Where are the left-handed mice?

You may have noticed the recent glut of reviews of, and articles about, input devices at Macworld ; we’ve reviewed nearly 20 new keyboards and mice and even ran a feature on ergonomics. However, one thing that stands out—at least to a particular segment of our readers—is that many of the mice we’ve reviewed don’t come in left-hand versions.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Southpaws have long bemoaned the fact that as mouse manufacturers have concentrated more and more on comfort and ergonomics, fewer and fewer of these “new and improved” mice have been usable with the left hand.

A big reason for this is simple economics. I spoke with a representative for Logitech, the US’s top mouse vendor—and a company with a left-handed CEO. The representative explained that the costs of manufacturing left-handed versions of ergonomic mice are quite substantial. Although you might think that you could just slap the parts into a differently-shaped shell, it’s actually a much more complex process than that. In order to fit in a left-handed design, many of the mouse’s internal components need to be completely redesigned as mirror images of the right-handed versions and then manufactured separately—an expensive procedure.

Still, companies do expensive things all the time—have you seen the $300 iPod cases out there? As long as a product sells well enough to be viable, some company will be happy to make it. But there’s the rub: only 9 to 11 percent of people in the U.S. are left-handed, making the left-hand mouse market just over one-tenth the size of that for righties. And on top of that, Logitech’s research indicates that a good number of left-handers actually choose to use a right-handed mouse. In other words, the actual market for left-handed mice is quite small.

(As a side note, I was curious why a left-hander would choose to use a right-hand mouse. In talking to both Logitech and a number of left-handed individuals, I got a range of reasons. Some people do so because the selection of left-handed mice is so poor. Some do so because of their work environment: right-hand-focused work areas make left-hand mousing uncomfortable. On the other hand [no pun intended], some lefties prefer to mouse with their right hand for productivity reasons—so they can, for example, keep their left hand, and their left-hand work area, free for writing.)

Some users have also been disappointed to find that the mice that do get retooled for lefties are generally in the middle or upper-middle of a company’s product line, rather than the really nice models at the top. From talking with various vendors, this is also an economic decision, as they’re restricted to “converting” the models that are likely to be the biggest sellers in order to recoup the costs of production. Unfortunately, the top-selling mice are rarely the top-of-the-line products; rather, they’re the reasonably-priced models that are still nice enough and offer enough features that they’re worth upgrading to.

That said, there are a few good mice out there for left-handers. Logitech’s $60 MX610 Left-Hand Laser Cordless Mouse is nearly identical to the excellent MX 600 included in the Cordless Desktop S 530 Laser I reviewed in the January 2007 issue of Macworld . Contour Design’s $110 Perfit Mouse Optical is an ergonomic mouse available not only for lefties, but also in sizes for small, medium, large, and extra-large hands. And my personal favorite pointing device, Kensington’s $100 Expert Mouse trackball, is handedness-independent. Finally, many tablets—which I’ll talk about in an upcoming Editors’ Notes entry—can be used equally well with either hand. UPDATE December 8, 2006, 2:00pm: Added mention of the author’s favorite pointing device, which he mysteriously forgot to include originally.

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