Microsoft Touch Mouse: a smart mouse with an achilles’ heel

A multi-touch-enabled mouse has been long in the works at Microsoft Research with demonstrations of many experimental designs and gestures, so naturally there was a lot of excitement when Microsoft Hardware finally announced the Microsoft Touch Mouse earlier this year.

Now in September, eight months later, it’s finally available in stores and I’ve been using it for the past week to see if multi-touch is worth all the fuss on Windows 7.

It goes without saying the Touch Mouse looks slick and elegant with a distinctive Microsoft Hardware styling. From the packaging to the touch surface itself, there’s a sophisticated level of attention to detail that one can easily appreciate.

For example, the little crosses on the top surface of the mice not only visually indicates to what extent the surface is touch-sensitive, but it’s also microscopically embossed to provide a subtle amount of tactile feedback whilst keeping the surface smooth enough to glide.

Apple’s Magic Mouse, released almost 2 years ago, is the obvious comparison for the Microsoft Touch Mouse. Although the two mice shares many similar gesture-enabled functionality such as the ability to manage application windows, a subtle but important difference is that multi-touch gestures are natively supported in Mac OS X, whereas for the Touch Mouse they’re provided by the driver’s companion Windows 7 software.

The simple gesture of scrolling is actually one of the Touch Mouse’ strong points since without mechanical wheels, it supports scrolling at different speeds which is extremely useful for browsing websites and working in Photoshop. Having said that, because of the indirect connection between the mouse and the application, some applications scroll differently to others leading to an inconsistent experience.

Speaking of gestures, I have also grown extremely fond of the “back” and “forward” gestures that can be easily activated by flicking the thumb left or right at the edge of the mouse. In comparison it’s much more natural to access than the two finger swipe on the Magic Mouse to navigate between web pages.

As a pointing and left-clicking device, the Touch Mouse is very capable mice. The BlueTrack sensor works accurately on a wide range of surfaces and left-click is satisfactorily tactile. I purposely mentioned left-click because right-clicking is actually not as simple as one would hope for a Windows-optimized mice where right-clicking is quite prevalent.

The cause of the issue is the lack of two distinct click sensors. By design, if you have one or more fingers resting on the left side of the touch surface, the Touch Mouse automatically defaults to a left-click action, even if you applied pressure with your right finger. Needless to say this is quite frustrating for click-intensive applications such as games. This behavior also prevents mouse-chording where both left and right click need to be simultaneously activated.

In conclusion, the Microsoft Touch Mouse is a notable first attempt by Microsoft Hardware for productizing a multi-touch mice mouse for Windows. Barring a significant but fixable hardware design issue, the Touch Mouse is worth trying out for the casual user. For everyone else, it’s a no secret Microsoft products truly shine at the second or third revision. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again.”

25 insightful thoughts

  1. The Apple Magic Mouse has the same quirk with right-clicking (and yes, we do know what right-clicking is…) – you have to deliberately lift your left finger off the mouse before attempting to right-click.

    Took me about a week to get used to; now it’s second nature.

  2. I think because of this achillies’ heel, I will stick with my good old basic Microsoft optical mouse I have had for the past 5 years. Great post though nonetheless, Mr Zheng! 😀

  3. Been using it for about a month. I love the scrolling, I had an initial problem with my thumb interfering with the ability to click the mouse, but my hand got used to it pretty good. I like it, I think they should add more gestures. I don’t like that when I 3 finger swipe down to minimize all that it only maximizes ONE window when swiping back up, instead of all the windows that were open previously. Took some getting used to but I’m keeping it.

  4. I sort of don’t understand a multitouch mouse without pinch and zoom gesture because zooming is the one action that a normal mouse still doesn’t do very well but that works great in multitouch. If you are not trying to improve on the mouse experience but just replicate it than whats the point?

  5. I’ve been using the touch mouse and i still hate having to lift my left finger to rightclick. shouldn’t there be a way to learn/detect “pressure” of your rightclick finger based on how much of the touch surface it’s covering or something? Shouldn’t it be pretty trivial to implement in software? There was an SDK available at some point, where did that go?

    Meanwhile I’ve raised a number of issues to MS on various avenues and they seem to be proving their support crew’s incompetance at every step of the way.

  6. “since without mechanical wheels, it supports scrolling at different speeds”

    Wait, I don’t get this. I have used dozens of mice with mechanical wheels, and they all allowed me to scroll at different speeds. It was achieved by, you know, turning the wheel at different speeds.

    1. This is poorly phrased. It allows a user to “flick-scroll”, akin to a touch screen.
      That is, when it allows touch scrolling at all. Which mine, after several months of highly satisfied use, suddenly doesn’t.
      The othe multi-touch functions (window maniputlation) still work fine. Just the single finger scroll will not respond.

  7. Does the touch stuff work with the Win 8 developer preview? Lack of a touch screen makes the preview a little more difficult to enjoy.

  8. Had no idea it was there. Fun to watch for a couple of minutes. The Scrolling Monitor tab works with the Arc Touch and shows some funny graphs too.

    Anyways, apart from the buggy scrolling (especially on google and bing maps) and tedious right-click, you forgot to mention the worst failure of this mouse: no middle-click.

  9. I’ve had this mouse for a couple of weeks now, and am still getting used to it. Mostly because I find it surprisingly heavy (on account of the AA batteries), having switched from a corded mouse.

    The scrolling function works best with a light touch, and less well if you are inclined to rest your hand on the mouse.

    1. It’s not the batteries’ fault. Explorer Touch runs two AAs too and still feels like half the weight of the fat-ass Touch.
      What’s interesting: Touch has batteries in parallel, thus it can run with only one.

  10. This mouse looks nice but the ergonomics are not great. I use the DXT Mouse which has really helped me with RSI when at me desk for long hours.

    It lets your hand and wrist adopt more of a natural posture. I used to use a normal shape mouse like the Microsoft but could not last more than 2 hours.

  11. Just got one, nice to hold/use (if quite heavy compared to corded mouse). For laptop/general computing I like it but unfortunately not yet a wheel mouse replacement for me. AutoCAD which I use a lot uses “press/hold wheel” for pan & double click wheel for zoom. The Touch mouse doesn’t support either gesture as the one finger swipe to pan in other apps is ignored in AutoCAD :(

    One solution is to use a usb wheel mouse with AutoCAD as they seem to coexist ok

  12. I leave my fingers resting on the mouse all the time, but the click I get is almost random.
    I usually get left-clicks (which is what I almost always want) but very often, I’ll get right-clicks even after clicking 10 times in a row in the frustration of pleading for it to right-click.
    I wish it would truly default to “left-click” and then only do right-click if I raise my other finger explicitly. That would be acceptable, albeit awkward.
    To solve my problem, I’ve turned right-click off altogether (kind of ridiculous, I admit, but I’m used to this on my Mac) . It’s much easier without out. And if I really need it, I go back into the settings and turn it on temporarily (even more ridiculous).

    I’ve turned any and all gestures off on the Windows Touch Mouse, because a couple of times a day, one of them would fire without me having any intention. I would lose window, sometimes work and all manner of inconvenience.
    I do like the scrolling. But overall, it’s pretty much a FAIL.

    1. I’m having the same trouble with the “erratic firing” using IE9 (Win7 64-bit; touchpad disabled). This seems to most commonly happen when I choose to left-click on the right panel scroll bar, the browser sometimes randomly jumps me up one level (displays prior browser page). This is a real pain when I’m doing text entry, since all of my work is sometimes lost. No heart-stoppers so far, but I have lost well over an hour’s worth of writing and that is usually quite frustrating.

      Believe it or not, I actually had an erratic click of some type while composing this reply. I stopped to read the message that I had entered (removing my hand from the mouse briefly). When I put my hand back on the mouse and just started to move it, it bumped me up to the prior web page. Fortunately, I was able to click forward in the browser and this text had been retained (luckily!).

      I hate to disable the touch features on this mouse since that’s its raison d’ĂȘtre; however, unless I can successfully identify the root-cause of the problem that may be all I can do for now. If it hadn’t been given to me as a gift, I’d already be boxing it up as a return.

  13. I recently purchased the Microsoft Touch Mouse for $60. Upon arriving home, I installed Microsoft Intellipoint 8.2, then restarted my computer. I plugged in the Touch Mouse, and nothing happened. I have tried uninstalling Intellipoint, restarting, new batteries in the Touch mouse, flicking it off and on, placing the connector in different USB ports… nothing. Intellipoint doesn’t recognize it, it doesn’t click or move the mouse, it basically sits there and I’m reduced to using the touchpad on my laptop. I run Windows 7 32-bit software (yes, I’m installing the right Intellipoint). I am severely dissatisfied with Microsoft at the moment and if anyone has advice, it would be greatly appreciated.

      1. I took it to the retailer that I brought the mouse from, and they took it back without even asking whats the problem. 3 days later they got me a new mouse from Microsoft and so far it works.

        so my prediction is that there are hardware issues in the early models, Microsoft are aware of it, and they are recalling the old mouses? (prediction only)

  14. I am disappointed with the jittery movement of the cursor. Me previous mouse was a corded Logitech G500 which offers super slick cursor control. It’s also a lot bigger than the Microsoft Touch which makes the switch over a bit uncomfortable on my (over-sized) hand. I’m using the Touch with Windows 8 and find the gestures acceptable. Reading some of the comments above makes me believe the Windows 8 update may have solved many of the issues. I do hope Microsoft will come out with a corded version, and perhaps a slightly larger model. Overall – not bad.

    1. Thanks for this tip Vlad – I was seriously disappointed with this mouse (received as a gift). I was using it approximately 2 metres from the receiver and the cursor was jumping all over the place. In fact, I had boxed it up ready to return it. Microsoft must be aware of this issue, as they provide a USB extension lead with the mouse. Shame that MS do not flag up this incredibly simple solution in their troubleshooting advice! Anyway, I have used the extension lead to bring the receiver closer to the mouse and the cursor now zips smoothly across the screen!

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