In 1963, while working at Stanford University, Dr. Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse. By 1970, he had successfully applied for and received the US patent for this revolutionary device, but would never receive a single penny in royalties for his creation. His patent expired in 1987, which was a year or two before the explosion in personal computer use would make the mouse indispensable. (Dr. Engelbart would also go on to invent hypertext.)
Engelbart’s invention is now almost a half-century old. Many are calling for its funeral, including Steve Prentice, an analyst at Gartner Inc, the information technology research group.
“The mouse works fine in the desktop environment but for home entertainment or working on a notebook it’s over.”
Gartner’s research suggests the mouse will soon by usurped by gestural computer mechanisms, such as facial recognition devices, touch screens and motion sensors.
Indeed, their research suggests that the developments made in the way people play videogames in the past few years are paving the way for a broader technological revolution. Millions of people are already familiar with gestural technology like Nintendo’s Wii system, the iPhone, and even slightly cruder examples of the format like the popular Guitar Hero series (and interface).
More sophisticated advances are also set to hit the home market in the next twelve months.
“Sony and Canon and other video and photographic manufacturers are using face recognition that recognises your face in real time,” he said. “And it recognises even when you smile.”
“You even have emotive systems where you can wear a headset and control a computer by simply thinking and that’s a device set to hit the market in September.”
This device is the Emotiv EPOC headset, which is set to launch at $299.
Logitech, the world’s biggest manufacturer of computer mice, having sold more than half a billion in the past twenty years, is naturally sceptical of Gartner’s claims.
“People have been talking about convergence for years,” says Logitech senior Vice President, Rory Dooley, “Today’s TV works as a computer and today’s computer works as a TV. The devices we use have been modified for our changing lifestyles but it doesn’t negate the value of the mouse.”
Mr. Prentice was quick to point out that the keyboard is probably here to stay, at least for now.
“For all its faults, the keyboard will remain the primary text input device. Nothing is easily going to replace it. But the idea of a keyboard with a mouse as a control interface is the paradigm that I am talking about breaking down.”
Dr. Engelbart, meantime, remains alive and well, with four children and nine grandchildren, and continues his work on the concept of collective intelligence.