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Inertial Cursors

Why drag when you can fling?
  (+9, -2)
(+9, -2)
  [vote for,

What, I hear you ask, could be done to improve this zen of UI design that is my cursor control device? Well, to answer that question we must first look at why other things have been invented, and why there is a plethora of mouse alternatives out there.

By far the best mouse I have ever used is my beloved logitech MX1000. It's not only responsive and comfortable, it also weighs a ton. This I at first disliked until it needed recharging. Upon moving back to my old mouse I found something was odd – reaching my taskbar suddenly required effort, and moving a window across my monitor or finding the bottom of my start menu became a relatively herculean task. The problem? My mouse was too light – every time I tried to throw my mouse along the desk it'd just sit there lethargic and inactive, waiting for a shove.

Instead of having to use an insanely heavy mouse, the inertial cursor system will develop these abilities: no longer will your cursor be locked to your mouse's position, it'll float, as if in a potential well on your screen. Admittedly this is a confusing description, as it'll float to within a pixel of the real position when the mouse is moving slowly or is stationary, hence providing the precision and control only possible with a mouse.

Flick your wrist, however, and the cursor breaks free of the mouse's position and flies across the screen, gradually slowing to a stop somewhere over the other side, depending on how hard and fast the flick was and how much friction your desktop is set to provide. Not only would you be able to reposition the cursor without having to wave your hand 14 feet across the desk, but you can control its flightpath with further movements – a flick up would send the cursor gently curving up as it flies, and another flick back would halt it mid-flight and return precise control.

Each element on-screen could have a different frictional coefficient associated with it, so that the cursor is more likely to stop over a button or a tab, for example. This would make it easier to pinpoint elements on dialogue boxes or windows on other monitors that require a large flick.

This could easily be disabled or enabled using a toggle button on the mouse, or be toggled automatically in software to maintain precise positioning for gaming, and with the addition of motion sensors the mouse could be used as a gyroscopic control system similar to those used in presentation remotes, but for a fraction of the cost and with an already familiar control technique. Scrolling could be revolutionised – a simple flick down or up would not move the cursor but the document, far easier than having to drag or use a conventional scrollwheel.

Of course, this system could also be used for touchpads or those hideous little laptop keyboard nipples, but that would largely be defeating the point, as those already provide the effortless action, just without the precision. For the system to work the physical mouse position would have to be linked to the potential well of cursor position and vice-versa, which may cause some cursor wandering if the effect is not damped (as minute movements cause a feedback loop going off in some random direction).

For a quick sample of this just duct tape some weights to your mouse, or buy a logitech MX1000, which seems to already have the weights in it ;-)

Extreme Tomato, May 18 2006

Why fling when the computer will do it for you? Clixmart_20Mousuite
[phundug, May 18 2006]

Input Configurator http://inputconf.so...sis/7_aug_throw.avi
Allows to tweak cursor behaviors in Java Swing and supports inertial cursors [dragice, May 28 2007]


       The mouse cursors on some fancy pages have a script for something that follows the mouse. I think some of them already do what you say, overshooting the real cursor's positon when you stop moving the mouse, but are only an image not the clickable cursor. Would have a learning curve, but could be useful. I think I'd rather see work on a mouse integrated into the keyboard so I don't have to move my hands from home row to mouse.
wittyhoosier, May 19 2006

       So in a nutshell:   

       "Flick your wrist, and the cursor breaks free of the mouse's position and flies across the screen, gradually slowing to a stop somewhere over the other side, depending on how hard and fast the flick was and how much friction your desktop is set to provide."   

       Good idea, unless there are fatal flaws in the details that I don't have time to read just now.
Texticle, May 19 2006

       The scripts on web pages apply more 'force' to the moving image the further from the cursor it is. This means that it's not possible to throw the image outside of the range of cursor movement or position it accurately. Rather than such a linear relationship between self-correction and distance this'd have to follow more of an inverse-square-law-esque distribution (also there'd be two overlapping positional wells to ensure the cursor updates for further movements).
Extreme Tomato, May 19 2006

       I believe you're referring to cursor acceleration, which is implemented not only in logitech's high-end drivers but also in many other OSs. I find it annoying when the cursor is accelerated hard as it is way too difficult to identify how much it's going to accelerate based on movement. A flick would, IMHO, be far easier to guage. Either way acceleration doesn't actually influence the position of the cursor in the same way as the mouse must still commit the same motion as the cursor, albeit to a lesser magnitude.
Extreme Tomato, May 23 2006

       I love the idea, especially with the 'textured' desktop option - some time ago I remember reading about force-feedback mice that would rumble as you bumped them over the edges of windows, vibrate satisfyingly as you dragged them across the uneven surface of a scrollbar, or glide smoothly over empty desktop space. Not heard of that idea recently - but something here reminded me of it. I also like the idea of a cursor existing within a set of overlaid attractive (and maybe even repulsive) fields, nudging you gently towards nice, simple, default options, and keeping you away from that nasty, dangerous 'Delete' button.[+]
zen_tom, May 23 2006

       windowsXP - Start - Control Panel - printers and other hardware - mouse - pointer options - [v] Enhance pointer precision. As easy as saying "baked".[-]   

       On the other hand, the whole "swinging the cursor" idea could be quite pleasant if you had one more button on the mouse that commands a cursor full stop; an apropiate place for that extra button may as well be top-surface of the mouse, thus paying the dued respect to the laws of friction and gravity which inspired this idea.[+]
sweet, May 23 2006

       The belkin n30 game mouse comes with immersion desktop software that provides force feedback for certain features in windows, formatting in MS office and certain sound frequencies in games. I think the mouse is still available, but it is a hideously heavy ergonomic nightmare with sharp edges and gritty motion. The software's good though, if there are other mice out there.
Extreme Tomato, May 23 2006

       uhm, isn't almost all of this baked with most mice/touchpads ? I mean, if XP does it, does that not constitute widely known to exist?
neilp, May 24 2006

       "Enhance Pointer Precision" is different to the idea as described. In XP (and most other desktop environments) there's the option to 'accelerate' the motion of the cursor depending on the speed at which the mouse is moved.   

       But this idea is talking about providing the cursor with some apparent weight, so that after you stop moving your mouse, the cursor carries on for a bit, as if it were something tangible within a real environment. That idea's not entirely new - but it is still refreshing, and well worthy of consideration.
zen_tom, May 24 2006


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