The first computer mouse was made out of wood in 1963. It was, as you could probably imagine, not meant for the mass market, seeing as the personal computer didn’t become popular until 20 years later. Still, the basic design — buttons on the top, sensor on the bottom for tracking x and y coordinates — has remained the standard for decades.
Anyone with a smartphone or tablet, of course, can tell you that the end of the mouse is nigh. Consider Mycestro, the new Kickstarter-funded “3D mouse” from entrepreneurs David Greenspan and Nick Mastandrea. The Bluetooth-enabled device clips onto your index finger, letting you control your cursor with simple gestures. Imagine Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” flipping through screens with a flick of his hand; that’s essentially what you would look like giving a presentation on your laptop or an Internet-enabled TV. Setting up the Mycestro isn’t much harder than setting up a wireless mouse.
It’s also extremely mobile. Even people who prefer not using trackpads are loath to bring a mouse into their local coffee shop. The Mycestro, which weighs about as much as a wireless earpiece, solves this problem by fitting easily in your pocket. Yes, it’s convenient, but will consumers want to look like they’re conducting an invisible orchestra while web-browsing? Early signs are positive: the Kickstarter project looks poised to smash its goal of raising $100,000 by Friday, March 29. At only $79 during pre-order, it’s in the same ballpark as a high-end wireless mouse — not cheap, but easily affordable for the motivated early adopter.
Whether or not Mycestro becomes the next big thing, the overall trend is clear: the mouse is disappearing. That first mouse, developed by Douglas Englebart at the Stanford Research Institute, consisted of a wood casing filled with two wheels. In 1968, the wheels were replaced by a trackball and the wood with plastic by a German company called Telefunken, who designed it primarily for drawing vector graphics. In 1981, the first commercially available mouse hit the market. The two-button device came as part of the Xerox Star 8010, the first computer to come with a window-based GUI. Three years later Logitech released the first wireless mouse; in 2004 the company released the first laser mouse.
That’s about when things starting going south. The mouse, now unshackled by balls and wires, saw its fortunes fall with the rise of the laptop. People got so used to the multi-touch trackpads on their laptops that they are now using them for their desktops. Touchscreens, obviously, are everywhere: smartphones, tablets, hybrid laptops and desktops. We are moving quickly towards the immaterial. So what’s next?
Mycestro is only one of the many nails in the mouse’s coffin. The Kinect, a motion-sensing device originally sold as an accessory to Microsoft’s Xbox 360, has found robust demand among computer researchers and roboticists. It’s not hard to imagine a variation of it interpreting voice and motion commands for all PCs in the future. Tobii’s Gaze technology wowed reporters at CES as they controlled an asteroid-blasting spaceship — with their eyes. Just attach a small bar to the bottom of your Windows 8 PC monitor and shift your gaze, stopping to concentrate on whatever you want to open or enlarge. Currently selling for $995, the Tobii Rex is meant mainly for developers, but that doesn’t mean a more-affordable version isn’t on the horizon.
What’s next, you ask: telepathic devices? Don’t laugh. Philip Low of NeuroVigil is currently working with Stephen Hawking to perfect his iBrain, a helmet that can identify brain signals that are indicative of conscious intent, meaning Hawking could one day communicate with the outside world just by thinking. Don’t be surprised if your great-great grandchildren browse YouTube solely with their brains.
Keith Wagstaff is a contributing writer to Tech Page One. He has written for TIME, Details, VICE’s Motherboard and the Village Voice.