Trackpads are ubiquitous on notebooks and the majority of them are made by hardware supplier Synaptics. At CES we saw the Cervantes reference design for an external trackpad designed to use with a desktop PC - or as a controller for home media devices like Google TV.
This uses the same version 3 Clickpad that we'll be seeing in notebooks this spring , which lets you click anywhere on the pad; instead of a hinge at the back to give you physical feedback, the pad is in one piece (a sealed unit will have fewer problems with dust and debris). It also supports multifinger gestures like scrolling with two or three fingers and Synaptics's own Scrybe software for launching apps with gesture shortcuts. Laptop users who have problems with phantom clicks when they brush their palm over the pad while typing will welcome the improved Smart Sense palm rejection.
The external trackpad isn't limited to the space available in a notebook so the pad is larger, giving you more room for gestures. The base is covered in rubber with a stylish grooved design that should give it a good grip on whatever surface you use it on (or make it comfortable to hold if you're using the pad from your sofa to control a screen). There's no trailing cord; it has a wireless connection with a USB cable for charging. One of the prototypes in the meeting room was sat in a rather nice looking metal charging dock.
Although Synaptics is calling this a reference design that it will offer to OEMs to manufacture and expects products to be available in the spring or summer, it is also considering selling a range of external trackpads itself, in a range of bright colours.