Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Want a Big Shiny Knob for Your Mac ? Try the Griffin PowerMate...

I’ve had my eyes on the Griffin PowerMate for several years now. It’s one of those gadgets that just exudes elegance and complements any Mac so perfectly. The main reason for not actually buying one was simply because I didn’t know how I would use a big shiny aluminium knob, no matter how beautiful and well engineered.

But a few days ago whilst skimming through Joe Kissel’s book “Take Control of Automating Your Mac” I came across a reference to the PowerMate and I decided to take another look. I found some screen shots of the latest PowerMate software and suitably impressed I decided to go for it. I figured a worst case scenario would be that I’d end up with a slightly expensive (about £35 from Amazon at the time of writing) volume control.

Actually, the worst case scenario, wouldn’t have been bad thing. Whilst I love the sound quality of my Harman/Kardon Soundstick III speakers, I’m not keen on the volume control, especially as I’m so used to the big volume knob  that controls my old Logitech Z3 2.1 speaker set.

The PowerMate is a superbly engineered piece of kit. The finish, feel and balance of the wheel are perfect, the blue LED light is a lovely hue, and there is just enough weight to prevent the device from slipping around the desktop in normal use.

Of course, a big shiny aluminium knob is no use without some software, and the PowerMate 3.1.0 app is compact and easy to use. When first installed it has a default set of settings for a number of standard Apple programmes like iTunes, GarageBand, Safari and Mail, and an overarching Global set.

There are six basic operations for the PowerMate button - rotate right and left,  short and long press, and rotate and press right and left. Using a key modifier like Option, Command, Shift and Control extends this set to an additional 24 operations. Using the software you can assign a ‘library’ function such as ‘Key Press’ or ‘Mouse Action’ or more complex functions like run an Apple Script. The best way to understand how this all works is to look at the default set of commands and use these to generate your own customised set. For example, using the default iTunes command set, I created an equivalent set for Spotify in about 5 minutes. Your only restriction really is going to be your imagination.

There are a few resources on the Internet to help you harness that imagination. A great place is Casey Fleser’s SGnTN site. You will almost certainly need to understand how to set up keyboard shortcuts - plenty of references on the web but try this as a good introduction. I’m also thinking about how to harness the PowerMate with Keyboard Maestro - maybe a subject for a future posting.

It’s also worth spending a minute or two about how to best position your PowerMate on the desk. I’m a southpaw and initially put the PowerMate on the left side of the desk. However, with a trackpad and mouse already resident over there things were getting a bit crowded so I tried repositioning the PowerMate over on the right. This actually proved a much more effective place as I could work the knob without taking my hand off the mouse. But each to their own!

The PowerMate is light enough and small enough to pop into a laptop bag if you’re on the move, and the more I use it, the more I'm left wondering why I didn’t get one earlier. I’m now thinking about buying another one for my iMac at Apple Harvest HQ, although a Bluetooth version is now available (not in the UK yet it seems) and I might have a look at how that stacks up.

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