Seen from above or from the side, the Apple Pro Mouse is sleek and stylish. The low-profile design fits nicely in almost any hand. What appear to be buttons on the side are actually small indentations for helping you orient the mouse by touch, without looking at it. (Photos by Lawrence I. Charters)
In reality, Washington Apple Pi Labs has plenty of equipment, but not much of it is cool unless it is either winter or the air conditioner is set too low. And we don't have a new, cool Apple Pro Mouse, either.
But we did, for a while.
It's smaller than it looks
When Steve Jobs introduced the Pro Mouse at MacWorld New York, it looked huge. In fact, it looked like it was the size of an armored car, when shown on a giant video screen. Even after mentally compensating for the fact that Steve's head really isn't 40 feet across and his hands aren't the size of giant squid, the Pro Mouse looked big.
It isn't. In fact, it is about the same height as the now-discontinued Apple USB Mouse, slightly narrower, and definitely longer. Length, width and volume are just slightly less than the very popular (but long discontinued) Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II. Unlike the ADB Mouse II, the new Pro Mouse is symmetrical, shaped like a giant cough lozenge. With a tail, of course.
Seeing Steve run the Pro Mouse through a maze of tasks in his keynote address, virtually every person in the audience said to themselves, "Gee, I'd like to try it for myself." Then Steve announced that everyone in the audience could pick one up, for free, on the way out. A fair-sized riot broke out as keynote attendees mobbed the poor Apple representatives assigned to mouse distribution duty.
"I got this Purple Heart giving out mice at MacWorld." "You don't say?"
But how does it work?
When Steve said it was the "best mouse ever," Disney probably objected, since Mickey Mouse has many movies, not to mention a famous song, to his credit. Besides, Steve says everything he introduces is "the best ever." He called the USB Mouse "cool," whereas most people call it a hockey puck, or many other things we won't repeat.
It was almost impossible to operate the hockey puck "eyes free;" you constantly had to look at the mouse to figure out how to hold it, since the round shape gave you few tactile clues. Steve thought it was "cool" that you could watch the multi-colored ball move through the translucent plastic case. Most users didn't appreciate such coolness since their hands almost entirely covered the hockey puck. Adding insult to injury, using the hockey puck was so disorienting that it was all but impossible to score well on games; you couldn't use the hockey puck to play hockey, which is sad. (They don't stand up well to a good slap shot, either.)
The Pro Mouse, on the other hand, is a definite "eyes free" mouse. It fits very naturally into your cupped hand, and the oval shape never leaves you disoriented. Since the entire top of the mouse acts as a mouse button, there is never any fumbling around trying to find the button. It is not too high, not too low, not too bulky, not too small. Even Goldilocks would like it.
But, most important of all, it doesn't have any moving parts. There is no mouse ball to get gummed up, no rollers to stop rolling, no springs to stop springing. (Actually, come to think of it, the top does move to allow you to click, so it has at least one moving part.) The same USB cable that plugs the mouse into the computer carries a small amount of electrical power to the Pro Mouse, which powers the optical circuitry used for tracking movement.
Traditionally, an optical mouse requires a special mouse pad for proper operation. The mouse pad features a grid pattern, which the optical sensors use to track movement. If you lose or damage the mouse pad, the mouse was worthless.
Apple's Pro Mouse doesn't require a mouse pad, of any sort. We used the mouse on a wood dining room table, on an office desktop, on a marble end table in a hotel, on a pair of Levi's canvas Dockers, and on various pieces of paper that covered the tables, desktops, and Dockers. The Pro Mouse was splendidly accommodating: it worked with no mouse pad at all, on any surface we tried.
Apple cautions that the Pro Mouse won't work well on a mirror or a clear sheet of glass. We didn't try this, but we did try to see if it would work without actually being in contact with anything. And the answer is: "Yes!" If you have nerves of steel, the patience of a glacier, and nothing better to do, you can actually navigate around, successfully, holding the Pro Mouse a small fraction of an inch off the surface. (Note: clicking the mouse is extremely difficult without making contact with something.) This test had no practical purpose; we just wanted to see if it would work.
One colleague wanted to dump the Pro Mouse in a bucket of water, and see if it worked under water. We decided not to let him touch the mouse, or our computers, at all. (But if you happen to try this, write and tell us how it works.)
Look, Ma, no rollers or ball! The bottom of the mouse does reveal a "Designed by Apple in California" label, and also mentions it was "Assembled in Malaysia." Note the three-position adjustment ring around the optical sensor in the center. (Photo by Lawrence I. Charters)
Our conclusion? The Pro Mouse is probably the best mouse we've ever used. It is comfortable. It is responsive. It is accurate. It isn't there -- after a few minutes, you forget about it entirely.
Note, however, that the real test of a mouse, or any other pointing device (trackball, graphics tablet, light pen, joystick), comes with time. We've probably all had a love affair with a new rodent, only to discover in time that it turns rabid. Microsoft's IntelliMouse Explorer, for example, is also an optical mouse, it works with USB-equipped Macs, and it gets rave reviews -- except for its unfortunate tendency to die an early death.
Will the Pro Mouse still seem just as fine after a couple months of use? We'd like to know, but (a) we have to finish this article and (b) we lost the Pro Mouse in a custody battle.
Watch out for the farmer's wife
When the iMac was introduced, Steve Jobs had it on a platform that was lighted from underneath, and people thought the USB Mouse "glowed." It didn't. But the new Pro Mouse does glow a cheery red when the computer is on.
The red light changes intensity, depending on circumstances. There is also a rotating ring on the bottom to adjust the sensitivity of the light. We played around with it for a while, without much effect.
Then a fellow Pi member pointed out an Apple white paper on the mouse, "Apple Pro Mouse," Apple Computer Corporation, July 2000. We grabbed a copy, and discovered three interesting passages:
This shell can withstand 700 pounds of force. Put in perspective, an elephant stepping on the shell would just mush it into the ground (but might break the pieces underneath).
And yes, this mouse glows in the dark.
This material is provided for information purposes only; Apple assumes no liability related to its use. Apple does not recommend allowing an elephant to operate a Mac in any environment.
Washington Apple Pi Labs briefly considered taking the Pro Mouse to either the Washington National or Baltimore Zoo and trying it out on an elephant. But we didn't. We also failed to find any additional information on the adjustment ring.
Our most serious failure: we couldn't find any reason for the short mouse cord. When the iMac was introduced, the USB Mouse had a short cord, but the computer also came with a USB extension cable. When the blue-and-white Power Mac G3 came out, the hockey puck mouse returned, and along with it a USB extension cable. But none of the current Macs ship with a USB extension cable, and the Pro Mouse cable is too short to reach the computer if you put the computer on the floor, or on a shelf, or anywhere other than inches away.
Yes, Apple probably expects you to plug the mouse into their USB keyboard. But we didn't want to, and found the Pro Mouse tail cut too short for comfort.
Note that the Pro Mouse tested for this article was a "promotional copy" given away at MacWorld New York, not a retail version. There is some chance the retail version may differ in some way; maybe it will have a longer chord…
We tested the Pro Mouse on an iBook running Mac OS 8.6, without difficulties. We tested it on a blue and white G3 running Mac OS 8.6 and Mac OS 9.0.4, without difficulties. Finally, we tested it on a gray Power Mac G4 (the old-fashion one processor version) running Mac OS 9.0.4, without difficulties. In all cases, no software was installed: we just plugged the Pro Mouse in, and it worked.
We like the Pro Mouse. We like it a lot. We'd like to get it back. But as that's not going to happen, we've got one on order. The Apple store sells them for $59.