An ode to the puck, Apple’s first USB mouse

An ode to the puck, Apple’s first USB mouse

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It’s time I speak up, time I stand up for the little guy. The Apple USB “puck” mouse.

First introduced in 1998 along with the Bondi Blue iMac and discontinued in 2000, this mouse is often quoted as one of Apple’s worst mistakes and hated by many.

I loved it and still do. It’s one of my favorite mouse designs and I’d have no problem using it today still.
So what are some of the issues people have with these awesome little pucks? I ran a little poll on the Low End Mac facebook group and asked what folks thought. 

I’m impatient so the poll results only span a few hours, here are the results:

Loved it – 13
Not good, not bad – 24
Hated it – 40

While “Loved it” started out in the lead almost immediately (my vote included), this only lasted about 5 minutes before “Hated it” tied and 5 minutes after that “Hated it” was ahead in votes. It never recovered.

Some of the positive comments read:

“I used one for about 5 years, don’t hate it. Kinda want one now”

“I never had a problem with it. I liked being able to move it around with 2 fingers from the middle.”

And some of the negative comments (including those from another facebook post I made about the puck):

“Hate hate hate! The worst Apple product ever designed.”

“I had this mouse. Worst mouse ever.”

And a comment about it’s accuracy: 

“I hate the puck and all its one-buttoness but I will give it this: Even now, I can’t seem to get an optical mouse to point to the exact place I want it to go. No matter how I adjust the speed it always seems to over-travel. But the old puck (with an iCatch and a clean ball) goes right where I want it to every time. I guess that’s why I keep it around.”

So, plenty of hate still around for these little pucks. What have been the primary objections to them over time?

  1. It’s too small
  2. It’s not ergonomic
  3. It’s round
  4. It only has one button

It’s too small – While the puck was indeed a small mouse, my big hands never had an issue with it. The biggest problem I observed is that people were gripping it too hard resulting in cramps or sore fingertips. As one of the poll commenters said, the puck was incredibly easy to manage with just two fingers and/or a very light touch. Of course “too small” is relative and depends on the user but a lot of users agreed.

It’s not ergonomic – It certainly wasn’t an ergonomically correct mouse, however NONE of Apple’s mice have ever been ergonomically correct, even the latest (at the time of writing) Magic Mouse 2. Ergonomic is more than just being able to properly rest your hand on the mouse, which not a lot of people can do. Évery mouse Apple has designed to date is too small for most people to be ergonomically correct. I know what people mean when they say the puck wasn’t ergonomic but then again none of the Apple mice before the puck and since have been. If you truly want ergonomic; you need a vertical mouse that fits your hand exactly.

It’s round – This is one of the more absurd reasons people come up with as to why the puck is no good; because it’s round and one could not clearly feel the button, the mouse would spin around and sometimes even end up upside down! While I have néver heard of anyone ending up with the puck upside down (while they were sober), apparently Wired heard different. That Wired article is referenced on the Apple USB mouse Wikipedia page by “It is widely considered one of Apple’s worst mistakes” so it must be true, right?

I call nonsense. If a user didn’t force the cable to connect in a way it was not designed to, the mouse would never pull to one side or rotate when you let go of it, never. The cable on the puck was short, it was after all intended to be used with the accompanying keyboard which had a USB port at most five inches away from where the mouse would be used. Connect the mouse to the USB port on the other side of the keyboard and it would be too short, resulting in the mouse pulling to one side or rotating. With intended use, those were non issues though. One very popular product was the iCatch, it connected to the puck to alter it’s shape and this was enough for a lot of users to cary on without further moaning. As for it ending up upside down…. I don’t even know what to say to that. I’ll just laugh and move on.

It only has one button – Indeed it does. As did every Apple mouse that came before it (1984-1998) and every mouse after (2000-2005). Apparently the single button design was OK for all of those mice except the puck, which made it the most horrendous mouse ever. The Pro Mouse that replaced the puck was amazing, a huge improvement according to most and the fact that it still just had one button…. suddenly didn’t matter that much anymore because *ohhh shiny red LED opticalness!*

The people I heard the 1-button complaints from the most at the time were Windows users (classmates that had to use a Mac in school for a lot of classes), gamers and folks that just parroted what others were saying. A right-click button surely did come in handy while gaming but it never bothered me much, I still dominated every Unreal Tournament or Medal of Honor game even with the puck 🙂 Most Mac users, didn’t care. A single button was always how it’s been and having one hand on the keyboard to press the control key when a right-click was needed was second nature. I still catch myself holding down control sometimes to right-click and I currently have a mouse with 6 buttons!

How about the flip-side of this coin? Why do the puck lovers, love the puck?

  1. Very easy to hold and maneuver
    Because of it’s size, moving the mouse actually involved a lot more thumb and finger movements and a lot less wrist movements, compared to bigger mice. With your fingers in control, this brings us to:
  2. The puck is crazy accurate
    Just like one of the facebook comments mentioned, I have never been as accurate with a mouse as I was with the puck. Before or since. Something I sometimes still notice when I work in Photoshop for example. It’s one of the reasons I kept a puck on my desk for years after it was discontinued. If I needed pixel perfect precision, I’d reach for my puck. Over the years I’ve become too dependent on multiple buttons and a scroll wheel/ball so going back to the puck for work is no longer an option. Do I still use pucks with all my vintage Macs? Absolutely!
  3. It looks great
    This is something even a good amount of haters agree on; it’s a good looking mouse. This was also pointed out in a poll option added by someone “Hated using it, loved looking at it” which received 6 votes. And of course for a lot of Mac users aesthetics are important which meant the puck was the obvious choice. Other mice had more buttons but they mostly didn’t look good. Then there were the trackballs which often looked better but were a lot more expensive. Finally there were the tablets which quickly adopted the Mac’s color schemes so they typically looked pretty good, they were the most expensive option though.
  4. It has a real click
    Yes, this certainly mattered. When you click on a puck, it doesn’t sound and feel cheap. It feels like a quality product. You can hear the click but the person on the other side of the house can’t, it’s not this high pitched thin plasticky click sound you found on most mice at that time. The click has a bit of weight behind it and simply feels good. Even the $90 mouse I’m currently using has a click that feels cheap and sounds even worse.
  5. It doesn’t age, at all.
    No kidding. The tracking of my 1999 Blueberry puck is the same it’s always been. The click is just as solid as it was the day I got it. The spacers on the bottom of the puck have not worn nor have the internal mechanics. It is, apart from a few light marks due to my carelessness good as new! And this is after using it WAY more hours in a day than I’d like to admit now, for 6 years every day and at least 10 years total. This goes for every puck I have come across since to this day. Unless it was mistreated of course.

Sure, the puck was not for everyone but no mouse design ever is. I have no love for the Pro Mouse, the heavy wireless Mighty Mouse or the way too thin Magic Mouse designs while others swear by it. Currently I’m using a vertical mouse which is dismissed out of hand by most as a terrible mouse and then there are folks that banned the mouse completely and moved to trackpads or stuck with their trackballs and tablets. It’s impossible to design a mouse that will please everyone and that’s ok but the puck, despite it’s reputation, to me is the best damn mouse Apple ever made to date.

I am currently searching for a purple “Grape” puck (orange “Tangerine” is en-route). If you have one or know of one and want it to end up in a loving home, shoot me a message. You can be sure it’ll end up with someone that gives it the proper respect and admiration 🙂

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