Of mice and cellphone users

We have the only patented one-millimeter mini-mouse in the world, and we are far ahead of anyone else in development of this kind of device.

August 23, 2011 06:26
4 minute read.
The Micropointer

The micropointer 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. Build a better mouse, though, and you could rake in some serious cash! As devices go mobile and get smaller, manufacturers are searching out technologies that will allow interaction between computers and humans using as small a footprint as possible. And at least one Israeli start-up has developed a promising technology that allows interaction with computers, tablets and smartphones using input devices that take up very little space.

The mouse, developed in the 1950s and ’60s, came into its own during the ’80s, as Apple computers, which sported the input devices, became popular. It’s pretty clear that without the mouse, the concept of “Microsoft Windows” as we know it would not exist.

And, needless to say, the whole history of personal computing, from PCs down to the iPhone, would have been radically different.

Dependent only on the keyboard, I’d be typing this story on a variant of Wordstar or WordPerfect, instead of a nice MS Wordstyle page.

But the mouse is not the last word in computer input. The traditional roller ball or optical mouse are fine for PCs or Macs, but they’re not very laptop friendly.

Largely because there was nothing else reasonably (i.e., inexpensively) available at the time, older laptops sported trackball mice, although touchscreen technology has been around since at least the early 1990s.

Joysticks have also been popular, especially on gaming consoles and for use with computer games. Now, of course, touch is all the rage, with small devices such as the iPad, iPhone and the plethora of Android phones implementing it almost flawlessly, while touch track pads are all the rage on laptops.

But touch technology isn’t the be-all and end-all; sometimes it’s more convenient to use a joystick or thumb pad, especially for games.

Although many games manufacturers have figured out a way to port their best-selling titles for use on touchscreen smartphones, many apparently haven’t figured out how to port the “feel” of the game, which was of course played on older devices using mice or joysticks.

Hence the market for a product like the ThinkGeek Joystick-It Arcade Stick For iPhone, which retros the iPhone (and other smartphones) back to an earlier era, allowing players to enjoy their games and still have the opportunity to carry around a cool phone.

Another argument against the touchscreen is its cost. The touchscreen and the chipset to control it are the most expensive component in the iPhone and the Nokia N8, for example, and touchscreens are notoriously sensitive to scratches, moisture and all sorts of other maladies.

That’s why, even though everyone and his mother seems to want a smartphone, there is still a huge market for “traditional” cellphones, where the interface consists of buttons (to input numbers and letters for text messages), and a mini-mouse or joystick, known as a “four-way rocker” in the cellphone business.

While still useful, the four-way rocker is quickly becoming superannuated because it’s too big, says Ailon Tamir of Micropointing, an Israeli start-up that is building a better mouse for the smaller devices that manufacturers are constantly developing.

“There is a great deal of competition for space on the device surface, which of course is very limited,” he says. “And the old-fashioned rocker-style mouse used by most devices today, which measures 35 millimeters squared, just takes up too much room.”

As cellphone manufacturers are constantly innovating, they constantly come out with new models that they encourage users to buy. For non-touch phones, size and form-factor is one of the biggest selling points; the smaller the phone, the more popular it usually is.

Micropointing’s solution is perfect for these smaller devices.

Using a combination of advanced software algorithms and innovative design, Micropointing has managed to shrink the cellphone rocker considerably – to as small as a square millimeter! “It could be used in hand held devices such as smart phones, navigating systems and notebook PCs – anywhere space is at a premium,” Tamir says.

Not only space – but cost, too, he says: “Instead of costing more, our mouse device is cheaper than the standard 35-millimeter mice out there now – about a third cheaper, with far less power consumption.”

That means more people in third-world countries where device manufacturers are largely selling non-touch phones these days will have access to them, while form factors for laptops that still require mouse input can be further shrunk, making them more attractive – and cheaper.

The Micropointing solution can even go beyond cellphones and laptops. How about, for example, a TV remote-control ring that you can use to change channels and volumes with a flick of your thumb? Thanks to Micropointing’s technology, lost remotes will be a thing of the past – because you’ll be wearing the remote! Tamir, who developed the Micropointing solution along with company CTO Vladimir Muzykovski, showed off the mini-mouse at last January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where, he says, they were inundated with interest from potential partners, both manufacturers and service providers.

The company, currently a member of the Trendlines Group’s Mofet B’Yehuda Venture Accelerator, is set for explosive growth, Tamir believes.

“We have the only patented one-millimeter mini-mouse in the world, and we are far ahead of anyone else in development of this kind of device,” he says.

“Manufacturers need a solution now. It’s like a match made in heaven.”


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