A trackball is an input device consisting of a pointing device used to detect two-dimensional motion relative to its supporting surface, typically used in computer gaming or personal computer navigation. Used as an alternative to a mouse, the trackball allows users to manipulate graphical content on the computer screen with more precision than a touchpad.

The trackball was originally invented by English inventor Tom Cranston in 1952 as a tool for air traffic controllers. Later, developers created trackball technology as a gaming device, using a joystick-like ball that users could rotate to control the on-screen directional functions. Trackballs became more common in the 1980s and remain popular for gaming due to the device’s precision and the ergonomic comfort of the curving ball.

Modern trackballs have improved precision, sensitivity, and accuracy with features such as optical encoders and digital signal processing for decoding signals from the ball’s motion. Trackball styles vary in design, shape, size, resistance, and features. Some trackballs require users to rotate the ball while others are able to be “slipticked” to reduce friction.

Trackballs are now used by computer users working in a variety of fields, including graphic design, animation, and gaming, and come in wired or wireless models. Although trackball models are not as popular as mouse models, they are still prevalent among users who appreciate the precise control offered by the trackball design.

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