Many have tried to build a better mouse, but a Christchurch startup has built two—and computing may never be the same
For over 40 years, the computer mouse has lived up to its name. Whether it’s wireless or plug-in, Mac or PC, your mouse is probably a rodent-shaped critter that sits next to your keyboard and is not so much lovable as tolerable.
It’s not that designers haven’t tried to improve it, from Xerox to Philippe Starck. But Christchurch startup Simtrix has gone several clicks further, creating a mouse that’s a delight to use and a covetable object of design. And the international computing industry is taking notice.
Like all good inventions, the Simtrix supermice emerged from a there-must-be-a-better-way moment. In this case, computer programmer Grant Odgers, tired of continually shifting from keyboard to mouse, began looking for new solutions. After tinkering with some ideas, Odgers approached several design companies and found an enthusiastic partner in David Lovegrove at 4ormfunction.
“We immediately could see the potential,” says Lovegrove. From that initial contact, the pair established Simtrix. Three years on, and with the backing of Wellington’s Endeavour Capital, the company has taken Odgers’ ideas and 4ormfunction’s design skills to create a collection of products and a cluster of worldwide patents.
The most eye-catching of the range is the Swiftpoint TriPed, a sleek tripod-shaped mouse and pen combo that has been designed for the Tablet PC and tabletop PC market.
“For 20 years, the mouse has been relatively static in the marketplace,” Lovegrove says. “Of course they got more bells and whistles, but it’s always looked like a mouse. We’ve come up with something that doesn’t really look anything like a mouse but has all that functionality and more.”
Starting with a completely clean sheet, 4ormfunction created the TriPed to allow a traditional pen grip, which Lovegrove says is natural and comfortable for the user. One of the biggest challenges was designing an ergonomic product that would fit everyone.
“There are a lot of design features—the subtle details like the access angles and the conics that naturally cut the thumb and allow for different thumb sizes and different grip positions, so that however people choose to use them they are comfortable. That doesn’t come about by accident.”
And then there’s the pure look of it. “We wanted to incorporate a lot of visceral attributes so that people could get excited about it as a pure object,” he says. “That really comes down to the skill of our industrial designers to come up with a device that looks really cool but is beautiful to actually use.”
With Odgers’ programming knowledge, the products have software improvements as well—including a feature Simtrix has named ‘perpetual scrolling’, which works similarly to the way an iPhone responds to natural gestures.
The mix of hard and soft design features meant that the company’s core provisional patent had an astonishing 74 claims declared ‘novel’ and ‘inventive’. Simtrix is currently in the process of protecting those claims worldwide and Odgers says that ultimately the company will have ten to 15 distinct patents.
The TriPed and its cousin the Swiftpoint Slider, which uses the keyboard as a mouse pad, have the potential to transform the computing industry. Tablets, though predicted by Bill Gates to be the future of computing, have been slow to take off, primarily because of the limitations of the traditional pen tools that go with them. The TriPed could change that.
Likewise, the Slider is a solution to the lack of mouse space which has long frustrated mobile and living room computer users.
Simtrix launched its Swiftpoint family of products in March at CeBIT, the massive tech expo in Germany. Grant Odgers isn’t revealing details but says the company couldn’t have asked for a better result at the expo.
“We have had a lot of interest and a number of evaluations are under way so we’re definitely heading down the right track,” Odgers says.
Even before CeBIT, the company had attracted strong interest from major players like Microsoft and Logitech. If all goes well, Swiftpoint products could be available as early as the end of the year.