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What is an Input Device?

written by: Jordan Salvi•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 6/20/2010

Chances are, you are using one right now, but what exactly is an input device? Input devices can be as varied as a punch-card reader to a touch screen monitor, but they are a vital component to any computer.

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    What Is an Input Device?

    Any number of computer peripherals can be classified as input devices. An input device is simply something that is used to interact with, or provide data to, the computer, as opposed to an output device that displays data for the user. Everyone that has used a computer has also used an input device, such as a keyboard or mouse. Without input devices, there would be no way to interact with computers.

    The most common input devices are the mouse and keyboard. However, joysticks, touch screens, webcams, and microphones are considered input devices as well. Some more exotic input devices that most people do not use on a daily basis are three-dimensional navigation devices. Some examples of this type of input device are mice that can point to 3D space, or punch card readers used in the early days of computing.

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    Types of Input Devices

    Mice and other Pointing devices

    Other than the keyboard, mice are the most common type of input device. Nearly every computer has one, and they make navigating the screen much easier than trying to use just a keyboard. Mice usually use a ball, light, or a laser to track movement. Similar peripherals, such as a touch screen or laptop's touchpad, trackballs, graphics tablets, and even joysticks are “pointing" input devices.

    Touch screens are becoming an increasingly popular pointing device, and someday may replace mice altogether. Other forms of pointing devices, such as motion controllers on the Wii game console, may also reveal the direction of input devices in the future.

    Keyboards

    The keyboard is the most common input device. It is almost unheard of for a computer to be without some form of keyboard, be it a full QWERTY keyboard or a smaller number pad, such as those found on a cell phone. It is possible to interact with most computers solely through the keyboard, without even a mouse, because they are usually the default input device. Touch screens may eventually overcome the keyboard as well, by providing an onscreen keyboard to save space.

    Audio/Video Input.

    Webcams and digital cameras can also be considered input devices. They provide visual data to the computer in the form of images and video. Some webcams can even be used as pointing devices by tracking the location of a person's hands or face. Microphones and digital musical instruments, such as midi keyboards, are audio input devices that provide the computer with audio data. Even an electric guitar, when hooked up to a computer, can be an input device.

    To learn more about input devices, check out An Introduction to Hardware for Beginners: What Goes In and What Goes Out?