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Input Devices, Newer and Weirder

Cool new input devices are always a hard call – on the one hand you want companies to challenge the status quo and come out with the ultimate in control, but on the other hand, if an input device is too strange looking, no one will even think of buying it. There have been a number of introductions recently, and a few of them are quite interesting. As with any input device, you have to try it before you buy it, and it would be nice if these companies put a little more effort into supporting user group demonstrations (and sending them to TidBITS for review!) so people could get their hands on these beasties.

Three button devices are showing up more frequently these days now that Apple has A/UX and X Windows running on the Mac, since X Windows basically requires three mouse buttons. Logitech, a long-time mouse maker, has two new input devices, a mouse and a trackball, both with three buttons. Mouse Systems (with whom I’m still irritated for not releasing the PageBrush hand scanner already) has the $169.95 A3 (that’s A cubed, but HyperCard 1.2.x can’t handle superscripts), which like the Logitech $129 MouseMan and $149 TrackMan has three buttons and works with A/UX and X Windows. All three devices have Control Panels that allow users to assign macros to the buttons during normal Macintosh use, and at least the A3 can be configured so that left-handed people can use it easily. And if three buttons isn’t enough for you, the $29.95 MVP Foot Switch from Curtis works with the company’s $149.95 MVP Mouse (which, despite the name, is really a three-button trackball). I’ve been haranguing for a long time about foot controls, and I’m glad that someone has finally issued one.

Logitech has been busy. Aside from the MouseMan and TrackMan, they are working on a small trackball that works with portable computers. This is obviously mostly a problem for PC portables, since the main Macintosh compatible portables have built-in pointing devices, either a trackball or the Isopoint. I don’t know offhand what Colby and Dynamac use for pointing devices, though. Microsoft also has a $175 trackball for portables, called the BallPoint, that will clip on the side of the computer and can be used with either hand, because it has two sets of two buttons on the side the unit. The Logitech trackball will probably look somewhat similar but will have the added advantage being able to work standing alone or held in the user’s hand. The obvious problem with these devices is the slow refresh rate of portable LCD screens. Fast cursor movements disappear while the LCD displays refreshes, which is irritating and might be maddening if coupled with a bumpy plane trip. Nonetheless, Compaq will bundle Microsoft’s BallPoint with its LTE and SLT portable PC clones between now and June 30th, 1991.

Apple is almost certainly working on handwriting recognition software with the announcements of PenPoint and PenWindows. However, you may not have heard that a small company, Communications Intelligence Corp. (CIC) has been working with Apple on a tablet-like device that can recognize Kanji characters as well as certain gestures, much like PenPoint. In theory the Mac Handwriter, as the device is called, could be modified to accept and recognize other alphabets.

EMAC has been advertising an interesting looking trackball recently. Called the Silhouette, the trackball is cut away on the top right side so you can get both your thumb and forefinger on the ball (which comes in a number of colors, to judge from the advertising). That design should provide quite a bit more control. The $99 Silhouette is ergonomically designed to fit the curve of the hand and offers well-placed buttons and a lighted lock button. Spark International’s new trackball and mouse can’t compete in the aesthetics department, but both are cordless, a welcome feature on many cord-covered desktops. The trackball will list for $185 and the mouse for $175, and in theory, both can operate up to 15 feet from the infrared receiver. Depending on the setup, an infrared pointing device could be very handy in a presentation setting because you could control the Mac from a different spot in the room.

The BAT keyboard’s entrance to the Macintosh market (which I talked about earlier) is delayed slightly, in great part because it wasn’t snazzy looking and Infogrip is concerned that too many people will care about its appearance. Infogrip will first target the PC CAD market with the serial version of the BAT and then will release Mac and Unix versions with a fancier design. Some people are already using the BAT in an interesting way – to provide a better controller for disabled people (my apologies if I’ve offended anyone, I couldn’t bring myself to write "people of the disabled persuasion" :-)). California State University at Northridge has a universal interface where you can plug whatever device you need, be it the BAT, a normal keyboard, or a head-mounted pointing device, into any of the computers they have. For those of you who are especially interested in access to computers for disabled people, there will be a conference on the topic at the Airport Marriot in Los Angeles on March 20th through 23rd. Infogrip will be in the Genovation (the people who worked with CSU on its system) booth if you want to see the BAT.

One way or another, we at TidBITS are going to have to do something, because our mouse has started to skip and stick seriously despite rigorous cleaning. We’re about ready to relegate it to the cats, who would enjoy it immensely, and get something else. Suggestions anyone?

CIC — 415/328-1311
Curtis Manufacturing — 603/532-4123
EMAC — 415/683-2222
Infogrip — 504/336-0033
Logitech — 415/795-8500
Mouse Systems — 415/656-1117
Spark International — 708/998-6640

Information from:
Lots of propaganda
Ward Bond of Infogrip

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 29-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #4, pg. 10
InfoWorld — 11-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #10, pg. 21
InfoWorld — 04-Feb-91, Vol. 13, #5, pg. 3
InfoWorld — 21-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #3, pg. 38
PC WEEK — 11-Mar-91, Vol. 8, #10, pg. 15
PC WEEK — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 4

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