An input device is any peripheral (piece of computer hardware equipment) used to provide data and control signals to an information processing system (such as a computer). Input and output devices make up the hardware interface between a computer as a scanner or 6DOF controller.
Many input devices can be classified according to:
- Modality of input (e.g. mechanical motion, audio, visual, etc.)
- the input is discrete (e.g. key presses) or continuous (e.g. a mouse's position, though digitized into a discrete quantity, is fast enough to be considered continuous)
- the number of degrees of freedom involved (e.g. two-dimensional traditional mice, or three-dimensional navigators designed for CAD applications)
Pointing devices, which are input devices used to specify a position in space, can further be classified according to:
- Whether the input is direct or indirect. With direct input, the input space coincides with the display space, i.e. pointing is done in the space where visual feedback or the cursor appears. Touch screens and light pens involve direct input. Examples involving indirect input include the mouse and trackball.
- Whether the positional information is absolute (e.g. on a touch screen) or relative (e.g. with a mouse that can be lifted and repositioned)
Note that direct input is almost necessarily absolute, but indirect input may be either absolute or relative. For example, digitizing Graphics tablets that do not have an embedded screen involve indirect input and sense absolute positions and are often run in an absolute input mode, but they may also be setup to simulate a relative input mode where the stylus or puck can be lifted and repositioned.