Apple Mouse Lisa

Wired has an interesting profile out this morning on Jim Yurchenco, a now-retired engineer whose career virtually started with the task of helping create the first mouse for Apple and Steve Jobs:

Yurchenco was just a year or two out of school when he got a call from an old Stanford pal, David Kelley. Kelley had just started a new design firm and asked if Yurchenco might want to join as an engineer. That meant a proper salary—Yurchenco had been working at a medical tech start-up, being paid mostly in stock—so he agreed. The company was called Hovey-Kelley; Ideo was still a few years off at that point. But thanks to co-founder Dean Hovey’s relationship with Jobs, Apple became one of the young company’s first clients.

Probably most interesting in Yurchenco’s account of his time working on the first Apple mouse is the influence the Atari gaming system played on it. The Xerox mouse that predated the Apple mouse was too expensive and too complex to meet Apple’s needs, and the Atari’s trackball served as influence in solving that:

The Atari machine differed from the Xerox mouse in a few key ways. For one, its trackball wasn’t forced up or down. Instead, it just floated. Yurchenco tried doing the same and found the mouse functioned just fine if you let gravity do the work. Moreover, it resulted in less friction and fewer parts. That was one key insight. The Atari machine also used optics to track the trackball’s movement, relying on interrupted beams of light instead of mechanical switches. By borrowing this concept, Yurchenco further streamlined the internal components. That was insight number two.

Aside from the Atari influence on the Apple mouse, the profile also describes Yurchenco’s task of making the product both affordable to build and easy to use. You can read the full profile on Yurchenco’s career at Wired then stare at your Magic Mouse and admire how far we’ve come.

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4 Responses to “How the Atari arcade system inspired the original Apple mouse”

  1. Apple really aren’t given enough credit as to how much they improved the mouse. People always say they just stole the mouse from Xerox, but they’re just so far off.


    • luckydcxx says:

      The same with almost every other device Apple has made. They didn’t invent the mp3 player, smart phone or tablet but they significantly improved them and made them the best devices in the world.


    • standardpull says:

      I don’t think anyone says that Apple stole the Mouse idea. It was first created by SRI in the late 1960s and was experimented with by many. Apple released the first major commercial use of the mouse in January 1983 with the Lisa.


  2. driverbenji says:

    uh, Zac, you’re probably not old enough to realize that, in the original article, when they mention Atari, they are not referring to the “Atari arcade system” (home unit), as your headline suggests, they are referring to the trackball found in original full-sized arcade machines such as “Centipede”, cir. 1980, (the first consumer use would be Shuffleboard, cir. 1978), Centipede (and later Millipede) is one I put many quarters into, back in my high school years (yeah, my age is showing). Video arcades were the first popular consumer use of trackballs, before Atari home arcade machines, before PCs caught on (the first ones had only keyboards, no cursor pointing device of any kind). See wikipedia (