In today’s digital age, it sometimes seems that hardware has taken the place of software that drives our devices. Button of the month we will examine what some of these buttons and switches look like on old and new devices to appreciate how we interact with them on a physical and tactile level.
It goes by many names: the TrackPoint, the nub, the mouse nipple, the pointing stick, the strange red dot on the keyboard. I love or hate, the famous mouse solution – or notorious – has practically become the symbol of laptops focused on the ThinkPad business. It̵
Initiated by IBM in 1992 (before Lenovo acquired the ThinkPad brand) and persisting to this day, the intention behind the TrackPoint is fundamentally different from other input methods: in particular, unlike most other mouse shapes, the TrackPoint is based on pressure, not movement. With a traditional mouse or trackpad, you physically move around an object in a similar way to how you want to move the cursor, whether you are moving your finger on a trackpad or an entire hand-held mouse. The TrackPoint works more like a small joystick, though. The cursor moves according to the direction and pressure exerted on the tip. Apply more pressure and the mouse moves (or scrolls) faster.
It is a much steeper learning curve to follow. It is easy to understand how a mouse moves, as it translates movement more directly. Move your hand in a circle and also the cursor. Move quickly, the cursor moves quickly. But the TrackPoint requires more skills. You have to learn how to apply pressure to move the mouse the way you want.
Despite this initial difficulty, TrackPoint enthusiasts claim numerous benefits for those who wish to learn. Being in the center of the keyboard allows for almost instant access, instead of having to move your hands down on the trackpad every time you want to move the mouse. In combination with tactile typing, TrackPoint promises an ultra-fast keyboard experience that never asks you to move your hands or look away from the screen.
There are also other advantages: the TrackPoint is infinitely smooth, unlike a traditional mouse or trackpad, which requires the repositioning of the finger or hand when reaching the edge of the trackpad or mouse pad. It also takes up less physical space than a trackpad (although this is certainly less relevant in today’s world than larger laptops).
Not everyone agrees, of course: the TrackPoint dates back to a time when browsing documents and spreadsheets was the most important thing you could do on a laptop, and it is more difficult to use it for long and fluid movements ( like, say, using a pen tool in Photoshop to outline a shape). Touchpads have also come a long way since the 1990s. Modern touchpads are miles far better than before, with full-fledged multitouch gestures and integrated buttons, while TrackPoint technology hasn’t gotten the same attention.
It’s hard to imagine now, with touchpads that have been adopted almost universally as a de facto control method for laptops, but at one point TrackPoints was an equally viable option for the main input of the laptop mouse, with other large companies like Dell, HP, and Toshiba all offer the input method. In an alternate timeline, the TrackPoint, not the trackpad, could have become the dominant mouse mode on laptops, instead of the less curiosity it is today.
The TrackPoint’s appeal is one that many – including myself – find difficult to explain. And based on the relative scarcity of mouse with pointing stick on most products outside the ThinkPad universe (the only other device that comes to mind that uses one is the New Nintendo 3DS of 2014, with its C-stick), it seems that most of the world agrees.
But even today, TrackPoint fans on the Internet continue to swear by their preferred input method and will not meditate on any argument that it is not the best form of computer browsing (the ThinkPad subreddit, for example, is full of popular posts. ). It’s like non-QWERTY keyboard layouts in this regard: well thought out, potentially better to use alternatives that exist only at the edge of computing because other input methods are much more popular and it would take too much effort to switch.
Despite the trackpad’s supremacy, the TrackPoint continues to live: Lenovo’s top-of-the-range ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop, for example, still offers a TrackPoint alongside a traditional trackpad. And of course, the TrackPoint II Bluetooth keyboard seen here allows you to use a touch of the mouse with any computer, if you prefer. David Hill, then head of Lenovo’s design, could have said it better in 2017: “Some people understand it and some don’t; some people acquire the taste. It’s difficult to explain, but I still think it’s useful.”
But in the end, the TrackPoint is proof that however difficult it is to build a better mouse trap, it may be even more difficult to build a better mouse.