Tablets, Mice, and Trackpads: The evolution of Apple pointing devices

In this slideshow, we'll take a look at over three decades of Apple pointing device designs from 1979 to the present.

Point and Click

After 34 years of Apple-brand pointing devices, you can sum up Apple’s input philosophy as thus: Stubborn simplicity. With only a few exceptions, Apple’s mice and trackpads have been minimalistic and easy to use. Frequently, they stir up widely-imitated changes in the industry. And more than once, Apple went with a design that proved to be too radical, inciting the ire of even the Apple faithful. In the slides ahead, we’ll take a look at over three decades of Apple pointing device designs from 1979 to the present. Even for Apple veterans, a few of them may surprise you.

C.A.S.E. Computer Museum

Apple Graphics Tablet (1979)

In an era when the Apple II Plus represented the pinnacle of Apple computer hardware, the company released its first non-paddle pointing device, the Graphics Tablet. Using the included stylus, you could draw images on the screen in a manner very similar to a graphic tablet today, like those made by Wacom.

[Photo: C.A.S.E. Computer Museum]

Benj Edwards

Lisa Mouse (1983)

Apple’s first mouse shipped with the Apple Lisa, a machine which marked the company’s first foray into graphical user interfaces. The Lisa mouse pioneered the use of a rubberized metal ball plus two optical encoder wheels positioned at 90 degree angles from each other to track movement. The low-cost mouse (relative to previous mice from other companies) also introduced the one-button mouse concept, which Apple stuck with for 22 years.

[Photo: Benj Edwards]


Macintosh Mouse (1984), Mouse IIe (1986)

The Macintosh Mouse debuted, unsurprisingly, with the original Mac in 1984. While internally very similar to its Lisa predecessor, its exterior sported a new design with a larger button that mirrored the proportions of the Mac itself.

The Mac Mouse originally shipped in a beige/brown color scheme that was later changed to “platinum” gray to match a company-wide design shift in 1987. Apple also used the same design for its Mouse IIe, a later companion to the Apple IIe computer system.

[Photos: Apple]


Mouse IIc (1984), Mouse II (1984), Mouse (1985)

With the launch of the Apple IIc in 1984, Apple released a matching mouse, the Mouse IIc. While more-or-less electronically compatible with the Macintosh mouse, it shipped with a completely different exterior. Also in 1984, Apple released the Mouse II, which kept the same external design of the IIc mouse and shipped with a mouse interface card and the MousePaint drawing program for earlier Apple II machines.

Apple later revised the Mouse IIc’s internal electronics to improve compatibility between various Apple II models and the Macintosh, resulting in a name change to “Apple Mouse” in 1985.

[Photo: Apple]

Apple Desktop Bus Mouse (1986)

The Apple Desktop Bus Mouse launched as part of the Apple IIgs computer system in 1986. It included a completely new design and a new 4-pin Mini-DIN connector that hooked up to Apple’s new desktop bus, which the company designed for keyboards, mice, and other simple peripherals. The ADB Mouse made its way over to Macs in 1987 alongside the Macintosh SE and Macintosh II computers. It would remain the standard Mac mouse until 1993.

[Photo: Apple]

Macintosh Portable Trackball (1989)

In 1989, Apple released its first trackball as part of its first battery-operated portable computer, the Macintosh Portable. Users could actually remove the trackball and keyboard assembly and reposition them to accommodate left-handed users. Apple continued using trackballs its laptop computers until 1994.

[Photo: Benj Edwards]

Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II (1993)

Seven years after the debut of the ADB Mouse, Apple’s standard mouse finally got an upgrade. The Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II retained similar mechanical characteristics to its predecessor but received a rounded, ergonomic industrial design.

[Photos: Shrine of Apple]

Apple PowerBook 500-series Trackpad (1994)

Not just Apple’s first, but the world’s first laptop trackpad debuted in the PowerBook 500 series in May 1994. It allowed users to position an on-screen mouse cursor by moving a single finger on a touch-sensitive pad, replacing the need to include a trackball.

[Photo: Apple]

USB Mouse (1998)

In 1998, Apple launched the iMac with a radically redesigned pointing device. The USB Mouse (commonly referred to as the “puck mouse”) abandoned the ADB standard for the Universal Serial Bus (USB)—a first for Apple. The translucent circular mouse received high marks for visual design but low marks for ergonomic comfort, making it Apple’s least popular mouse design to date.

[Photo: Apple]

Pro Mouse (2000), Apple Mouse (2003)

After years of criticism for its one-button mouse designs, Apple responded in July 2000 by releasing a “no-button” mouse, the Pro Mouse. To be sure, one could still physically click the Pro Mouse, but the entire top of the mouse cantilevered downward as part of the action. The Pro Mouse also allowed the user to adjust the tension of the clicking mechanism to one of three settings by rotating a plastic wheel on the bottom of the mouse.

The Pro Mouse, which originally shipped in black, was Apple’s first mouse with an optical sensor in place of a ball. A 2002 update changed its color to white to match the iMac G4. In 2003, Apple simplified the white Pro Mouse, removing the tension mechanism and renaming it simply Apple Mouse.

[Photos: Apple]

Wireless Mouse (2003)

Apple released its first cordless mouse in 2003 along with a matching keyboard. The Wireless Mouse used Bluetooth to connect to Macs, just as the computers began to integrate the short-range wireless standard. The Wireless Mouse retained the no-button design of the Pro Mouse, complete with optical tracking sensor and cantilevered top.

[Photos: Apple]

Mighty Mouse (2005), Mighty Mouse Wireless (2006)

After 22 years of one-button mice, Apple finally released a mouse with multiple touch sensors in the form of 2005’s Mighty Mouse. It contained two capacitive touch sensors, one for left and right “clicks,” a squeeze sensor in the middle, and a scroll ball in the middle. And like the previous Apple mice, the only physical movement it made during a click was a downward cantilevered movement of the top shell.

In 2006, Apple released a wireless version of the Mighty Mouse that used Bluetooth for connectivity. In 2009, Apple renamed the wired Mighty Mouse the Apple Mouse, and it’s still available for purchase.

[Photos: Apple]

iPhone Touchscreen (2007)

Apple took a huge leap forward with pointing devices in 2007 when it released the iPhone, Apple’s first product to incorporate a multi-touch sensitive display. “Multi-touch” meaning that the touch screen can distinguish the placement of more than one finger on the screen simultaneously.

Since its debut, multi-touch displays have also appeared in the iPod touch, iPad, iPad mini, and a continuing parade of iPhone iterations. Apple’s success with multi-touch made it an industry standard for smartphones and tablets.

[Photo: Apple]

MacBook Air Multitouch Trackpad (2008)

The success of multi-touch in the iPhone inspired Apple to incorporate multi-touch technology into its notebook trackpads. The first Mac to include a multi-touch trackpad was the MacBook Air in 2008. It supported multi-finger gestures to control aspects of the operating system. Today, all of Apple’s trackpads are multi-touch capable.

[Photo: Apple]

Magic Mouse (2009)

Multi-touch mania continued in 2009 with the introduction of the Magic Mouse, which replaced the wireless Mighty Mouse in Apple’s product portfolio. Like its predecessors, this low-profile mouse only physically “clicks” downward with the cantilevered movement of its carapace. It can detect multiple click types based on figure positions, and it also supports finger gestures, as the entire surface of the mouse is multi-touch sensitive.

[Photos: Apple]

Magic Trackpad (2010)

Apple released its first desktop trackpad in 2010. The Magic Trackpad supports multi-touch input along any portion of its large, smooth glass surface. It also responds to a downward push with a subtle, physical “click” movement. With batteries encased in its aluminum chassis, the Magic Trackpad reaffirms Apple’s commitment to sleek, wireless Bluetooth peripherals.

Where will Apple pointing devices go from here? Touch screens on desktop Macs and MacBooks? Camera-detected air gestures? Only Apple knows for sure. But whatever they do, it will likely point the way for the rest of the industry to follow.

[Photo: Apple]

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