A long article where I describe several options for a programmable shortcut keypad.
I've researched programmable keypads for ArchiCAD on the Mac. Using keyboard commands is a whole lot better than using the drop-down menus, but it still requires some left-hand gymnastics, and regularly I find myself letting go of the mouse to use two hands, then having to go back to the mouse and reorient. I thought of those old digitizer pucks with umpteen programmed buttons, and wanted something like that. One button, one press, done.
THE SOLUTION I'VE SETTLED ON
First, the Ideazon Fang game controller. This is sold as a FPS (First Person Shooter) game controller. It has lots of buttons and a pretty calm layout, as these things go. (Most of these controllers have big joysticks and a smallish number of bright buttons and triggers made to be pounded frantically by young hominids.) The Fang has pretty good buttons and 49 of them, and a good layout. There's no really good way to label the keys, though. I use the smallest Avery sticky labels. I got a Fang on ebay for under $20, including shipping. But, its software is PC only, and its firmware is a bit too specialized for gaming and video watching. I needed a way to adapt it. URL: http://www.ideazon.com/us/products/fanggamepad.asp
Second, ControllerMate, a shareware from Ken a.k.a. OrderedBytes software. It's a utility for using PC game controllers on a Mac. It is very, highly, configurable, and it needs a little bit of attention to get the hang of it, but it's really worth it. The shareware license is necessary, and it costs $15, which I think is a really good deal. I actually corresponded with Ken to encourage him to release a 'Profile' for the FANG, which he did quickly and which makes it much more useful. So, he's actively developing it. URL: http://orderedbytes.com/
This combination works really well, I've dived in enough to have many of the keypresses come reflexively. ControllerMate is really powerful, I've just used the basic functions but can see myself getting more sophisticated. I need to re-think the shortcut layout, though. If I do it well, I'll hardly use the regular keyboard at all, and my left hand can stay over the Fang. If anyone has any ideas or layout templates for this, I'd appreciate it.
Now there's another really nice keypad, the Warrior, by Wolf King. (!) I might switch to it because it has better keys than the Fang, and they would accept sticky labels well. It's a nice design. Its layout is probably not quite as good for hitting the correct key without looking, though. It's German, available in the US though. ControllerMate doesn't support it specifically yet, (although it would still work), but that will probably come. http://www.wolfkingusa.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=26&Itemid=8
There are two other keypads coming out, they have small individual buttons which you place on a tablet-like base. You can use many buttons, and put them anywhere on the base that you like. I don't know much about them but they look neat. One is the CH Multifunction Panel. URL: http://www.ch-hangar.com/ The other is the Ergodex DX1 URL: www.ergodex.com/mainpage.htm I'm pretty sure they're both PC-only, but I'm not sure how ControllerMate or USBOverdrive will work with them.
2. X-Keys Savant programmable keyboards, from Pi Engineering. These come in 25 and (several) 54 key versions, they are very nicely set up with good keyboard-quality keys, which come with different color caps and labels for customizing. They have other options, eg footswitches, jog dials, etc. On these, you use a computer app to write functions to the keypad itself, and then it emulates a second keyboard and sends corresponding keyboard commands to the computer. So, the keypad box does all of the work. It can do exactly what you'd do with the keyboard. I like the simplicity of this solution, and the ease of migrating with it (you don't have to reprogram anything if you switch computers). And the design of the keypad looks very good-- simple, clean, universal. It has Mac support. These come with usb or ps/1 connections, so don't mistake them-- ps/1 is pretty useless on a MAC. For me, the problem was expense-- they're well over $100 no matter how you cut it. Realistically, the price seems well worth it, and they really are universal, but, I just didn't want to spend that much. URL: http://www.ymouse.com/
3. Using the customizing at Options/Work Environment/Keyboard Shortcuts to extensively re-map the AC commands, especially onto the Function Keys. This would have to use a lot of modifier keys (control, option-- necessary to avoid conflicts with permanent system shortcuts).
This could work pretty well, especially with a simple row of labels to help navigate. I thought I'd want more available keys, though, and I didn't want to /always/ be using modifier keys.
4. Using a standard accountant's numeric keypad with software to make it act like a custom keypad. Actually, this wasn't an option until ControllerMate's v. 4.2 release, because the automatic numeric output from these keypads couldn't be disabled. But I looked into it enough to realize that there ought to be a way to do it. There must be other ways, but I stopped looking. They have about 20 keys, and by the time CM v4.2 came out, I wanted more buttons. They can be had cheaply, at any level of quality. The biggest cost could be the ControllerMate license.