Input Device

What Does Input Device Mean?

An input device is a term for a physical piece of hardware that connects to a primary device, such as a computer, in order to provide user input.


Input devices are generally a class of peripheral devices that connect to the primary device.

Top examples include:

  • Keyboards
  • Mouse devices
  • Joysticks
  • Microphones
  • And web cameras

Techopedia Explains Input Device

The evolution of the input device over time shows how we've moved from the early era of individual mainframe and workstation computers to a new world where information flows more freely, and more seamless models make traditional input devices obsolete.

Now, most input devices belong in museums — but we may never fully get rid of these externals, in order to promote agility of system design and portability of systems.

For instance, people still love audio input devices for smartphones!

Early Input Devices

The earliest input devices plugged into computers through specialized input adapters.

These adapters were not standardized, and so there was no guarantee of compatibility. A mouse or keyboard had its own dedicated input jack, and connected through a physical cable, leading to all sorts of logistical issues where users got tangled up in wires.

Other examples of problems with early input devices include the one documented in Ellen Ullman's fundamental tech novel from the 1980s called “The Bug,” where a time sampling issue with a mouse stymied a whole programming department for months.

Since then, the use of input devices has been widely automated and streamlined by emerging technologies.

People don’t tend to worry about mouse sampling rates anymore, although these items could still cause problems if they are not standardizes and accounted for in code.

The USB Era

Over time, as hardware systems evolved, manufacturers moved from the traditional input device standard, to a new way of making these devices where nearly all mouse and keyboard units and other externals began to utilize the same Universal Serial Bus or USB port.

At the same time, software companies were making great strides in universalizing and streamlining software drivers that would allow the computer to receive the signal from an input device.

Everything became much more plug-and-play, where many input devices were still connected to a physical cable or cord.

The USB standard really improved the user-friendliness of setting up a computer system.

Input device, Wireless mouse and keyboard, wireless input, Bluetooth, input

Companies also begin to experiment with wireless systems where a USB adapter would transmit data to and from the peripheral device via Bluetooth.

Seamless Input Devices

The next stage of input device evolution led many of these devices to be built into the primary device. For example, a glut of obsolete external web cameras sitting in bargain bins today corresponds to new laptops and desktop computers with cameras built into their frames.

Built-in microphones have made the standalone desktop microphone obsolete and touchpads, trackpads and touchscreens have, to a great extent, replaced the traditional mouse.

As the smartphone era has progressed, engineers continue to work on streamlining input devices, so that we no longer need a basket of separate hardware components to communicate with our computers, and by proxy, the global Internet.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.