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Computer Input Devices

Updated on June 8, 2017
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Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

Computer input hardware facilitate the feeding of data and information into the computer for processing. Examples of input hardware include keyboard, mouse, microphone, and motion sensor.

Input hardware devices are designed to read user input actions including text, graphics, sound, video and other digital inputs before converting them into digital signals. The input is then manipulated by the processor.

A microphone is an input device for sound
A microphone is an input device for sound

The following are examples of input devices:


The keyboard is still the most important input hardware for the computer, allowing the user to enter text and symbols into a word processor and other applications.

Like the traditional typewriter keys, the computer keyboard has keys for letters and numbers, in addition to special purpose keys i.e function, numeric and navigation keys.

Even in the era of smart computing, the traditional keyboard has evolved into on-screen and touch keyboard.

Keyboard connectivity to the computer is done via USB and PS2 ports through a cord, or by wireless via a USB bluetooth dongle.

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Pointing Devices

Pointing device is generic for computer input devices used to control movement of the pointer (cursor) on the screen. By controlling cursor movements, the pointing device can thus be used to manipulate the GUI by clicking, selecting, drawing, tapping and dragging items.

Pointing devices come in many forms. It may include:

  • A physical device that has to be moved around to control cursor movement i.e. mouse.
  • Touch-sensitive surface i.e. touch-pad.
  • Touch sensitive pen input i.e stylus.
  • Motion sensor i.e. Kinect motion sensor.

 Mouse

Although computer mice come in many shapes and styles, the typical mouse does look a bit like an actual rat. It is connected to the computer motherboard by a long wire that resembles a tail. Newer mice are actually wireless.

A mouse has a primary left button, a secondary right button and a wheel or trackpad between them to help scroll through pages and lists of information.

A computer mouse
A computer mouse

 Touchpad

A touchpad is a pointing device that lays on the table or is part of a laptop or netbook with a small surface that responds to touch or pressure of the human finger. The pointer on the screen then mimics the movement of the finger.

Google Glass also spots a touchpad on its right frame. The Glass user basically swipes forth and backwards to access different menu features.

Apple iPhone and iPad multitouch screens
Apple iPhone and iPad multitouch screens

 Touch Sensitive Screens

  • Touchscreen

A touchscreen is an electronic resistive touch-sensitive display where the user employs the finger to point to objects on the screen. Typical examples of touchscreens are mobile phones and ATM machine screens.

  • Multi Touchscreen

Multi-touch technology is an improvement to traditional touchscreen devices, allowing input from two or more touch points at the same time. This permits use of multiple fingers to touch, pinch, zoom in and out, on a capacitive screen. Examples include screens for modern smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Examples of multi-touch screen include modern smartphones and Microsoft Surface computer.

 Pen Input

A pen input is much like an ordinary pen, but usable only on compatible computer screens. It is used to point at menus, write texts and draw images on computer screens.

Stylus for Galaxy Note
Stylus for Galaxy Note

 Graphics Tablet

A graphics tablet also called a digitizer tablet, it is flat plastic device with sensitive electronic points on its surface. The user makes use of a specialized pen input to design various kinds of complex engineering illustrations and entertainment graphics like cartoons.

When the pen device is moved on the surface of the digitizer, the location of the device is mimicked on the computer screen.

 Interactive Smartboard

An interactive and electronic smart board is a touchscreen device that makes it possible for users to manipulate it by tapping or drawing on it using a human finger.

A smartboard also ships with an electronic pen and eraser which can be used to input, edit and erase graphics, and the final work can be saved onto the computer that is connected to it.

An interactive smartboard
An interactive smartboard | Source

Game Controller Devices

A typical game controller spots levers, buttons and other features which can be manipulated in order to direct the movement and actions of gaming objects. A game controller device connects to the computer via a special cord.

Besides the examples listed below, other input devices listed earlier are also used as game controllers. They include; keyboard, mouse, touchscreen, motion sensor etc.

Popular examples of game controllers include:

 Joystick

Joystick is an omnidirectional device that features a flight like controller and is tilted around to effect control on game objects.

 Gamepad

A gamepad or joypad is usually held in both palms of the hand and features action buttons and two smaller omnidirectional sticks.

A gamepad
A gamepad

 Steering Wheel

Steering wheel just like a paddle, is much like the steering wheel of a car, and is popular for racing games, enabling players to wheel the cars around.

Audio-Visual Devices

Audiovisual input devices permit recording of human voice, video, images and other audiovisual signals.

 Microphone

A microphone is a device that converts acoustic sound input to electrical signals into the computer, and is used in many situations for voice input.

Microphones are embedded in most mobile computing devices and are standalone peripherals for non mobiles.

Other type of microphone is embedded within Google Glass head mounted optical display to enable interactive voice activations, with computers and mobile phones.

 Midi Keyboard Or Digital Piano

The midi keyboard connectivity to the computer is done via the midi port, and once connected to the computer, enables the user to immerse into unlimited possibilities of musical exploration.

  • Specialized software are used to receive audio inputs and thereafter facilitate the editing of voice recordings;
  • Speech recognition software are used to interpret and understand human voice commands; i.e. Siri and Google Voice
  • Voice to text software also enable conversion of voice inputs to text. Useful for those with typing disabilities or those on the move. i.e. Evernote.

 Webcam

Webcams are embedded within laptop computers are commonly used for online visual communication activities using applications like Skpe and Google Hangout. They are also used by other for photo and video capture.

 Digital Camera

Digital cameras are primarily used to capture photos. They ae also capable of capturing video.

 Digital Camcorder

Digital camcorders are primarily used to capture video data. They can however capture photographs as well.

 TV Capture Card

A TV capture card makes it possibly to view television broadcast on the computer monitor, and through specialized software, can as well record the viewed picture and video to storage devices within the computer.

 Scanner

Scanners are imaging devices that are used to input printed text, graphics and audiovisual data into the computer. Scanned text can also be re-edited in the computer by use of special software called Optical Character Recognition.

  • Typical desktop scanners are integrated into printers or are stand alone.
  • A hand held scanner is a mobile scanner and requires that it is moved over the surface of data to be captured.
  • Mobile devices equipped with relevant scan software can also make use of the camera to input text and graphics into the computer. i.e. Quick Scan for IOS.
  • The medical imaging scanner is used to scan and duplicate human body parts onto the computer for diagnosis and research.

 Barcode Reader

A bar code reader works just like a scanner only that instead of reading images, it scans and interprets a series of bars on a label. The bars typically represent products and items in a shop and the prices attached to them.

Biometrics and Motion Sensor Devices

Biometric and motion sensors are input devices used to interpret and feed the computer with data derived from physical body signals, gestures and movements.

These kinds of input typically interpret input based on human physiological and behavioral traits.

Biometric imprints which are physiologically based, input data from human fingerprint, iris, retina and are capable of face recognition etc. Biometric input is commonly used to trace criminals and authenticate access to facilities and computers.

Touch ID biometric sensor in iPhone
Touch ID biometric sensor in iPhone | Source

Behavioral recognition hardware meanwhile, read voice and motion related patterns for authentication and gaming.

Kinect (popular in game consoles) is an example of motion sensing device which intelligently interprets and implement input through natural user interface commands like gestures and voice.

By waving the hand from left to right for example, Kinect will open a new page. Thus, simply waving or pointing the hand towards Kinect will trigger different responses.

An XBOX 360 Kinect sensor
An XBOX 360 Kinect sensor | Source

Other Input Devices

  • Network interface devices
  • Braille terminal devices
  • External storage devices


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    • amuno profile image

      Alfred Amuno 3 years ago from Kampala

      Thanks Bookwork. Was a lengthy piece writing and hope the message is clear enough.

    • profile image

      bookwormella 3 years ago from USA

      Good job of explaining.