred device, whereas an aerial devices(like Wii). But I don't think that the mouse will be replaced. Laptops have touchpads, but how many times have you, or someone else that you've observed, plugged their mouse into the laptop to avoid using it or the trackball? I believe the touchscreen will be used more often now that it's become a fad, and as so, people will get used to it, just as they have with the mouse, but the mouse will stay. Until brains control computers. Crossed fingers for virtual reality. :D

4Y5678
4Y5678

Let's keep it real. Voice technology has the same challenges today as it did 40 years ago. Until these challenges are over come voice technology will not be a reliable solution completely replacing anything.

D0c
D0c

Something like what ironman uses in his lab would be kool.

ilm259
ilm259

well, did you guys ever try selecting a piece of string on your ipad? Just recall how it feels, mouse is going to stay, maybe in a slight alternate shape.

hrodrigu
hrodrigu

Mouse will continue to dominate but other technologies will be around to improve functionality...

xlad
xlad

eyeball - logic and common sense; both practical and privacy part too, ain`t it ?

meinbc
meinbc

As the original users of technology age and become crippled by such deforming conditions such as arthritis a new technology will emerge to input information. I have read information about devices that communicate through brainwaves and eye trackers so that is how I figure the mouse will be replaced.

Gothar
Gothar

The only change to the traditional mouse that I can think of that interest me would be a laser pointer type device. This would require minimal hand motion while maintaining distance. It would increase distance because the light would be bright (click a button from across the room during a presentation, for example) and could easily incorporate the same kind of multi-button controls as a mouse. The last thing I want is something that requires me to be close enough to the screen to touch it or involves more movement on my part. And don't mess with my brain or my eyes! (Unless it's for a really cool game, of course.)

eric2820
eric2820

For our family the mouse was replaced years ago by a: Track Ball! Basically because I developed the first stages of carpel tunnel syndrom using a mouse in the 80's. That was when I switched to a Logitech MarbleMan track ball.

dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

I believe the mouse will eventually be replaced by a combination of voice recognition and touch screens a la STTNG. That combo, to my mind, is the most intuitive user interface if it's done correctly.

thejdawg569_2000
thejdawg569_2000

yemen it figures, cant even keep the bs out of our forum can you raghead.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Relatively simple design, good idea, well suited to human needs. Both will therefore remain in use until the end of civilization.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...and have no desire to change. They don't move, require less open desk space than a mouse, and less physical movement than a mouse. The only downside is that I have to clean it every month or so.

platipino
platipino

Touch screens ? That's what I'm foggy about. They are not flexible enough. They are too slow when you thet are used with a keyboard at the same time they go just horrific. I think mouses are better devices than the touch screens stuff for me.

redewenur
redewenur

This is what I think: The mouse is here to stay. The personal computer will always be around in some form. The big box will evolve into a fully integrated solid state device the size of a credit card; the only problem will be remembering where you put it. A 3D version of the flat panel will be switchable to a high definition holographic interface. Touch pads, gesture sensors, force feedback, brain interface will all have their place, and two way natural speech (HAL 9000) will be standard - but some kind of mouse will always remain the most effective and efficient means of precision interaction.

john barker
john barker

100 years from now i think brain interface not medical but by a interface you can wear and take off when you like no ideal how it will work but look how far we come in the last 100 years john barker

cpcarl
cpcarl

I gotta go with voice recognition. The touch screen isn't any better than the mouse or the touch pad. Seems to me that the touch screen is MORE work than using a mouse or touch pad, plus you have all those smudges on your screen. Gesture sensors? Again, more work than a touch pad. Besides, can you imagine Captain Picard waving his hands about to get the ship's computer to do something? Hilarious. Brain interfaces? C'mon, how can a bunch of wires hooked from your head to your computer be any good? "Computer - select add comment"

Beacivil1
Beacivil1

Remember the Nintendo Power Glove?......

bboyd
bboyd

How many times a tab key saved a fraction of a second over moving a hand to the mouse must add up to many lifetimes of lost productivity. I strongly believe that most interfaces slow the user down and are not natural. Touch screens with finger sized buttons at least are intuitive. All this clicking and dragging icons is cumbersome. No mental conceptualization thats my dream, think it will happen in my lifetime?

jfuller05
jfuller05

Ah, the mouse, it may not be the most popular, but for general computer use I believe the mouse is the preferred method. Whether PS/2, laser, wireless; it's seen many forms, it's here to stay, in my opinion. In the far future though, I believe the brain interface will be the mousetrap.

shay4yours
shay4yours

I think the touch screen will be the best replacement for the mouse

Slayer_
Slayer_

Or maybe some kind of sensor that watches your eyes and what you are focusing on.

mr_m_sween
mr_m_sween

I think its an inherent mistake that we think in terms of 1s and 0s on tech like form factors and input devices. We seem to forget that these are all tools, and we should be striving to use the best tool for the job. Touch screens, touch pads, trackballs, track nubs, gestures, phantoms, voice recog, brain interfaces, stylus, and the ol' reliable mouse all have intrinsic advantages and disadvantages. To be honest, the only disadvantages the mouse has is that it's an external component (thus the touch pads and touch screens that make control an all in one component.) and the fact that it is not in the form of a pen or pencil for artists working on a tablet. I dont think the mouse is going anywhere, it's simple, intuitive, reliable, cheap, and easy to replace. It's not for everything and everyone, but neither is any other item on the list.

user support
user support

I think the mouse is here to stay but there will be other devices added to supplement the user experience. I personal use a trackball and keyboard command but can and have used and supported employees with touchpad, touch screen, stylus, tablet pen, voice recognition and mouse. When other devices stop functioning, the mouse and the keyboard usually keep on ticking.

wizardzip1
wizardzip1

My mother (age 85) likes using a trackball. Personally, I think it makes my thumb sore after a few hours, and I do not feel as much in control. For art drawing, it is a horrible device. Yes, it does follow the theory of the lazy hand (the less energy expended the more popular with the masses). As a backup, the wireless mouse will still be around for a long time. Anything that mimics the hand's ability to write script is the only near substitute for the near future, and that would be the touch-pad.

glenmy
glenmy

I personally voted for trackpad, as I use this input device over the mouse. I don't have to move my hands very far off the keyboard to reach for it, and I've become pretty adept at fine-tuned pointing. All that being said, the input 'pointer' device will evolve with the display technology. When the output device was fanfold paper, we didn't need to point at anything. We used keyboards and arrow keys. That input paradigm survived initially with CRTs because it was familiar,and the output on the CRT was attempting to mimic the paper output experience. Once there was a need to have random access to locations on the CRT, X-Y pointing devices were developed (the mouse being the current popular favorite). Now imagine that we get common 3D displays. (Have you noticed the number of big budget 3D movies this year? And we are starting to see 3D TVs in stores...) If people have 3D displays, there will be a new input paradigm that will call for "pointing" in 3 dimensions, and the mouse as we know it will no longer suffice. I don't know what will replace it, but it will need to be an easy to use X-Y-Z pointer.

Igbit
Igbit

My two cents worth; the answer depends on the timeframe. Ultimately, I'm seeing implants and virtual monitors (looks like data overlaying your visual field; think like the Terminator sees....), a brain-based interface. Shorter term, probably pretty much all of the above. Personally, I dislike touchscreens for a number of reasons; unless the screen is synthetic sapphire, you'll need some sort of screen protector, which degrades the display somewhat, and I don't like reaching out to the screen; it gets uncomfortable after awhile. Tough to beat the mouse for comfort and accuracy. The human interface factor imposes a kind of limit on how small you can go (blackberry keyboards... can't work 'em), and I really don't think that waving things around in the air is the way to go, either, once you're on the high side of thirty. One thing I'm sure of; fifty-sixty years down the road, we'll ALL be wrong!

john3347
john3347

I am athritic and have considerable difficulties with a mouse. A trackball with thumb operated ball is my best solution. I velcro the device beside the keyboard and program the center button to effect a double click with one stroke. I then remove my thumb from the ball to make a button click. It is disappointing to see trackballs slowly disappearing from the marketplace and to see those such as I with moderate "special needs" so totally ignored.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...that these clowns think that anyone on a tech blog would buy anything from their site. If anything, they are just providing their address to the very people most likely to add them to their network-wide blacklists.

shaan11
shaan11

hi, my name is shaan, i am studying in industrial designing from ISD, i read your article and found it really interesting, could you please give me some insights on what the future of the mouse would be. Thank you.

BoxunloX
BoxunloX

Brain interface devices are decades away.

Thack
Thack

"Or maybe some kind of sensor that watches your eyes and what you are focusing on." Blimey, how would you do a double-click with that? ;-) Or a select? Or a drag? I don't think it would work: eyes are evolved as input-only devices. My eyes dart all over the screen as I evaluate what is being shown, and read the words. How would a machine know - just from my eyes - that I want to select some text, rather than just read it. Yes, I know some severely disabled people use this approach, with blinks for clicks, and so on. But I honestly doubt whether this would be a viable alternative to a hand-operated mouse in able-bodied people. Too slow, too imprecise, too ambiguous. But, of course, a god-send to a disabled person. A hybrid might work: use the eyes as a POINTER, but keep some finger-operated buttons for the other functions like select, activate, etc.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"...the only disadvantages the mouse has is that it's an external component ..." That sure makes it easy to replace a defective one, or to substitute one better suited to the individual user's ergonomics.

Bulldozer72
Bulldozer72

I didn't read all the replies so if someone said this already then excuse me. The touch screen would really become very useful when you put the screen actually in the desk surface and you can rest both arms and use both hands on the screens keyboard also. Like the iPhone only bigger and better. And all those fancy stretch and toss and slide options like they use on the big wall screens on the cable news stations now.

lucien86
lucien86

The human brain and NS both use PCM which is synthetic analog or 'hybrid' built on digital pulse trains. The evidence suggests that brains are largely sequential and operate synchronously, driven by a clock. Its a pretty impressive operation considering the clock speed is only around 10 Hz. :)

NexS
NexS

That I can perceive is that our thought fluctuate constantly, and so, brain-based interfacing would need total concentration. For gaming, maybe not such a bad idea(though, for health and social reasons, not particularly a good idea), but in businesses where you rely heavily on social contact and exchange, this sort of machine control would simply not work. Not to mention the beginning of a darkened age where the robots will take over the world and Anrie comes back from the future to kill Sarah Connor....

DrNoYesMaybe
DrNoYesMaybe

Accepting that humans will always have a desire to innovate and evolve technologies. However the mouse prevails because it is simple and flexible, doesn't require that we put greasy fingerprints or scratches all over the display, doesn't plug into our bio-systems, is intuitive and cheap.....very cheap, even the wireless ones. My opinion is that the 'mouse' will remain popular, in one form or another, with the masses for a long time to come because it's exactly what they need and want. It does the job for the vast majority.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

The Bamboo series by Wacom is a step in that direction. It still needs a bit of work, but I'm having fun with mine. I've used a trackball for abut twenty years, and this is the first thing that comes close to replacing it for me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That sounds an awfully lot like my school days of leaning over a spiral notebook. It also sounds far less comfortable than sitting upright, especially for several hours a day.

lucien86
lucien86

Maybe the word you are looking for is Hybrid. In fact neural pulse chains can behave digitally(on/off), as analog(volume), or as both (off/volume). Its one of the rules of information theory that analog and digital are interchangeable anyway.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

But if the states of the transmitting/receiving nodes are not, then the whole is not digital. It's not digital. Chemical signals are not digital. Electric signals vary too. Neurons do not have boolean states. Physical structures of neurons (which account for parts of storage, learning and processing) are not digital. It's so not digital.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

But I think it'll put tried and true "frag the Lt" into a whole new frame... There are good reasons to hobble the brain in some respects, as we get lots of really bad ideas all the time, they just don't survive through the reaction time mostly... With a brain interface that might change. But I still think the hand-tracking sensor would displace the mouse easily.