The Double Click
Double clicking used to be the default for interacting with items on the desktop. If you wanted to open an application, you’d need to double-click it. But what purpose does that serve?
Double-clicking allows for more functions to come out of one mouse button. The mouse you’re using right now (unless you’re using something like a gaming mouse) most likely has a maximum of three buttons and a minimum of one, depending on what brand you’re using.
Right now, if you single click on a word in this sentence, nothing will happen. If you double-click the word, the word will become highlighted. If you triple-click it, the entire sentence will become highlighted. Then, using either keyboard shortcuts or the right click function, you can copy it, if you so desire. The same applies to word processors – if you do this in Word, you’ll be able to alter the entire paragraph, delete it, etc. without moving your hand down the entire height of the paragraph, the way you’d have to if you were drag-clicking to highlight. The multi-click function here is providing additional functionality to your mouse. Pressing and holding the button, combined with moving it, can provide alternate functionalities as well. Many computer mice allow you to press down on your scroll wheel and click-and-hold the right button as well, allowing you even more options.
An easily visible divide between the first generations to use computers at home or work and the latest is whether or not they double click links to open them. The first several home editions of Microsoft Windows required that users double-click some things and not others, but since double-clicking would open anything anyway, many users became accustomed to just double-clicking everything. Even today, Windows requires you double click a program to open it (unless you alter that yourself in your settings) and single clicking only selects the icon. Single-clicking has become the default for many items online as well as many applications. Double clicking requires more fine motor skill, but since users can adjust the length of time they need to click the second time for it to register, it’s not the speedbump it used to be.
Single-clicking is the new default. Not only does it make it a bit easier for users with motor-control issues to use websites and apps, it also makes it easier to translate websites to mobile. Double tapping is an option, of course, but it’s much more finicky than double-clicking because the screen is so much smaller. Simply tapping once can accidentally activate buttons when the user is trying to scroll, yes, but it’s a better option than the alternatives. Tablets, which are often an in-between mish-mash of desktop pages and mobile’s touch functionalities, also benefited from the move to single-clicks.
Similarly, on desktops, double-clicking when you have three buttons on your mouse already was unnecessary unless there’s a possibility you meant something else when you clicked it. Most things except for in-app functions like highlighting words now take single-clicks and double clicks, but the single will work fine until you get back to your desktop.
Apple’s dedication to streamlining their devices has lead to the magic mouse, a wireless mouse with no outwardly visible buttons and a charging port placed deliberately on the bottom of said mouse to keep you from leaving it plugged in while you use it. Where Microsoft and third-party mice have two or three buttons at least, Apple mice trend towards one! Being able to click the scroll wheel might be extra, but the right-clicking function opens a menu relating to the item being clicked on. Apple instead has users press the control button as they click something to open the analog menu in Apple devices. A side effect of this is that you can’t do the equivalent of right-clicking with only one hand.
This accomplishes the goal of simplifying the mouse, but it does so at the cost of simplicity overall – Microsoft’s left-right mouse clicks are sort of the default. An Apple user could come to a Microsoft mouse and discover through trial and error that the right-click behaves like ctrl-click does, but a Microsoft user is not likely to have the same results – I had to Google it myself to find that out!
The mouse is a powerful, valuable tool. It communicates with the desktop in a way that even touchscreens can’t. To reduce its functionality to left-clicking only feels like missed opportunities when so many buttons can be packed into the same device without sacrificing usability or accessibility.
The Worst of Every World
I propose instead of even that single click, Apple could introduce the hover-to-click option. This would be unequivocally worse than any other option. It would add a delay to every single click, it would make web browser games unbearable, and it would require the introduction of more button-pressing on the keyboard side to do things. But, it would also remove Apple’s need for the one Magic Mouse button on desktop computers, and leave it instead in a strange purgatory where it is, more or less, a laser pointer.