Palette: A modular, roll-your-own take on the software controller
November 25, 2013
Described by its creators as the first freeform software controller, Palette is a range of buttons, dials and sliders made so that creative types can design their own hardware interfaces for their software of choice, be it for music creation, photo-editing or gaming.
To avoid confusion, I should point out that by "software controller," the makers of Palette mean a controller of software, rather than a controller that is software. One of the reasons software controllers are attractive is because they let you get a little bit more hands on and tactile with what you're doing. With the right setup, you can almost forget there's a computer between you and your work, which is something that tends not to happen if you spend hours upon hours behind a mouse and keyboard.
But with software as advanced and complicated as, say, Photoshop or Ableton Live, no two users will go about their business exactly the same way, and so fixed software controllers can't please everyone. The prospect of designing your own modular system is compelling, then, as users can select the combination and arrangement of controls that suits them perfectly.
That's the idea behind Palette, a range of square modular controls which "snap together like LEGO" and can be put together in any arrangement you like. One of these needs to be a power module which connects to your computer via USB.
The modules talk to a desktop app which is used to map them to particular functions in your chosen software, though standard profiles will be available for those itching to get to work. At the moment, Palette only supports Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Mixxx, but Adobe Creative Suite, Ableton Live, Traktor, Spotify and Google Maps are on the to-do list. However, Palette's makers claim that it's capable of supporting any software.
A Kickstarter campaign has been started to bring the product to market. A starter kit including a power module, one button, one dial and one slider is being offered for 99 CAD (US$94). Some of the higher pledges are also offered with limited edition wood-finish modules, though these cost a fair bit more. All being well, Palette's makers are hoping to ship in June 2014.