There is very little doubt that touchscreens have become the most popular way to control user interfaces across a variety of platforms. In many cases, the trackball and mouse have been replaced with your fingers. There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to reinvent the mouse with new ideas, and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is giving it a new shot: If you can't replace the desktop mouse with a touchscreen, perhaps the mouse should become a touchscreen?

About 15 years ago, at the very beginning of my career, I can remember that I was fascinated by a $100 3-D mouse device. You attached it to your middle finger and moved a mouse pointer on your screen in space. It was not particularly comfortable or useful, but it was pretty cool. Three years later, Logitech and Immersion had come up with a $150 Force Feedback mouse and claimed the physical feedback would make it easier for the user to touch, grab, and move items on a desktop screen. I never tried it, and the mouse is still sitting in my office in its original wrapper. In the early 2000s, it seemed that the desktop trackball was especially popular. Around 2001, I interviewed Google's Sergey Brin, who seemed to be fascinated by 3-D mice as well and demonstrated one of them for me in his office.

Over the years, it has been interesting to see how the mouse was the target of new ideas, but we haven't seen much innovation or change besides the optical replacement of the rubbery mouse ball, resolution enhancement, and perhaps rechargeable wireless mice. Today's standard mice may have a different design than the 1995 mouse, but its functionality is about the same. Apple may have an idea how to change that.

If Apple has its way, then future mice could integrate a touchscreen in the space where the palm of your hand rests. According to a patent application, the screen, located below a glass surface, could configure itself and provide options that display automatically. The display could change in reaction to the needs of an application and go as far as functioning as the dialpad of your cell phone. The iPhone can already be used as a mouse for the Mac through apps, and it seems that the PC may be able to connect to your cell phone in a similar way. Apple has enough patents to come up with some interesting ways to provide such a feature, and I tend to believe if someone can challenge the way we use mice today, then it probably would be Apple.

Also remember that Apple recently said it would not attempt to integrate a touchscreen to a regular notebook as "touch" works only horizontally, not on a vertically placed screen. If Apple wants to expand touch, then the mouse appears to be a logical next step. 

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