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In Computers, what is a Pointing Device?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many computer functions depend on user interaction, either ongoing or to get things started. In order to interact with programs and displays on a computer, users may use a keyboard or use a pointing device. The most often used pointing devices include the computer mouse, the joystick, the trackball, the light pen, the stylus and graphics tablet, the touch screen, the touchpad or trackpad, and the pointing stick. The Wii® remote, which works only with the Nintendo® Wii® console, may be considered a special type of pointing device.

Some kind of mouse is probably the most widely-used computer pointing device. A mouse is a small, oval-shaped device that one rests one’s hand on and slides around to move the on-screen pointer. Mice have built in clicking action to interact with the display, and some have a scroll and multiple programmable buttons. There are different types of mice including wireless mice, USB mice, mini-mice, ergonomic mice, and the footmouse, which is operated with the foot, rather than the hand.

A joystick is a lever that points at the ceiling and tilts in all directions. The pointer moves in the direction the joystick is pointed until it is returned to the upright position. Joysticks are most often equipped with triggers in the form of buttons. The trackball, on the other hand, is a pointing device that is rolled in the direction(s) in which the user wants the pointer to move. Some trackballs have a scroll wheel and mouselike buttons on their device.

A graphics tablet is a type of pointing device that may be controlled by a stylus held like a pen, a mouse, or either one interchangeably. The stylus may have a button, and the tablet itself may have buttons and a scroll. It is popular with graphic designers, photographers, and other artists. The touch screen is also used by artists with a stylus as the interactive tool. Other types of touch screens use finger movement.

The touchpad or trackpad and the pointing stick are pointing devices built into laptop computers. The touchpad is a rectangular surface across which one can move one’s finger, as well as click and double-click with it. The pointing stick is a very small, pressure-sensitive nub on some lap top models and used similarly to the way a joystick is used.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for EasyTechJunkie, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By Vincenzo — On Mar 22, 2014

There may come a day when the touch screen is the dominant pointing device. Windows 8 is built around the notion that people are comfortable using their fingers to "click" icons and navigate around the operating system, after all, and one might say such a notion is here to stay when Microsoft invests so heavily in it.

Still, one can hope there is still room for more precision instruments than a finger just won't do the trick. Imagine, for example, laying out a magazine in a desktop publishing program and trying to use a finger when precise placement of items is required.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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