Computer Input


Sometime over the past twenty years or so, there was a shift in thinking of computer users.  The two primary inputs for computers – keyboard and mouse – have switched places in people’s minds as to which is the more intuitive input.  In previous years, computer users could grasp typing just fine (even if the letter appearing on a screen was just short of magic), but explaining a mouse was difficult.  There was this issue of mentally mapping: you push forward to move the cursor on the screen upward.


Nowadays the mouse is the assumed easy input.  Casual online games will often be designed to use only mouse input.  Including any keyboard input (even if only the unmistakable arrow keys) means that fewer people will be able to ‘get’ the game easily.


I’m not entirely sure why this shift happened.  I suspect that mouse input is actually more intuitive and easier to understand.  Keyboards were only more immediately graspable because people were already familiar with typewriters.  Now that people are using computers first (rather than re-learning word processing from typewriters), we’re seeing mouses as the preferred simple input.


4 Responses to “Computer Input”

  1. wmdot Says:

    You’re probably right that mouse input is more intuitive, but i can get things done so much faster with the keyboard, or at least one hand on the keyboard while using the mouse (copy, paste, change windows… all are easily done with the left hand). Knowing keyboard shortcuts makes many things faster, but since they aren’t intuitive/easy to remember, people just don’t use them.

    Also, i’ve often wondered why no one has come up with a two-mouse input system. It seems like some things would be even more intuitive that way (like zooming/panning – see the iPhone). i imagine you could also do some pretty cool stuff with RTS games as well. Even having one mouse exclusively as point only would be a vast improvement to the fingerprint smudges i get on my screen when someone is trying to point something out. Why doesn’t that exist?

  2. Adam Says:

    It does exist! There are some people working on just that type of tools for interaction (I happen to be one of them).

    The best (before I finish my awesome project) is to couple a Space Navigator from with a mouse. The Space Navigator (and Space Pilot, Space Explorer, and Space Conquistador, etc…) are 6 DOF input devices for use with CAD software. They are used to manipulate the work area in 3D space as you use your mouse to manipulate the part you are designing. The idea is very easy to learn and gives you an ambidextrous way to manipulate your environment.

    Some effort has gone into making it work for games.
    I’ve used this guys driver to manipulate Avatars in Second Life, but since most games lack this type of hardware support it’s a little rough going.

    Another company that does support gaming out of the box is
    They morph the two devices into one by adding joystick toggles to the side of a mouse. It’s a little less compelling because the control you get is digital, where the Space Navigator is analog force sensing. But they support a host of different games by emulating a keyboard and joystick.

    We are on the verge of this becoming much more mainstream. Just think, people used to get by with only a 2 button mouse without a wheel. and now where would we be without our precious scroll functionality.

  3. Nate Says:

    Great point about the shift from keyboard to mouse. I remember those days, when mice were optional… wow.

    Yeah, hard (physical) buttons are faster to use than soft (onscreen) buttons, because there’s one fewer level of indirection, but the extra flexibility of afforded by the virtual (mouse) mapping mean that the functions can always be mapped and labeled in a way appropriate to the task at hand, instead of always having the same 101-key layout and having to map it to all applications.

    So… mouse interfaces are more discoverable, learnable, and easier to use for beginners, but keyboard interfaces are faster and more efficient for experts. Which, incidentally, is why the Wii is making gigantic inroads among non-gamers, while the 360 is going strong with the hardcore crowd.

    But…. the mouse is limited to 2D input, so yeah, like Adam is saying, if/when operating systems go 3D, or 3D virtual spaces become more useful and mainstream, then something like the Wii controller, or the specialized CAD interfaces, will rise up and shine for reals.

    😀 I love this topic.

  4. oneirichaberdasher Says:

    I remember that a number of years ago — when USB mouses where just starting to become common — I wondered why you couldn’t just plug in two such mouses for input. I thought the first proof-of-concept game for this could be a boxing game, using hand motions for punches. Of course, the need for such a game is gone, now that the Wii has already done it better.

    The point about keyboards being faster for more experienced users is a good one. Further proof (not that we needed it) that keyboards won’t be disappearing as an input device anytime soon.

    As to 3D spaces: mouses now are 3D inputs, thanks to the scroll wheel. Scroll wheels require an additional layer of mental mapping, but I’ve found the scroll wheel used as a zoom pretty easy to grasp in the programs that use it. The Wii also has 3D space manipution — with the Wiimote recognizing forward and backward motion — but I rather doubt the remote control style interface is the wave of the future for CAD users computer experts.

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