Mouse for Apple

First production mouse for Lisa and Macintosh

In 1980, Apple asked IDEO to develop a mouse for their radical new computer, the Lisa. Douglas Englebart had invented the computer mouse in the early 1960s as part of his pioneering work on the future of computing. In the 1970s, Xerox PARC further refined the mouse and included it with the Alto and the Star, the forerunners of today’s computers. Englebart’s mouse was one of a kind; the Xerox PARC mouse was expensive and fragile. The Apple mouse would have to be more reliable but less than 10% of the cost of the earlier version.

Abandoning the expensive mechanism found in the earlier mouse, the design team used two slotted wheels as encoders that turned as the ball rolled. LEDs and phototransistors then read the spinning wheels. A third roller held the ball in place against the encoders while letting it revolve freely.

This improved and cheaper mechanism presented a formidable challenge to the designers: the parts needed to be held with a method that resisted misalignment but which could be easily manufactured and assembled. The key was a plastic “ribcage,” a complex molded plastic part that pushed the limits of injection-molding tooling technology.

The team similarly tested and refined the mouse’s other key components, from the audible and tactile click of the mouse button to the rubberized coating on the ball. A record turntable spun for days, logging “mouse miles” in order to check the reliability of the electromechanical assembly.

The resulting mouse proved mechanically and economically sound and was changed only slightly when adapted for use on the first Macintosh computer. The basic mechanism design is used in virtually all mechanical mice produced to date.

Project date: 1980