This is as hot as it gets. The Apple Pro Mouse has always been one of my favorite pieces of design. I remember seeing it for the first time in my school computer lab. I was mesmerized by its science fiction-like appearance. It's an immensely optimistic piece of design - it confirmed that we live in the future.
According to an interview by Cult of Mac with a former Apple ME, Abraham Farag, the Pro Mouse’s design was born unintentionally. During a design review, Steve Jobs was shown six different models of mice to evaluate. But Jobs was instead drawn to a seventh design, an unfinished model with the buttons yet to be built in. Jobs thought the buttonless design was brilliant, and the design team played along, pretending that it was their intention from the beginning. This unfinished design became the foundation of future Apple Mice.
“That’s genius. We don’t want to have any buttons.”
- Steve Jobs
Apple is a company that doesn’t have a great track record for mice though. Users have always complained about the lack of a right click button and scroll wheel. This was however one of the key drivers for the simplification of Mac OS. Steve Jobs insisted that the OS should be simple enough to be operated with just one button.
Regardless of what you may think of the Apple Pro Mouse, I believe that there’s something admirable about its stubbornness. It’s like a masterful chef that’s owned a restaurant for decades and refuses to change their ways (Sukiyabashi Jiro comes to mind). If everyone was that stubborn, society wouldn’t function, but it’s these people with strong beliefs that help the rest of society ground their opinions. When so much of the world produces apologetic, impartial products, we need some stuff that pushes our notions forward. The mice that Apple made were just that.
In terms of lineage, the Apple Pro Mouse is what replaced the universally hated “hockey puck” mouse. It was launched alongside the Power mac G4 Cube in 2000. Apple later made a few changes to the mouse in 2003 and renamed it as the “Apple Mouse”.
It’s such a simple yet powerful idea. A buttonless mouse. So much of Apple’s approach to beauty is creating a sensation of magic, and you’ve got to admit, the Apple Pro Mouse looks truly magical.
The key to the Apple Pro Mouse’s beauty is in the layering of materials. The crystal clear shell incases a translucent graphite housing which hints at the inner workings of the mouse. Transparent housings were popular but in most cases, improperly done. Here, it’s done tastefully and these layers add depth and visual richness. It’s a work of art. This layering actually reminds me of marbles I had as a kid which I would hold up to the sun to examine their swirls of layered color. There was something incredible about these swirls, they were like encapsulated flames. The Apple Pro Mouse does something similar - in encapsulates technology.
The clear shell does a brilliant job of creating depth. At its thickest point, the wall thicknesses reach around .75cm. It’s rare to see a mass produced part that uses this much material and it’s no wonder the Pro Mouse looks so beautiful and truly unique.
Like the way I once stared into marbles, I love examining the way light plays with the thick, clear shell of the Pro Mouse. Look at the way the light twists and morphs. Stunning.
And because the mouse is mostly transparent, it does a great job of blending into its environment. It’s a wondrous object when you examine it carefully but stays quiet when you don’t need its distraction.
It’s also fun to observe how the clear shell morphs its environment, bending the texture of whatever it sits on top of.
The Pro Mouse has an LED that lights up when the mouse is in motion. It’s a bit too much.
Surrounding the optical sensor of the mouse is a dial that adjusts the click force setting of the mouse. The changes are minuscule, if not imperceptible. It’s no surprise that its successor had this function removed. Saves money and also reduces complexity.
When Steve Jobs fell in love with the idea of a buttonless mouse, the solution the Apple engineers came up with was making the whole top housing a button. Instead of having switches mounted underneath a hinged button, it’s mounted underneath the entire top shell. It’s an elegant solution that allows the user to click anywhere they want.
Though the Apple Pro Mouse has idealistic and futuristic lines, it still feels welcoming and surprisingly human. I actually find the mouse to be extremely comfortable and would use it everyday if it had a multi-touch surface like the Magic Mouse.
3 years after the launch of the Apple Pro Mouse, Apple replaced it with something that’s arguably even more beautiful. The “Pro” was dropped and the mouse was simply called the “Apple Mouse”.
The biggest departure in terms of design is the new opaque white inner core. It doesn’t look as sexy when being backlit like here but not everyone needs to take photos of their mouse like me.
It’s in natural lighting that the Apple Mouse really shines. The white nucleus looks like it’s being preserved in resin. Sort of reminds me of the Jurassic Park mosquito in amber. It’s helplessly futuristic, and comparisons with EVE from WALL-E are inevitable.
The Apple Mouse also marks the pivotal moment in Apple’s CMF history where white became the prominent color in their products. We are still largely in the shadow of this era so the mouse fits in brilliantly next to more modern products.
The bottom of the Apple Mouse is visually a lot cleaner thanks to the removal of the useless tension dial. Also, let’s take a moment to appreciate how elegantly Apple used to treat the foot of the mouse.
One of the big changes from the Apple Pro Mouse was the USB cable and plug. The old one was notorious for premature failure from regular flexing.
The Apple Mouse was replaced by the Mighty Mouse in 2005. Utilizing Apple’s knowledge in capacitive touch sensors used in the iPod, they made a zero button mouse that can sense left and right clicks. It maintains the same shape as its predecessors though just doesn’t look as special without the clear housing.
Though I appreciated its soap like shape, the Mighty Mouse never made that fizzing sensation in my gut when I see something truly beautiful. Next to the Apple Mouse, it’s easy to see why.
Then in 2009, Apple went all out and introduced the Magic Mouse. It’s the only mouse I ever use and is probably the first Apple Mouse to really nail functionality. If you use Mac OS, there is no substitute for the multi-touch gestures and insanely fast scrolling you can do on this mouse.
But in terms of visual richness, the Apple Pro Mouse is still in a league of its own. This mouse remains as one of the most magical products I’ve ever seen. And the magic doesn’t just come from its mystifying appearance; it’s magical because it exists. For most products, clarity becomes fogged up with doubt and lack of ambition. They have no opinion, are overly apologetic as they are designed to satisfy too many people. Steve Jobs didn’t believe in this approach. He made the zero button mouse a reality, and in tandem created the most simple, elegant operating system possible. The Apple Pro Mouse wants to exist in the future, where everything is intuitive. It’s so much of an bullish product that it wasn’t till the Magic Mouse that we truly understood what its intentions were. It’s a huge statement but makes no excuses for believing in what’s right. And this truly epitomizes what made Apple so special under Jobs.
Let go of your hate. Accept what it is, let go of what it was, and embrace what it has become.