The Touch Screen Revolution: Could the Mouse Become Obsolete?

April 4, 2017 | | Comments Off on The Touch Screen Revolution: Could the Mouse Become Obsolete?

As with all tech, developers are constantly pushing the envelope and searching for new and exciting ways to revamp our devices. Ever since the invention of the mouse in the late 1960’s by Douglas Engelbart, computer companies have sought out ways to find an even more efficient method of interacting with the Graphical User Interface on personal computers. This has led to the more recent development of the antecedent (in terms of using the light pen), and present-day competitor with the mouse: the touch screen. As time moves forward, we have seen touch screens dominate numerous devices, including cell phones, tablets, and even touch screen laptops. However, newer doesn’t automatically equal better, especially in terms of garnishing support. This post will evaluate studies done on both the direct and indirect (touchscreen and mouse, respectively) methods of interacting with a Graphical User Interface, as well as the latest innovations from Microsoft and Apple relating to the touchscreen phenomenon. In the end, a conclusion will be reached as to whether the mouse is in danger of obsolescence soon.

“Mouseless.” Digital Image. Projects. June, 2013. March 16, 2017.

This war over efficiency and accuracy of manipulating a computer display is one that began in the 1960’s, comparing the mouse to its competitors the lightpen, and the joystick [1]. When asked to select icons on a screen using these various devices, being measured on factors such as speed and accuracy, scientists conducting the trials concluded that “for the more experienced subjects the mouse was both faster and more accurate than any other device—including the light pen” [2]. On the other hand, individuals who were not accustomed to using these devices were found to “perform better with both the light pen and the knee control” [3]. The reason for this ease is due to the “psychological “naturalness” of operation” that comes with directly pointing the light pen at an item to be selected. Yet, the fact that the pen had to be “held in the air” was a major disadvantage that the mouse did not face [4]. As tech has progressed and our screens are no longer strictly vertical, positioned upright on desks, the naturalness of directly touching the screen has re-emerged and given validity once again to the lightpen’s initial purpose, yet minus the extra pen-shaped hardware.

Russell, Patrick. “Touchscreen Desktops: Yay or nay?” Digital Image. Usability Geek. December, 2013. March 16, 2017.

As touch screens have become an increasingly important part of our daily devices, we might wonder if this spells the end for the computer mouse. Another study, this time by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories in 2007, judged the touchscreen and mouse based on “efficiency and accuracy”, just as the study before had in 1967 [5]. However, the two competing devices were different. When asking participants to drag a green shape to a designated “dock”, the study found that participants were “about twice as likely to commit a selection error using the touch-table (8.5%) than using the mouse” (4.1%) [6]. Regardless of this fact, “selection was faster for touch-table input…even with these multiple attempts at selection” [7]. Another test that participants were asked to take was to click opposing corners of a target and then drag it to the intended dock as before [8]. In this situation, the results completely flipped. That is, “two mouse input [where participants used one mouse per hand to click and drag objects] resulted in significantly lower performance compared with two-finger input on the touch-table…[especially] much higher selection-times for the two-mouse input condition” [9]. Based on the findings of both experiments performed about the touchscreen and mouse, it is certain that both devices have their strengths and therefore prove to be worthy opponents of one another.

Considering the touchscreen revolution, computer makers such as Microsoft and Apple are beginning to create devices that appeal to this current tech-obsession. For Microsoft, this involves a touchscreen digital creativity hub called the “Surface Studio” and for Apple, it means a “touch bar” that puts tools for applications such as Photoshop on a little touch display, above the keyboard, that replaces manual navigation towards that tool via the trackpad [10]. Apple has strongly refused creating a touchscreen for their MacBook Pro, which is starting to draw computer buyers away from them and to begin investing in Windows machines [11]. This is because there is something organic and exciting about being able to select images and icons with one’s own finger, especially on a digital medium. It makes our experience with technology feel more comfortable and accessible. Still, not everyone is convinced that this is the way to go.

While it remains uncertain if touch screens will eventually make computer mice an artifact of digital history, what we do know is that both technologies have advantages over the other, and it is up to the consumers to decide which qualities, accuracy or efficiency, are more important to them in the long run. As for now, the mouse and touchscreen remain coexisting technologies.


  1. William K. English, Douglas C, Englebart, and Melvyn L. Berman. “Display-Selection Techniques for Text Manipulation.” IEEE Transaction on Human Factors in Electronics 8, no. 1 (March 1967): 5-15.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Clifton Forlines, Daniel Wigdor, Chia Shen, and Ravin Balakrishnan. “Direct-Touch vs. Mouse Input for Tabletop Displays.” Paper presented in SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI ’07. New York, NY, 2007.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Tom Warren. “The new Mac vs. PC war is all about touch.” The Verge, Oct 27, 2016.
  11. Ibid.