Easily the most interesting thing Apple unveiled today is the new Magic Trackpad. Essentially, it's a larger version of the trackpads that ship with each MacBook and MacBook Pro. But it's a stand-alone product, meant to be used with desktop computers. So why did Apple feel the need to make such a product? It's about trends and the future.
"Looking at the big picture, more users are using our trackpad because there are more notebook users than desktop users," an Apple representative told me today when discussing the Magic Trackpad. Laptops have been Apple's best-selling computers for some time now. And as time goes on, despite some of the new desktop products unveiled today, we can likely expect the gap between laptops and desktops to increase. This will mean an increasing number of users who are accustomed to using their computers via these trackpads. So this new product makes sense for users who are interested in buying Apple desktops as well.
"People love the trackpad. People love those characteristics. So we wanted to bring that kind of design to our desktop users," the Apple rep told me. So Apple designed the product (in conjunction with the wireless keyboard) to bring everything people like about the trackpads over to the desktop experience. Pinch-to-zoom, inertial scrolling, tap-to-click, it's all there.
But what's nice is that the Magic Trackpad is actually much larger than any trackpad found on a MacBook (80 percent more surface area). I asked if this meant we could expect some new multi-touch functionality for the desktop experience, but Apple refused to comment on that.
This new Magic Trackpad also makes a lot of sense with regard to the overall trend of where Apple is heading. The company has already acknowledged that it's now a "mobile devices" company. And a big part of that isn't just laptops, but the iPhone and now iPad as well. Both of those devices are obviously completely multi-touch-based. There is no mouse.
Apple is slowly but surely moving towards a place where the majority of computer interaction is done through touch gestures. The desktop remains the last great stronghold for the keyboard + mouse combination. But now Apple is chipping away at that too. First they launched the multi-touch Magic Mouse. Now we get the Magic Trackpad.
When I asked if this signaled the death of the mouse, Apple would only say that "we want to offer our users the choice." They note that plenty of people at Apple have been using the Magic Trackpad alongside the Magic Mouse. "Some operations are better for a mouse, some for a trackpad," is what I was told.
That said, Apple did acknowledge that some users will likely ditch the mouse in favor of this new device. And while Apple is keeping the Magic Mouse as the standard item bundled with the desktop computers, there is an option to get the Magic Trackpad as well with each new computer purchase (for the cost of the device, naturally).
I know that personally, this Magic Trackpad is going to replace my mouse. Even though my desktop offers the comfort of two huge monitors, recently, I've found myself using my laptop more and more simply because I prefer the trackpad and its multi-touch gestures. Now that I can get that full experience on my desktop, I'm definitely making the jump.
Others simply won't have to. They'll start with the trackpad on laptops and won't see the point of the mouse. And further down the line, users may grow up on touch tablets and won't even understand the concept of the mouse.
The mouse may be destined to become a precision tool that professions such as designers use. History may prove that this Magic Trackpad was the final mouse trap that signaled this end.
[photo: flickr/Simon Walsh]