In a world dominated by touchscreens it’s hard to remember that navigating around a virtual environment on a mobile device or laptop used to be a difficult task. And one way we used to do it, was to use a Trackpoint style pointer, or as Microsoft calls it, a pointing stick. These mini-joysticks have fallen out of use recently, but Microsoft Research seems to be preparing the little navigation devices for a comeback.
In a patent application, filed last December and published recently, Microsoft Research is proposing a new type of pointing stick, one supposedly built for the modern age. In the application, the device is described as “low-profile” and as having a “small footprint”. The thinking goes that new materials and a smarter design would allow a new type of pointing stick to fit in with our modern, slim and light devices.
But new materials and a smaller footprint wouldn’t be the only advantages of this new type of pointing stick. According to Microsoft’s patent, some designs could easily feature fingerprint recognition, allowing users to take advantage of features like Windows Hello without needing a separate fingerprint scanner. Also possible is a version of the pointing stick that has multiple pressure levels, something akin to Apple’s Force Touch feature.
While these features do sound interesting and indeed useful, there’s also an argument to be made that each could be achieved with already-existing touchpads, which the public has adopted en masse. So it’s not clear if this new type of pointing stick will ever show up in a real product, like Microsoft’s Surface type covers.