Cursor is an overloaded term. There are two discrete elements of modern computing that we loosely refer to as “cursors”:
- The icon that moves around on the screen that you control with your mouse or trackpad.
- The vertical bar that blinks in a text editing field to indicate where typed characters will appear.
For clarity, it’s best not to refer to either of these things as cursors. Instead:
- Mouse/trackpad pointer.
- Insertion point.
This terminology has been slightly confusing over the last week, since Apple’s surprise announcement of pointer support in iPadOS 13.4. In their marketing materials, Apple is calling pointers “cursors”. E.g, on the webpage for the refreshed iPad Pros:
The click-anywhere trackpad opens up a whole new way to work in
iPadOS. It allows control of the new cursor in iPadOS, which is
perfect for tasks like editing a spreadsheet, selecting text, or
simply doing everything right from the trackpad.
From the Apple Newsroom announcement:
iPadOS 13.4 brings trackpad support to iPad for the first time for
a more natural typing experience and added precision for tasks
such as writing and selecting text, working with spreadsheets and
pro workflows. Designed specifically for the touch-first
experience on iPad, the cursor appears as a circle that highlights
user interface elements, text fields and apps on the Home screen
and Dock, giving a clear indication of what users can click on.
In neither of these cases is cursor ambiguous — in context, it’s completely clear they’re referring to the trackpad pointer. But as a general rule, it’s better to err on the side of precision, and pointer and insertion point always avoid ambiguity.
In its technical documentation, Apple is clear. In the updated Human Interface Guidelines:
iPadOS 13.4 introduces dynamic pointer effects and behaviors that
enhance the experience of using a pointing device with iPad. As
people use a pointing device, iPadOS automatically adapts the
pointer to the current context, providing rich visual feedback and
just the right level of precision needed to enhance productivity
and simplify common tasks.
The iPadOS pointing system gives people an additional way to
interact with apps and content — it doesn’t replace touch. Some
people may continue to use touch only, while others may prefer to
use the pointer or a combination of both. Let people choose how to
interact with your app, and avoid condensing your interface or
making changes that require them to use the pointer.
From Apple’s excellent Apple Style Guide (available free of charge in the iTunes Book Store1):
Don’t use in describing the macOS or iOS interface; use insertion
point or pointer, depending on the context. The term cursor
is appropriate when you describe the VoiceOver interface and may
be appropriate when you describe other interfaces and in developer
“Other interfaces” would include the terminal/command-line, where the (perhaps) blinking insertion point is properly called the cursor.
When it comes to pointers, it’s worth noting the Apple Style Guide recommends getting specific:
OK in general references, but be specific whenever appropriate:
arrow, crosshair, I-beam.
And, of course, the Apple Style Guide prescribes OK, never okay.
Now that the app formerly known as iBooks is just plain Books, it seems like Apple just calls its e-bookstore “Book Store”, in the same way it calls its store for apps “App Store”. There are, of course, many other app stores, but because Apple blazed this trail, it somehow feels OK that their app store is *the* App Store. But “Book Store”? No one associates just plain “Book Store” with Apple’s e-bookstore. They still use the iTunes brand name for music, movie, and TV show purchases — they should use it for e-books too. ↩︎