One sector of technology that has gained much innovation in the past year is on input devices. In the 80′s people were content with the use of the keyboard as the device of choice when interacting with the computer. Almost 30 years later, the keyboard is still here but a host of other ways to interact with computers have begun cropping up. Now when we say computers, we are no longer limiting our definition to the desktop PC we have on our desks in the office and at home. The computer itself has evolved and has integrated with most of the gadgets and appliances we use everyday. The cellphone you currently have, the laptop and that console where you play your favorite video game whether it’s hand held or connected to your TV, may it be the home theatre PC you watch your favorite movies on are all computers in every sense of the word.
The last time the computer industry became so excited with an input device was in the 80′s when Apple used a mouse on their Macintosh line of computers. While the mouse has been invented and used in different platforms much earlier than that, Apple coupled the use of the mouse with an operating system which had a graphical user interface(GUI) that made the use of the mouse logical and essential.
On the gaming end of the computing spectrum, major innovations came in the form of the joystick. First used in the arcades and later on in Atari consoles, the joystick then resembled a car’s stick shift and one or two buttons on top of the stick or beside it on the base of the stick. The idea of the modern joystick however, arrived when Nintendo released their Family Computer in Asia whose counterpart is the Nintendo Enteratainment System(NES) in the United States. Nintendo’s take on the joystick was to replace the stick to a cross-shaped directional pad. It also featured more buttons which were placed on top of a flat rectangular plastic box. Later on, the term gamepad was used to refer to these modern joysticks.
Fast forward to the present. Surprisingly, both Apple and Nintendo continue to be the innovators for input devices.
Apple is now gaining much popularity and accolades for introducing multi-touch into their devices. The traditional touchpad which was largely used on laptops was already widespread but Apple enhanced it by allowing multiple fingers to be used to control the computer’s GUI. Also, Apple started using touchscreens on their mobile products which includes cellphones and media players. With the Apple iPhone and the Apple iTouch leading the way in multi-touch, it also features an accelerometer that detects the device’s orientation while it is held aloft.
Similar innovations were made by Nintendo when they introduced the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii consoles. The Nintendo DS featured dual screens one of which was touch activated. This allowed gamers to have new gaming experiences previously not possible with the use of a gamepad. A greater surprise was the introduction of the Wii’s Wiimote controller. Instead of strictly using the gamepad buttons to control the games, the Wiimote allowed user control with a flick of the wrist or by simply tilting or rotating the controller wirelessly. The Wii truly revolutionized gaming by bringing in a greater audience that included Mom and Dad, the casual gamer, and even the hardcore gamers together. The simplicity at which the games can be played due to the intuitive nature of the controls allowed virtually anyone to simply pick up a game and have an enjoyable experience with little to no learning curve needed. This eventually led to Nintendo winning console sales over its competition.
So what’s next in the future of input devices? It appears that the next innovation in input devices are geared towards interactive experiences with the use of one’s hands. Everyone who has watched Minority Report was astonished when 3D holograms were made out of thin air allowing one person to touch, move and interact with objects in the hologram using their hands. Well, it may be a long way before input device technology reaches that level but for now, it appears that multi-touch screens and movement sensor controllers are going to be the standard input of choice for future devices.