human interface device

There are a lot of strange terms that come with using a computer. One that you may have seen is “Human Interface Device” or “HID.” It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but what exactly does it mean?

“Human Interface Device” may sound strangely alien, but the name is actually very descriptive. Simply put, an HID is a standard for computer devices that are operated by humans. The standard allows these devices to be easily used without any extra software or drivers.

A Standard to Simplify Accessories

HID devices
HID in the Windows Device Manager

“Human Interface Devices” is a standard that was created to simplify the process of installing input devices. Prior to HID, there were several specific protocols for each type of input device.

That meant there was a protocol for mice, a protocol for keyboards, and so on. Devices needed to use the existing protocols or create custom drivers. People had more work to do when installing and configuring devices.

In comparison, an HID-compliant device includes “data packets” that contain all the actions of the device. For example, a keyboard might have a key for adjusting volume. When that key is pressed, the “HID descriptor” tells the computer where the purpose of that action is stored in the packets, and it’s executed.

The HID protocol makes it much easier for companies to produce widely compatible accessories. All modern operating systems support the HID protocol. You can plug a USB keyboard into a Windows PC, Mac, Chromebook, or even an Android tablet, and it will be functional immediately. That’s all thanks to HID.

HID and Applications

USB webcam in zoom

The biggest advantage of HID is being able to simply connect almost any peripheral to your device and have it start working immediately. That’s only half of the magic, though. What about making sure these accessories work with apps?

You can plug a USB controller into your PC and it will usually control the game as it should. Even if the controller was made after the game, it still works. The game developers didn’t have to do anything to make that happen.

When you connect an HID device, it announces its capabilities to the operating system. The operating system interprets the data and classifies the device. This allows apps and games to target classes of devices rather than specific models.

This is a super important element of HID, and it’s something we take for granted. A gaming controller will work with your Steam library. Zoom will know to turn on your webcam. All of this happens with very little setup on your end.

Types of Human Interface Devices

USB plugged in
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

As previously mentioned, USB peripherals are the most common human interface devices you’ll see, but there are other types.

USB devices fall into the “USB-HID” class. That includes common things like keyboards, mice, webcams, trackpads, and gaming controllers. Other USB-HID devices include thermometers, audio instruments, medical equipment, phones, and exercise machines.

The other common type is Bluetooth-HID. It’s the same USB-HID protocol with some slight modifications for Bluetooth. As you might expect, this includes similar devices to USB-HID, but they connect over Bluetooth. A Bluetooth mouse will simply work whether connected to a Windows PC, Mac, or Chromebook.

Human Interface Devices are some of the most common devices that we use with computers. We don’t truly appreciate how easy they are to use. There was a time when it wasn’t so simple.

Not only is HID responsible for making computers easier to use, but it has also contributed to the massive market for accessories. There are thousands of keyboards, mice, webcams, controllers, and other products that you simply don’t have to worry about not being compatible with your computer.

There have been many advancements in the history of computers, but the Human Interface Device standard is one that has been a smashing success.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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