Brief Reviews of (Nearly) Every Mac Pointing Device
Aug 15, 2021 • Extra Ordinary
The Macintosh Mouse looks like it would be an uncomfortable mess, but you would be wrong. You are not intended to lay two fingers across the top as you would a PC mouse—pay attention to their marketing imagery and you will notice they all cradle the mouse with four fingers with their pointer centered on the button. That’s not just a perfectly choreographed marketing image; I catch myself holding this mouse exactly like that. It subverts itself of being a box with slightly tapered sides, rounded corners and a chamfered surface on top (that, of course, matches the proportions of the keyboard and the face of the Macintosh). It is only docked a point for its mushy click.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Desktop Bus Mouse
The Apple Desktop Bus Mouse is slimmer yet no less angular. It is no longer a mouse one wraps their whole hand around but is comfortable to hold nonetheless. Clicking the button is a firm and defined click! as it should be. This mouse also, obviously, marks the introduction of the excellent ADB port—allowing one to plug the mouse into the keyboard, a trick that gives the cable more distance without adding length.
I rate it 5⁄5 stars.
Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II
The overlooked Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II offers a more conventional rounded egg shape. It continues to buck the trend of PS/2 mice with its perfect left-to-right symmetry, which makes it equally accessible to the left-handed. It is easier to click since the entire upper 40% of the mouse surface is the button itself. In these ways, the ADB Mouse II is a hint of design choices to come many years later. This mouse marks the evolution away from the Snow White design language into an era of ergonomic shapes that bulge and wave.
I rate it 5⁄5 stars.
Late 90s Trackpad
The trackpad used by the later PowerBook G3 and original iBook G3 comes in two styles—illusion of luxury or fun. Hiding underneath the dressing is, fundamentally, the same part. The PowerBook comes coated in bulging black as if to mimic the stuffed black leather briefcase it is designed to slip inside. The iBook variant is unapologetically plastic, inviting you to play with its button highlighted in blue or orange. Boiling away this veneer is what led us to today’s plethora of sterile, bare aluminum MacBooks.
Anyways, the trackpad is fine. I give it 3⁄5 stars.
Apple USB Mouse
The USB Mouse is unjustly maligned—but only by a little. The criticism is valid: its perfect round shape means that it can spin around in your hand and you can lose orientation. The cord is the perfect length to plug into the right side USB port of the matching iMac keyboard, which makes it slightly too short for the iBook with its sole USB port on the left. Later mice, as the one in my collection, fix this with a small notch on the top of the button; a simple USB extension cord can add length.1 While some poor decisions were made, it is far from a failure of a product—the button click has an unrivaled stellar springiness and the materials feel excellent in the hand.
It balances out to 3⁄5 stars.
Early 2000s Trackpad
The trackpad as introduced on the white iBook G3 and PowerBook G4 (and continued through all non-unibody MacBooks) feature a significantly larger touch surface. The button also grows, occupying about 35% of the surface area. Later models introduce multitouch gestures, the true saving grace of trackpads that has kept them from feeling like a compromise laptops must endure. It’s remarkable how these trackpads that debuted 20 years ago are just a few revisions away from where they are today.
These trackpads climb up to 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Pro Mouse
The Apple Pro Mouse is striking. It is a pure unbroken clear bubble. You can see the ‘mouse’ part of the mouse inside, but you cannot touch it. It is sized just perfectly to wrap your hand around. Press down anywhere on the surface and the entire bubble clicks down. Unfortunately, the click is a little awkward—over time, it develops a crunchy feeling.
I rate it 4⁄5 stars.
Apple Mighty Mouse
If you have ever used a PC laptop from the 2000s, then you know their trackpads are always garbage. They’re tiny, they’re twitchy and the buttons are terrible; it feels like they intentionally pick the loudest button click mechanism available so that one is incentivized to tap the trackpad to click instead. Tap-to-click has always felt like a PC thing. Even on the aforementioned 90s PowerBooks where one has the option of enabling tap-to-click, I use the button. It has always felt Mac-like. That is what makes the Apple Mighty Mouse so egregiously offensive. They have the audacity to completely remove the click and force us to tap on a mouse. That, and the trackball is inexplicably tiny.2
I give it 2⁄5 stars.
The Magic Trackpad and its equivalent on unibody MacBooks is the trackpad every PC laptop wants to be when they grow up. It is frictionless glass that you can use all day long. You don’t need to ‘perform’ the multitouch gestures; confidently swipe your fingers around its expansive surface in your lazy, imperfect human ways and it will interpret it correctly. Every time. The only inconvenience is the ‘diving board’ click mechanism; it is hinged at the back so it is harder to click the middle of the surface than the bottom.
It is the gold standard at 5⁄5 stars.
I find myself constantly revisiting and abandoning the Magic Mouse. It is as good of a mouse with trackpad-like multitouch as I can imagine Apple would make. The problem is that I can imagine a better mouse Apple would not make—it would be bigger and thicker so I could hold it with my whole hand rather than brace it with my fingertips. It would support both swiping up or down with two fingers to activate Mission Control or Exposé rather than picking just one of them to activate with a two-finger tap. They have had two revisions to add Force Touch and they still have not.3
I give it 4⁄5 stars, but I am sending it home with “Not working to potential” on its report card.
Magic Trackpad 2
How does one improve upon perfection? The Magic Trackpad 2, also introduced on the Retina MacBook Air and the very last 2015 MacBook Pro, ascends beyond its simple mechanical constraints. It is not a button. It is better than a physical button could be. I know it’s a trick of haptics, but I cannot see through it. This emperor is wearing the most beautiful clothes in the world. Force Touch to preview a file with Quick Look, rename a file in Finder, preview a link in Safari or define a word anywhere there is selectable text is my favorite addition to the Mac paradigm since Mission Control.
It earns a perfect 5⁄5 stars.
Pointing Devices Absent
A small handful of devices are absent from this list. First is the trackball on the Macintosh Portable, which I desperately want to try. The big button beneath it is mechanically the same as a keyboard key. The second is the trackball on the early PowerBook models—all of my Macs from this era are desktops. Finally, the combination keyboard/trackpad on the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh is also worth mentioning as a bizarre one-off design out of my reach.
- Another home remedy is the iCatch, a snap-on adapter that bulks up the mouse to a more conventional shape. ↩
- For some reason, the Mighty Mouse was on sale until 2017. ↩
- There is also a lot of criticism over the placement of the Lightning port as one must turn the mouse upside down to plug it in. I intentionally did not list this among things I would change about the mouse. The battery lasts so long that it only needs fully charged once a month, so it is hardly an inconvenience. Moving the port to the top or bottom would ruin the symmetry of the design. ↩
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