thanks for asking, I'd indeed like to share my view on this matter.
In this post I'm not going to come up with a revolutionary new pointing device in terms of technology, involving infrared lasers or miniature radar devices or AI-powered cameras to locate your finger's positions on a virtual trackpad or analyze your view focus on the screen. Rather, I'd like to think of what a mobile pointing device would have to feature, which of the current technical approaches are the most promising in this respect and what that might result in when combining it with a Textblade.
A pointing device in general should feature the following attributes:
- intuitive use
- high pointing precision (high pointing resolution)
- high pointing reliability (I have reproducible control over the cursor)
- high pointing efficiency (I quickly reach the position I'm targeting on screen)
In addition, a mobile pointing device should feature:
- small build, low weight
- integration with other input devices to not have yet another device to carry around and manage
- high functional integration to allow for additional input interactions (like scrolling, right/middle/left click, gesture controls)
- small footprint when using (there may not be much space to move a device around)
- mechanical robustness
Looking at existing pointing devices, I can think of 4 general designs which have been more or less successfully offered for mobile use. Here are the pros and cons from my POV with respect to mobile use:
obviously the most commonly used pointing device in general (though probably not in mobile use).
- high pointing precision
- high pointing efficiency and reliability (i.e. you get a high rate of initial hits with when targeting an element on the screen, even with high cursor speeds)
- best cursor control of all pointing devices.
- highly intuitive cursor control
- needs a flat, hard surface in addition to the space your mobile device consumes
- cannot be "left alone" in uncontrolled environments where it could slip down a slope or be moved by vibrations, hence occupying a hand which is then not available for typing
- requires you to take a hand off the keyboard to control the cursor
- additional input features require more complex hardware (additional buttons etc.)
not so commonly used, but tenatiously available for purchase
- decent cursor control in close proximity to the cursor's position
- bulky design, hefty weight
- cursor control precision and efficiency need a lot of training. Efficiency doesn't get close to trackpads or a mouse
- susceptible to mechanical failure due to dust&dirt
Currently the widest-spread pointing device in mobile computers for good reason.
- good pointing precision (increasing with trackpad area)
- decent pointing efficiency (though flatter learning curve than mouse)
- Multitouch option allows for additional functionality using gestures
- intuitive cursor control close to mouse
- allows you to use keyboard and pointing device as a unit - hands remain close to keyboard when pointing the cursor
- simple (cheap) and robust mechanical design - no moving parts if you omit the "click" feel
- larger footprint than a miniaturized mouse like Swiftpoint GT
- small footprint, can be integrated into keyboard
- probably cheap to manufacture
- lousy cursor control, low reliability and efficiency
As you may have figured from my (biased) analysis, I'm a fan of a well-built trackpad. I use a MacBook Pro (late 2016) which has a meticulously (to quote the chief designer's favorite word) refined huge trackpad. While size definitely matters, it should not get any larger in this case - in fact, I got along with the previous generation just as well.
What is important though is the degree of refinement of the controls. In Windows notebooks, so far I didn't find an equivalent to the MacBook trackpad's precision and reliability. I regularly switch to mouse when using a Windows notebook because the trackpad simply is not a viable alternative.
When working with my MacBook, I know I can safely leave the mouse at home. I do graphics design just like any other pointing-intensive task using the trackpad with hardly any (subjective) shortcoming. That is in part due to habituation, given the fact that in controlled environments, a mouse still gives me more reliability and efficiency compared to the trackpad. But the MacBook's trackpad quality allowed me to get so accustomed to using a trackpad that the remaining gap doesn't urge me to switch pointing devices any more. Also, its closeness to the keyboard allows for an integrated workflow (input flow) - using a mouse more and more feels like an interruption of the natural flow of interaction with the computer.
What does all of that mean for a Textblade companion?
Given that Textblade is meant for mobile use, I'd fancy a design which would actually not add an extra device to carry around and manage, but have a keyboard/pointing functionality in one device. As outlined above, I believe that a multitouch trackpad would serve the purpose best (again, if there's no fancy new hightech solution out there involving other means of man/machine interfacing meeting the basic requirements of a pointing device). So, my favorite would be
- a foldable multitouch trackpad
- integrated into the carrying case of the Textblade
- combines with the Textblade to form a solid unit when using them, serving as a stand when working on unsteady ground (on your lap for example - a principal shortcoming of the current Textblade's design: it needs a solid flat surface to stick together and use it properly)
- with the active touch surface located south of the blank key (obviously)
I hope this sparks a constructive discussion.
NB: No offense, but please do not make the pointing feature a prerequisite for GR of the Textblade.