Happy 20th Anniversary to the Worst Mouse Ever

Happy 20th Anniversary to the Worst Mouse Ever

Steve Jobs had a certain reputation for product design. Whether it’s a good reputation or not depends on how you view Apple and its products, but there’s no denying that the man had a knack for designs that didn’t look much like what the rest of the PC or electronics industries were doing. Sometimes the products that resulted were industry-leading successes that went on to define what “high-end” looked like for an entire market. Sometimes they suffered from flaws related to the same design decisions that made them distinctive, like the G4 Cube. And sometimes — not often, but sometimes — they were so blazingly awful as to make you wonder if anyone who worked on them actually had hands.

Happy 20th Anniversary to the Worst Mouse Ever
Image by OldMouse.com
Image by OldMouse.com

Note the progression. The first NeXT mouse was a flat rectangle, reminiscent of the original Apple mouse. Given that humans had yet to invent ergonomics and still saw the world solely as a series of right angles, it made sense to build an input device designed for Minecraft’s Steve. But it’s the second mouse that clearly stuck in Job’s mind as an example of perfect engineering — because ten years later, he knew exactly what to do with it. Chop off those irritating buttons, stuff the hardware into a form factor painstakingly intended for toddlers, and ship that baby.

Think like a creature designed around an entirely different grasping appendage.
Think like a creature designed around an entirely different grasping appendage.

We’ve known for years that Steve Jobs hated multi-button mice, but based on the peripherals the man developed, I’m not sure Steve Jobs didn’t just hate mice, period. It’d be a touch ironic, considering he’s generally credited with introducing the GUI to mainstream personal computing, but I think it’s possible that the Apple USB Mouse was actually Jobs’ angry revenge against all the people who wanted a two-button Apple mouse. “Be happy with what you’ve got,” it seems to whisper. “We can always make it better.”

How bad was it? Bad enough that I’d rather have a cut palm from a NeXT mouse than the near-instant wrist and hand cramps I got from the Apple part. Bad enough that it was the one part of Apple products my Mac using friends wouldn’t defend. We could (and did) argue operating systems and processor technology. The mouse was always treated as a ceded point. I can’t point to a Godwin-like law involving Apple and hockey pucks, but you’ve got to search long and hard to find someone willing to defend it, and bringing it up was considered to be a demonstration of bad faith.

That said, this kind of weird “features that aren’t features” shtick was a practical hallmark of the Bondi Blue iMac. It included such scintillating capabilities as:

Now, to be sure, the iMac G3 wasn’t all bad. Features like an included RJ-45 port were forward-looking, and the machine had shipped with an integrated 56K modem rather than the 33.6Kbps device Jobs had initially announced. But the mouse? The mouse was so bad, Macworld once called it the sixth worst Apple product of all time, writing: “The only people who liked it were the folks who made third-party mice and USB-to-ADB adapters that enabled the use of older mice.”

Happy anniversary.