Page last updated at 07:51 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 08:51 UK

Say goodbye to the computer mouse

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

first computer mouse
The world's first computer mouse didn't make any money for its inventor

It's nearly 40 years old but one leading research company says the days of the computer mouse are numbered.

A Gartner analyst predicts the demise of the computer mouse in the next three to five years.

Taking over will be so called gestural computer mechanisms like touch screens and facial recognition devices.

"The mouse works fine in the desktop environment but for home entertainment or working on a notebook it's over," declared analyst Steve Prentice.

He told BBC News that his prediction is driven by the efforts of consumer electronics firm which are making products with new interactive interfaces inspired by the world of gaming .

Guitar Hero
Guitar Hero has been praised for its innovative interfaces

"You've got Panasonic showing forward facing video in the home entertainment environment. Instead of using a conventional remote control you hold up your hand and it recognises you have done that," he said.

"It also recognises your face and that you are you and it will display on your TV screen your menu. You can move your hand to move around and select what you want," he added.

"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" Mr Prentice said, "is all about using computer power to do things smarter."

Greatly exaggerated

Naturally enough those in the business of making mice are not wholly in agreement that the end is nigh.

"The death of the mouse is greatly exaggerated," said Rory Dooley senior vice president and general manager of Logitech's control devices unit.

Microsoft
Microsoft has said touch screens will be all pervasive

Logitech is the world's biggest manufacturer of mice and keyboards and has sold more than 500 million mice over the last 20 years.

"This just proves how important a device the mouse is," said Mr Dooley.

But he also agreed that the number of ways people can interact with a computers were rising and that his own company was manufacturing many of them.

"People have been talking about convergence for years," he said. "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 Dooley explained.

Popularity

The mouse was invented by Dr Douglas Engelbart while working for the Stanford Research Institute. He never received any royalties for the invention partly because his patent ran out in 1987 before the PC revolution made the mouse indispensible.

With a 40 year anniversary planned for later in the year, Mr Dooley said Gartner's prediction for the mouse was too gloomy given that the developing world has still to get online.

Wii in action
The Wii has changed ideas about how we interact with computers

"The mouse will be even more popular than it is today as a result," he suggested.

"Bringing technology, education and information to these parts of the world will be done by accessing web browsers and doing that in the ways that we are familiar with today and that is using a mouse.

"There are around one billion people online but the world's population is over five billion," he said.

Gesturing

So just how ready are people to wave their hands in the air or make faces at devices with embedded video readers?

Gartner's Mr Prentice says millions are already doing it thanks to machines like Nintendo's Wii and smartphones like the iPhone.

"With the Wii you point and shake and it vibrates back at you so you have a two-way relationship there.

"The new generation of smart phones like the iPhone all now have tilting mechanisms or you can shake the device to do one or more things.

"Even the multi-touch interface is so much more powerful and flexible than in the past allowing you to zoom in, scroll quickly or contract images."

For those who lament the demise of such tried and tested pieces of hardware, Mr Prentice did concede that the keyboard was here to stay for the foreseeable future.

"For all its faults, the keyboard will remain the primary text input device," he said. "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."


SEE ALSO
Gates hails age of digital senses
07 Jan 08 |  Technology
Has touch technology come of age?
29 Jun 07 |  Technology
Brain control headset for gamers
20 Feb 08 |  Technology
Beyond the keyboard and mouse
14 Mar 08 |  Technology
New Wii craze is opening up
26 Feb 08 |  Technology

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