ThinkPad TrackPoint tried to build a better mouse

In today’s digital age, it sometimes seems that hardware has taken a backseat to the software that drives our devices. Button of the month You’ll take a look at what some of those buttons and switches look like on old and new devices to appreciate how we interact with them on a physical and tactile level.

It has many names: the TrackPoint, the bump, the mouse nipple, the pointer, the strange red dot on your keyboard. Love it or hate it, the famous – or infamous – mouse solution has practically become the symbol of ThinkPad’s business-focused laptops. It’s a well-thought-out, but ultimately unsuccessful alternative to the now-ubiquitous trackpad. But it has to be argued that it could actually be a better form of mouse for laptops, oddly enough today.

Started by IBM in 1992 (before Lenovo took over the ThinkPad brand) and persists to this day, the intent behind the TrackPoint is fundamentally different from other input methods: that is, unlike most other Other forms of mice, the TrackPoint relies on pressure, not movement. With a traditional mouse or trackpad, you are physically moving around an object analogous to how you want to move the cursor, whether you are moving your finger on a trackpad or an entire mouse held in your hand. However, the TrackPoint works more like a little joystick. The cursor moves according to the direction and pressure you put on the knot. Apply more pressure and the mouse moves (or moves) faster.

It is a much steeper learning curve to follow. It’s easy to understand how a mouse moves, since it translates the movement more directly. Move your hand in a circle, and the cursor too. Move fast, the cursor moves fast. But the TrackPoint demands more skill. You have to learn to apply pressure to move the mouse the way you want.

Despite that initial difficulty, TrackPoint fans claim numerous benefits for those willing to learn. Being located in the middle of the keyboard allows almost instantaneous access, instead of having to move your hands towards the touchpad every time you want to move the mouse. Combined with touch typing, the TrackPoint promises an ultra-fast keyboard experience that never asks you to move your hands or take your eyes off the screen.

There are other benefits, too: The TrackPoint is infinitely movable, unlike a traditional mouse or trackpad, which requires repositioning of your finger or hand when it reaches the edge of your trackpad or mouse pad. It also physically takes up less space than a trackpad (although that’s certainly less relevant in today’s world of bigger laptops).

Not everyone agrees, of course: TrackPoint dates back to a time when browsing documents and spreadsheets was the most important thing you could do on a laptop, and it’s harder to use for long, smooth movements (like For example, use a pen tool in Photoshop to outline a shape.) Touchscreens have also come a long way since the 1990s. Modern touchpads are much better than they used to be, with full multi-touch gestures and integrated buttons, while TrackPoint technology has not received the same attention.

Now it’s hard to imagine, since touchpads have been adopted almost universally as the de facto control method for laptops, but at one time TrackPoints were an equally viable option for the primary mouse input for laptops, with Other major 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 notebook computers, rather than the lesser curiosity it is today.

The appeal of the TrackPoint is one that many, including myself, find difficult to explain. And based on the relative shortage of pointing device mice on most products outside of the ThinkPad universe (the only other major device I can think of using one is the 2014 New Nintendo 3DS, with its C device), it appears that most of the world agrees.

But even today, TrackPoint fans on the internet still swear by their favorite input method and won’t argue that it’s not the top form of computer browsing (the ThinkPad subreddit, for example, is full of thank you posts). It’s like keyboard layouts that aren’t QWERTY in that regard: well thought-out and potentially better-to-use alternatives that exist only outside of computing because other input methods are much more popular and would take too much effort to change.

Despite trackpad supremacy, the TrackPoint lives on: Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop, for example, still offers a TrackPoint alongside a traditional trackpad. And of course the Bluetooth TrackPoint II keyboard seen here allows you to use a mouse bump with any computer if you prefer. David Hill, Lenovo’s design director at the time, could have said it better in 2017: “Some people understand it and some don’t; Some people get the flavor. It’s hard to explain, but I still think it’s useful. “

But ultimately, the TrackPoint is proof that, as difficult as it is to build a better mousetrap, it could be even more difficult to build a better mouse.