Trackpads: Deliberately Useless Devices?

The joy of personal computing on the road.

Recently I managed to drop my laptop less than a third of a meter to the floor on its side. Unfortunately, this pushed the little USB thingie that runs the wireless mouse up into the housing to the point where the mouse no longer worked.

I was travelling at the time, and all attempts to remove the thingie from its housing with items in my luggage (tweezers, scissors) met with abject failure. I was pretty sure I was going to need needlenose pliers, but none of the hotel staff could scare one up.

So, until I returned home, then, I was stuck using the trackpad.

There was some bad language involved.

I hope I never run into the gal/guy who originally thought the trackpad was a good idea, and then proceeded to invent one. If I understand correctly, strangling productive members of our society and stuffing them down a storm drain is officially frowned upon.

Here's what I imagine went on in one of the design meetings:

* * * * *

Boss: OK, we've got the basic design and functionality worked out, and could have it ready to go in a week or so. But I've had some complaints from the mouse people that we're going to squeeze them out. If users like their trackpads, wno's going to buy a mouse? Now, nobody wants that, our mouse people are part of the profit structure. Things will come with trackpads for free, but do we actually want customers to use them? Marketing says we should build in some design flaws, make them less useful. Any ideas?

Keener#1: Well, the trackpad works when fingers are dry, but any moisture at all, and it won"t respond.

Boss: True, Keener, but that's already part of the physical design, and the materials we're using. Anyone with the slightest amount of sweat, or has even just washed their hands, won't be able to use one of these things unless they wipe their fingers on a towel constantly. I was thinking more along the lines of things we can program into the software.

Keener #2: How about if we make it so you can move the cursor around the screen all you want, but as soon as you try to zero in on something, the cursor stops responding. When the finger moves fast, the cursor moves fast as well; when the finger moves more slowly, the cursor hangs. Users will give up, and plug in a mouse.

Boss: Not bad, you guys. I'm really glad my rich wife hired you. But, really, I think the cleaning staff could come up with these ideas. Turn it up a notch! Dig down!

Keener #3: How about if it doesn't just hang? We could program it so that below a certain speed its movements would be entirely random; the user couldn't tell where it's going to go.

Boss: How could you do that?

Keener #3: Well, there could be a database of, say, 25 completely different actions, and when the IF is met, the software would pick one of them at random. Or maybe you wouldn't want it to be triggered every time the IF is met, just fairly often.

Keener #4: Or when the user's finger lifts off the pad, completely random things happen, like maybe another window comes to the foreground. The user might think it's their fault!

Keeners: Oooooohhhh! Nasty!

Keener #1: Wait a minute! What about the click? We're forgetting the click! How about when the user finally zeroes in on something, and tries to click on it, the cursor moves some number of pixels over so the click misses?

Keener #3: I love it! And if cursor's within, say, 25 pixels of "close file" or "close window" they could draw the cursor over, and the users would crap themselves!

Boss: But users could lose work!

Keeners #1-3: Bonus!

Keener #4: Not usually. Usually they'll get a "save file" warning, but they might be so confused they'll hit the wrong button.

Keener #2: Stop! You're killing me!

Boss: Usually our meetings aren't this productive!

Note-taker: You're usually not asking them to be assholes!

Boss: Good point, Wanda. Guys, any thoughts on how long this would take?

Keener #4: Couple weeks, max. Ordinarily we could probably do it in less time, but it sounds like fun. There'll be a lot of laughing!

Boss: Cool! Get gone! Produce!

Keeners: Thanks, boss!

* * * * *

(Nb: I didn't make these behaviours up. My trackpad actually does these things.)

-30-

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