Before trackballs, computers had many different ways to navigate the cursor. Early personal computers had a joystick or crosshair similar to those found on an Etch-A-Sketch.
In the late 1960s, a company called Ferranti created a trackball prototype for military purposes. The trackball design had a ball (hence the name) that rotated and controlled the cursor’s position.
Popularization of Trackballs
Trackballs’ popularity skyrocketed as they became a standard part of arcade games in the 1970s. Games such as Missile Command used a trackball to move the player’s cursor and fire missiles at invaders.
Technology company Logitech was one of the first to commercialize trackballs in 1983 with their Trackman product. The device was advertised as more comfortable for extended use than a traditional mouse. It featured an ergonomic design meant to rest the hand in a more relaxed position.
Trackballs for Accessibility
Trackballs became a popular alternative to the mouse for computer users with disabilities, especially those who lacked motor control. By the mid 1980s, accessibility users made up a considerable portion of the trackball market.
Companies began making trackballs for accessibility users blind or visually-impaired users. One of the most famous examples is the VersaPoint Rechargeable Wireless Media Keyboard with Integrated Pointer. It featured a large trackball and backlit keys, making it easy to use in low light situations.
New Applications for Trackballs
Trackballs’ utility extends past gaming and general computer navigation. In the late 1990s, NASA began using trackballs in their space shuttles. The trackballs could operate the shuttle’s robotic arm and control the shuttles’ positioning in space.
Trackballs also found use in the music industry. Musicians used them to manipulate sound effects and synths since they offered a more tactile experience than a mouse or keyboard.
The Future of Trackballs
Although trackballs have lost popularity in recent years, they’re still viable for specialist applications. Modern trackballs may now include touchpads or trackpads, adding even more functionality to the device.
Trackballs are also being marketed as a tool for designers and digital artists. With a larger ball, trackballs allow for more precise cursor movement and the user doesn’t have to reposition their hand as much as they would using a mouse.
Trackballs have had a long and storied history. From their humble beginnings in military applications, to their surge of popularity in arcade games, trackballs have found their place in computer history. Access this external site to expand your knowledge of the subject. Click for more details about this subject.
Although they may not be as commonly used as the mouse or touchpad, trackballs are still relevant for specialist applications and users with accessibility issues. Who knows, perhaps trackballs may even make a comeback in the future.
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