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Manufacturer: Griffin Technology
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: USB Port

March 5, 2003 | Lucian Fong

In addition to the eight pre-programmed actions (increase/decrease volume, cursor up/down/left/right, scroll up/down), the PowerMate can also emulate any keystroke combination, including those on the Apple Pro Keyboard (volume up/down/mute and eject). This means that you can the assign the six actions to perform any task that has a keyboard equivalent, which includes opening a file or script. The task can be as simple as emulating a scroll wheel or as complex as configuring it as a controller for the Apple DVD Player. The more familiar you are with an application, the more possibilities there are for the PowerMate.

If you need to jump start your creative juices, Griffin's website and the included PDF manual have a few good suggestions.

It Does Games Too!
Checking the Game Mode box in the PowerMate preference pane allows it to function as a gaming device. Game Mode limits you to three actions: rotate left, rotate right, and click, as the other three would be difficult to perform. You only need to activate it for the selected application (don't forget to click on Apply Now!), so you don't have to manually switch it on before you play a game. The following is an explanation of how Game Mode works (from the the PDF manual):
"Games use key commands in completely different ways than most applications. They take a key command and continue its action until another key or action tells it differently. For example, lets say the Z and X key move your spaceship left and right in a game. If you click the Z key, this causes your ship to go left you don't need to type Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z to make it continue. It does this with just one Z key command until it's told to do another - like X to go right."
The PowerMate is best used to control lateral movement, since it's the most logical translation of rotating left and right. MAME games like Outrun and Tempest are perfect examples of this. I briefly played Freeverse's WingNuts Demo and found that controlling my ship by rotating the knob was very intuitive, even moreso than a gamepad. Unfortunately, not being able to fire while you turn is a serious limitation. I had to use the keyboard to fire, drop bombs, and fire missiles.

It would be asking too much of the PowerMate to use it as a primary controller in 3D games, but it might be handy as an auxiliary device in, say, a flight simulator.

Even More Stuff?
As if that wasn't enough, there are a few third party developers who have tapped into the PowerMate. Unsanity's Cee Pee You is a menu bar extra which reflects the CPU load by varying the pulse rate on your PowerMate. mailPulse, by Charles Starrett, pulses your PowerMate when you have new mail. Spy is similar to Cee Pee You and describes itself as "a useless little tool that sucks up really important CPU time to display info about your system load," including CPU and network load.

Final Thoughts
No doubt, the Griffin PowerMate is a slick gadget, in appearance and functionality. If you put forth the creativity and time to make use of it in your applications, it will be a blast to use. Admittedly, people who already have a multi-button mouse and/or multimedia keyboard might not find the PowerMate as useful. That still might not stop them from wanting to buy an extremely cool looking paper weight or adornment for their desk.

If you're interested in the origin of the PowerMate, read this article by Wired News, which includes an interview with the original designer.

  • Looks great, less filling
  • Easy to set up and configure
  • Lots and lots of possibilities

  • Not an impulse buy at $45
  • Button is stiff and not enough travel

    Manufacturer: Griffin Technology


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