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Input Devices Purpose and Examples

Tyrah Diaz, Paul Zandbergen, Dawn Mills
  • Author
    Tyrah Diaz

    Tyrah Diaz has taught high school history for over four years. They have a Bachelors degree in Humanities from University of Oregon.

  • Instructor
    Paul Zandbergen

    Paul is a GIS professor at Vancouver Island U, has a PhD from U of British Columbia, and has taught stats and programming for 15 years.

  • Expert Contributor
    Dawn Mills

    Dawn has taught chemistry and forensic courses at the college level for 9 years. She has a PhD in Chemistry and is an author of peer reviewed publications in chemistry.

Explore the input devices of a computer. Learn the definition of an input device and understand its purpose. Find examples of input devices and discover types. Updated: 05/26/2022

What is an Input Device?

Computers are electronic devices for processing, storage, and retrieval of data based on the instructions fed into them. However, it is impossible to communicate and command with computers without an input device. What is an input device? An input device is generally a piece of equipment that sends information to a primary device. The input device definition stems from the idea of connecting and seeking control of a primary device, such as a computer, by connecting a piece of hardware to it. Input devices are peripheral devices that connect to computers to provide user input.

What are the input devices of a computer? There are different types of input devices (they will be discussed in more detail later), and it is important to understand how the input devices differ from the output devices. Output devices are instruments that receive information from the computer. Input devices differ from output devices in that input devices send data signals to the computer while output devices receive data from the computer. Both input and output devices must be compatible with the computer so that the computer can recognize them.

Input Device Defined

An input device for a computer allows you to enter information. The most fundamental pieces of information are keystrokes on a keyboard and clicks with a mouse. These two input devices are essential for you to interact with your computer. Many other input devices exist for entering other types of information, such as images, audio and video. Input devices represent one type of computer peripheral - the other two types are output devices and storage devices.

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What is the Purpose of an Input Device?

The purpose of an input device is to enable computer operators to have control of the computer and send data such as text, images, or sounds to the computer. An input device such as a keyboard will feed text characters for word processing and enable the computer user to perform specific control functions. Input devices convert raw data into formats understandable by the computer for processing by the central processing unit (CPU) to produce an output. Therefore, the input device acts as a link in communicating with the processing unit.

Input devices are essential to the overall functionality of a computer because they allow users to add, edit, or feed a new set of data or instructions to the computer. Input devices enable users to interact with the computer by either inputting numerals, characters, or gaming instructions into the computer. For example, the computer can run by itself without an input device. Still, a user cannot be easily able to change instructions and settings, fix errors, correct inaccurate data, or carry out other user interactions without an input device. Since it is not possible to communicate to the computer processing system without an input device, it would not be easy to have a computer do what human users desire without the input device.

Types of Input Devices

Parts of the computer that receive input include a touchscreen, keyboard, and modem. The information that computer input device systems can record includes text, pointing, movements, audio, and video. Types of input devices include keyboards, pointing devices, and data entry devices.

  • Keyboards- Are primary input devices used to key in information and other command functions in the form of text into the computer. Keyboard buttons enable users to execute specific commands to the computer. Some modern computers are manufactured with on-screen virtual keyboard software as a backup just in case the hardware fails. Typical keyboards use applying pressure on keying buttons as a modality of data input. The keyboard is a discrete input since it involves pressing buttons. Discrete input devices work in the concept that signals are either on or off. They include photocell sensors, open and close switches, and push buttons. Continuous input goes one further step than discrete input by letting users move their hands from one point to another to finish inputting information into the computer. For instance, typing a sentence on a keyboard requires that fingers move from one key to another until the desired work is put together. Additionally, keyboards have one degree of freedom; i.e., the keyboard keys can perform only one specific function at a time.
  • Pointing devices- Are input devices that enable a user to move the computer's cursor when selecting, pointing, or manipulating any text or object. Pointing devices include a computer mouse, trackball, stylus, and touchpads. Pointing devices use movements as a modality of input. The movement of pointing devices across the computer screen is fast enough, which makes them discrete input devices. Pointing devices have several degrees of freedom. For example, the 3D navigator mouse designed for computer-aided design (CAD) applications has six degrees of freedom.
  • Data entry devices- Refer to all input devices used to send data into the computer. These include optical character recognition (OCR) and scanners that use vision as a modality of input. Laser scanners, for instance, are both discrete and continuous and have two degrees of freedom.

Examples of Input Devices

There are several examples of input devices. These include:

Examples of Input Devices

A keyboard is the most fundamental input device for any computer system. In the early days of computing, it was typically the only input device. A keyboard contains keys for letters and numbers as well as for specialized tasks, such as Enter, Delete, etc.

Typical keyboard for a desktop computer
computer keyboard

When operating systems started to use graphical user interface (GUI), the mouse was developed as a pointing device. Typically, a mouse resides on a flat surface, and by moving the mouse, you can move the pointer on the screen. One or more buttons on the mouse allow you to enter instructions by clicking. Most models also include a wheel for scrolling.

Typical mouse for a desktop computer
computer mouse

Desktop computers have a separate keyboard and mouse, but for laptops, these are integrated into a computer system itself. In laptops, the mouse is actually substituted with a touchpad or trackpad. This is a specialized surface that follows the motion of your finger. You can still connect an external mouse to a laptop if you prefer.

Keyboard and trackpad on a laptop computer
computer laptop keyboard

Another common input device is an image scanner. A typical desktop or flatbed scanner is a device that optically scans printed images and paper documents and converts them into digital images. In most scanners, you place the document on a glass plate and place an opaque cover over it. A bright light moves across the image, and the reflection is captured by a sensor, which converts the document to a digital image.

Flatbed scanner
computer flatbed scanner

Audio and video can be recorded using a microphone and video camera, respectively. Due to the popularity of video conferencing using services like Skype, these are now typically integrated in most laptops and monitor displays for desktops; however, you can also connect an external webcam, which can record both audio and video.

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Video Transcript

Input Device Defined

An input device for a computer allows you to enter information. The most fundamental pieces of information are keystrokes on a keyboard and clicks with a mouse. These two input devices are essential for you to interact with your computer. Many other input devices exist for entering other types of information, such as images, audio and video. Input devices represent one type of computer peripheral - the other two types are output devices and storage devices.

Examples of Input Devices

A keyboard is the most fundamental input device for any computer system. In the early days of computing, it was typically the only input device. A keyboard contains keys for letters and numbers as well as for specialized tasks, such as Enter, Delete, etc.

Typical keyboard for a desktop computer
computer keyboard

When operating systems started to use graphical user interface (GUI), the mouse was developed as a pointing device. Typically, a mouse resides on a flat surface, and by moving the mouse, you can move the pointer on the screen. One or more buttons on the mouse allow you to enter instructions by clicking. Most models also include a wheel for scrolling.

Typical mouse for a desktop computer
computer mouse

Desktop computers have a separate keyboard and mouse, but for laptops, these are integrated into a computer system itself. In laptops, the mouse is actually substituted with a touchpad or trackpad. This is a specialized surface that follows the motion of your finger. You can still connect an external mouse to a laptop if you prefer.

Keyboard and trackpad on a laptop computer
computer laptop keyboard

Another common input device is an image scanner. A typical desktop or flatbed scanner is a device that optically scans printed images and paper documents and converts them into digital images. In most scanners, you place the document on a glass plate and place an opaque cover over it. A bright light moves across the image, and the reflection is captured by a sensor, which converts the document to a digital image.

Flatbed scanner
computer flatbed scanner

Audio and video can be recorded using a microphone and video camera, respectively. Due to the popularity of video conferencing using services like Skype, these are now typically integrated in most laptops and monitor displays for desktops; however, you can also connect an external webcam, which can record both audio and video.

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  • Activities
  • FAQs

Computer Input Devices


This activity will give you the chance to consider the various computer input devices you learned about in the lesson and determine which devices are appropriate for the scenarios described below. For each scenario assume that there are no input devices attached to the computer. Describe all of the input devices that will be needed, using the list below, and explain why you chose each device and what its contribution is to the scenario. In some instances, there may be more than one correct answer, so explain which one you would prefer and why.


Input Devices

  • Keyboard
  • Mouse
  • Microphone
  • Game controller
  • Webcam
  • Scanner
  • Printer
  • Headphones
  • Speakers


Scenarios


1. Barbara wants to upload some pictures into an online scrapbook, adding text and laying out the images in a cohesive design. Which input devices will she need?

2. Billy wants to play an online game with his friends. They like to chat while playing in order to better communicate as they work together. His parents insist that he choose the quietest method possible as they're watching a show in the same room. Which devices will he need?

3. Becky has a major school report due tomorrow, which she plans to keyboard and hand in to her teacher. Which devices does she need?


Discussion and Solutions


1. Barbara will need a scanner to scan the pictures for her scrapbook as well as a keyboard and mouse to add captions to the images and design her book.

2. Billy will need a keyboard and mouse at the very minimum. In order to chat with his friends, he could also use a microphone and a headset, which would be quieter than speakers. He could also use a game controller instead of the mouse.

3. Becky will need a keyboard and mouse as well as a printer in order to compose and later turn in her school report.

What are examples of input devices?

Examples of input devices include touchpads, microphones, and joysticks. Touchpads are pointing and clicking devices, microphones are sound input devices, and the joystick is a gaming input device.

What are input and output devices?

Input devices refer to instruments that send information to computers. Output devices receive information from computers. Both input and output devices enable users to interact with the central processing unit of a computer.

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