June 23, 2011


Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 Studio Series – Artist Edition. Windows 7, Vista or XP (excluding XP 64-bit) or Mac OS X 10.4-10.6. $29.95.

     The commoditization of computers is no longer debatable: businesses, consumers and manufacturers alike all acknowledge that one unit is much like another, with minimal feature differences rarely being worth any significant difference in price. Furthermore, the commoditization of peripherals means that there is little inherent reason to buy one company’s keyboard or mouse rather than another’s. What is a manufacturer to do? Some have, in effect, rushed for the exits, finding the lowest-cost ways they can to produce items that they assume users will buy, use for a short time, then throw away (even in an increasingly ecologically sensitive world). Microsoft’s hardware division, though, has a more interesting approach: having created products at particular pricing tiers, it then expands the product offerings within those tiers, allowing consumers to pick and choose among a wider variety of similarly priced and similarly functioning peripherals whose design (rather than functionality) becomes a strong expression of individual taste.

     Generally, the higher the number of a Microsoft hardware series, the pricier the item, which means a mouse in the 3000 series will cost less than one in the 4000 series. The 3500 series, with a $30 price point, has proved particularly conducive to expansion and differentiation. There are, for example, black mice designated Mobile Mouse and Mobile Mouse Special Edition in this series. In addition, there are Studio Series mice in the 3500 series – essentially the same as the black ones, but with attractive geometric overlays that give users a chance to express color and design preferences. And now Microsoft has gone a step farther – from 3500 series to Studio Series to Studio Series—Artist Edition. The latest incarnation of the 3500 series, still at the same price level as the others, gives users a chance to hold the work of five artists in the palm of their hands. There are six mice in this series altogether: two designed by Mike Perry of Brooklyn, New York, and one apiece by Matt Moore (Portland, Maine), Linn Olofsdotter (Sweden), Kirra Jamison (Australia), and Jonny Wan (Sheffield, England). The designs are all modernistic, but they vary quite widely in appearance, from Wan’s black-and-white robotic head (which might feel a little eerie to some) to Olofsdotter’s stylized and rather romantic flowers to one Perry design that looks like an explosion of lines and another that resembles multicolored geometric graffiti.

     Functionally, there is absolutely nothing different among these six mice – all use the same optical tracking technology in which Microsoft specializes, all use a nano transceiver that stores within a cavity in the mouse, and all offer lengthy battery life (projected by Microsoft to be eight months). They all work just as well as other Microsoft mice in the 3500 series – which, for that matter, work just as well as higher-priced Microsoft mice that come with additional features and in other styles. But the Artist Edition is really all about bringing a little bit of personalized art into the workplace (or wherever you use a computer). There is a Web site where you can see all the mice, for example – nothing unusual about that – but you can also download wallpaper that reflects the design of each mouse (the URL is http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/en-us/mice/artist-edition). Does any of this make the Artist Series a must-have? Of course not. No mouse currently on the market is a must-have; in fact, many users have decided to forgo mice entirely and use only built-in track pads or other forms of data entry. Indeed, touchscreens may well supplant mice in the not-too-distant future, although they are generally too quirky and imprecise to do so at the moment. So users who want to use a mouse can go the disposable-hardware route and simply get a basic, functional unit (for as little as $10) that will get the job done; or they can enliven their computer environment a bit with something a little jazzier, a little more reflective of personal taste, than the computer itself – which, after all, has become simply a commodity item. It is for users seeking that bit of extra “me-ness” that the Artist Edition is designed, and it is to them that it will most definitely appeal.

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