There are a number of alternatives to the traditional computer mouse. One of the oldest (in terms of invention date, 1952) and most popular is the trackball. Far from being an upside down mouse (as is often stated), the trackball offers a very different paradigm to driving the interface.
In the case of the mouse, you move the device in a direction that then corresponds to the direction of the cursor. It is an indirect way of pointing with your hand. As you move your hand from left to right, the cursor follows. This is why mice are often referred to as pointing devices – the movement of the mouse mimics the movement of the cursor on the screen.
The trackball, on the other hand, is more akin to driving the cursor. You move the ball and movement drives the cursor on the screen. The trackball is a viable alternate to the mouse for a variety of reasons, including:
- Because it’s stationary, less desk space is needed
- The cursor remains still while you left- or right-click, even if you take your hand off the ball. With a mouse, it can move a fraction when activating a button.
- Comfort – some people find that trackballs are more comfortable than mice
The trackball was the pointing device of choice in the first notebook computers (Apple Portable Mac and then Macbooks, various PC configurations, etc.) and was extremely popular at that time. Due to space requirements (particularly depth), trackballs lost favor in the mid-90’s to the now ubiquitous touchpad and, as mice became solid state (optical and then laser), trackballs have since become even more niche.
That being said, Logitech has a lineup of three trackballs, which all have state–of-the-art sensing technology. In fact, the first solid-state pointing device ever not to require a specialized surface was the Logitech Trackman Marble, which was launched in 1995 (this was my personal favorite pointing device for a few years). The ball paradigm remains compelling and we are continuing to invest in this area. I can safely say that some of our most passionate customers are trackball customers and we continue to take this market seriously and are actively investigating new trackball offerings. Ideas are more than welcome!