The ubiquitous little electromechanical beast known as the computer mouse is headed for extinction, according to technology consultancy firm Gartner, which has predicted the demise of the device within the next five years.
The advent of "gestural controllers" like those used with the Nintendo Wii, as well as touch screens and facial recognition devices, will spell doom for the conventional mouse, Gartner analyst Steve Prentice told the BBC. "The mouse works fine in the desktop environment but for home entertainment or working on a notebook it's over," he said, adding that new interactive controllers designed for games are driving a whole new generation of interfaces.
"You've got Panasonic showing forward facing video in the home entertainment environment," Prentice said. "Instead of using a conventional remote control you hold up your hand and it recognizes you have done that."
"Sony and Canon and other video and photographic manufacturers are using face recognition that recognizes your face in real time. And it recognizes even when you smile," he continued. "You even have emotive systems where you can wear a headset and control a computer by simply thinking, and that's a device set to hit the market in September. This is all about using computer power to do things smarter."
Of course, not everyone agree with Prentice's ideas. Logitech, the world's biggest manufacturer of mice and keyboards, has sold over 500 million mice over the past 20 years, according to Senior Vice President Rory Dooley, who said, "The death of the mouse is greatly exaggerated." He agreed that computer and gaming interfaces were changing and growing, pointing out that Logitech was manufacturing many alternative control devices, but claimed the mouse was nowhere near the end of the line.
"People have been talking about convergence for years. Today's TV works as a computer and today's computer works as a TV," he said. "The devices we use have been modified for our changing lifestyles but it doesn't negate the value of the mouse." Dooley also pointed out that much of the developing world had yet to get online, leaving a large, untapped market for conventional controllers that will result in increased mouse usage rather than any decline. "There are around one billion people online but the world's population is over five billion," he said.
Despite his dire predictions for the mouse, Prentice admitted that at least one piece of old-school hardware is going to be with us for a long time to come. "For all it's faults, the keyboard will remain the primary text input device," he said. "Nothing is easily going to replace it. But the idea of a keyboard with a mouse as a control interface is the paradigm that I am talking about breaking down."