The Magic ADB Trackpad

I think that the new Apple Magic Trackpad is really nice. Multi-touch aside, the idea is, of course, not new. Long-time Mac users who still spend some time in the Old World will probably remember this:

ALPS-Glidepoint.jpg
(Image taken from here.)

That is the ALPS GlidePoint, an ADB trackpad produced by ALPS Electric in the mid-1990s. I happen to have in my archives the 26 May 1995 issue of MacUser UK magazine, which features a short review of the product, written by Tom Calthrop. Here are some bits and more information about the GlidePoint.

The GlidePoint will look familiar to those who use a PowerBook 500 series trackpad. It is a small device that plugs into the ADB port like a mouse or trackball, but enables the cursor to follow the finger’s movement across the trackpad’s surface while the trackpad itself remains stationary. […]

It measures 2.75 by 3.0 by 0.375 inches (69.8 by 76.2 by 9.5 mm) and works through a technique known as field distortion which uses two layers of electrical conductors arranged in a grid shape. When your finger touches the surface it distorts the electrical field at a point on the grid. The GlidePoint tracks your finger by following the changes in the electrical field across the grid. Even the smallest movement on the pad is translated to a precise cursor movement because the grid resolves at 400 dots per inch, which gives good control across both large and small monitors.

With the aid of the control panel you can rotate the GlidePoint to the most comfortable position. […] Other features of the control panel include a ‘tapping’ check box which enables the user to tap the pad in the way you would click a mouse button, a sensitivity control which you can set for big or small monitors and a cursor speed selector. Both the two buttons situated on the bottom and one at the top are programmable, which means that you can set buttons for cut and paste or zoom in, zoom out, for instance.

The 1995 price was 62 pounds, and was considered a tad expensive.

By the way, this is not the only GlidePoint model ALPS manufactured. From what I understood by my little Web research, ‘GlidePoint’ was more like a product line name. You can see a different GlidePoint trackpad in this photo, for example (among the assorted vintage awesomeness). Lastly, ALPS Electric is still in business and still produces, among a slew of other products, input devices like keyboards and trackpads. The GlidePoint name has remained, although it looks like they’re not producing standalone trackpads like this one anymore, only the trackpad technology that gets integrated in laptop computers (see this page).

If you’ve found an ADB GlidePoint trackpad, or bought it second-hand, or someone gave it to you and you only have the hardware without the drivers, they can be found at the Mac Driver Museum.

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5 Comments on “The Magic ADB Trackpad”

  1. John Muir says:

    The Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh’s removable trackpad was presumably ADB as well, and manufactured by Apple. Not that I’ve ever seen one close up.

  2. Yes, of course. I didn’t mention it because it wasn’t meant to be an input device sold separately. But yes, Apple made it and it was ADB (although the GlidePoint came first).

    Cheers,
    Rick

  3. A.R.M. says:

    Hmm… thanks for the info about the drivers. Coincidentally, I had just gotten one from eBay but haven’t gotten the chance to use it yet.

  4. Mike McLaughlin says:

    I just ran across this as I was doing some Alps Glidepoint research. I picked up one years ago at a Mac computer show and never used it until this week. I had been using a keyboard with built-in trackpad and went to a smaller keyboard and mouse for space – bad move because I ended up with some wrist trouble using the mouse. So I looked into the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad before I remembered I had the Alps tucked away. I dug it out and also had to look for the Griffen iMate ADB-to-USB adaptor that I also had… somewhere. I had no idea whether it would all work with my G5 running OS 10.4.11. But I found the iMate, plugged the Alps into it and then into my Apple mini keyboard and was tickled when it was recognized right away. It was recognized as a mouse, so I can’t adjust it any. But it’s fine; it does what I want it to do – including tap clicks – even across my two monitor setup. If I knew how to embed a photo in this I’d show you a pix of the mix of old and new Mac tech. Actually, other than the color difference, the small size of the Alps makes it look right at home front and center of the mini keyboard.

  5. I still swear by my Apple Adjustable Keyboard and have been using it with an ADB Kensington Orbit trackball for the last couple of years, but even that hasn’t been kind enough to my wrists. I just picked up one of smaller, gray ALPS GlidePoints (ADB) after having put it off too long (was hoping to find one of the larger—earlier?—ones depicted in the photo, but have been unable to).

    As expected, it works well through my Apple Adjustable Keyboard, connected to my MacBook Air via the Griffin iMate. It fits nicely between the wrist wrests when they keyboard is fully expanded and the cable even snakes through underneath as well.

    I was surprised that tapping & dragging was supported automatically (must be implemented in the GlidePoint itself)!


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