Update 2, 10/11/18, 10:35am ET: The Kickstarter page is now live. Some new factoids to note:
- The estimated ship date is May 2019
- The Early Bird pledge level is $75 and gets you a ControlPad, some accessories, and one additional keycap set of your choosing
- If you miss the Early Bird, a $100 pledge will get you the same
- At the $150 level, you get a ControlPad and all four keycap sets
- For five grand, you get a “customized” ControlPad–plus an all-expenses five-day trip to the factory in China
Update, 9/21/18, 10:49am ET: Cooler Master updated this site with more information that answers some of the questions, and fills in some of the gaps, in the original article below. The ControlPad has an aluminum top plate, and there are two riser feet so you can get a steeper typing angle. I missed that there are two “precision rollers” along the top edge of the ControlPad that will no doubt be fan favorites. But by far the most interesting new piece of information is about the keycaps. In the image, all the caps are simply numbered, but there are four more sets available. Each is designed to match up with controls for FPS games, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro, respectively. They can apparently customize these sets rather quickly; a source told me that Cooler Master made a detailed set for a medical professional who was testing out the concept. We don’t have any details on what the caps will be made of, but I’m told that they are backlit.
Original article, 9/20/18, 5:35pm ET:
Don’t call it a numpad, though, because it’s not; think of it as more of a massive bank of macro keys with a world of possibilities. Even though it has 24 keys like standalone numpads from the likes of Ducky and others, they’re laid out in a more generic fashion, with each keycap numbered 01-24.
On one hand, that’s ideal because you aren’t locked into the numpad layout. On the other hand, it trades the three standard wider keys (+, 0, and Enter), two of which are vertically oriented, for one horizontally oriented key. That will make it a little awkward to use it as a gamepad; a vertical key is kind of perfect as a thumb-friendly spacebar substitution.
First Gaming, Then The World
But Cooler Master has in mind much more than gaming for the ControlPad. The device will have four programmable layers, and all 24 keys are programmable. Key assignments and layers are saved directly to the ControlPad’s internal storage. If you do the math, that’s a ton of individual key assignments and macros you can load up. And all 24 keys are equipped with Aimpad’s analog tech, which means that you can program in not just simple commands and functions, but ranges of controls.
For example, you could program in brightness controls for backlighting. But rather than programming in steps of brightness–click, click, click–you’d be getting the full range of brightness throughout the travel of a single keypress. The further you press that key down, the brighter the lights become. Another key could be set to reduce the brightness in the same way.
Cooler Master’s vision is that you’ll use the ControlPad for all sorts of applications, though. A source with knowledge of the product told me that creative professionals could use the analog press to quickly adjust contrast in an image, timeline playback speed in video editing software, brush thickness and hardness in an editing tool, and so on. They further noted that musicians could use it as a MIDI controller (man, that is a whole can of delicious worms right there), and professionals in fields like radiology could use it to work with their images, too.
What Does It Mean To Be Analog?
Analog sensing, at least in the way that Aimpad employs it, is relatively new to the mechanical keyboard world. Simply put, most keyboard input is binary; you actuate a switch, a thing appears on your screen, and that’s it. But analog input senses gradations of the keypress. To illustrate: In a game, if you want to move forward, you press W, and if you want to stop, you release W. You’re either running, or you’re not moving at all. With analog input, if you want to move forward, you begin pressing W, and the further down you press the key, the faster you move. As you release the keypress, you’ll slow down, not stopping all the way until you’ve released the key entirely.
Wooting uses analog technology for its One and Two keyboards. Their implementation is a little different than Aimpad’s, but they function in more or less the same way: a PCB surface-mounted sensor detects how far down the stem of the switch is pressed (or released). I’ve used both technologies extensively (via the Wooting One and Aimpad’s R5 prototype), and although there are certainly some bugs to work out, they’re both game changers.
Presumably, Cooler Master will help refine the analog experience. Cooler Master first implemented Aimpad tech into its MK815. When the news broke that the two companies had signed an exclusivity deal through the year 2020, it was apparent that there were plans in the works for more Aimpad-powered CM products. I’d be lying if I said that I saw this particular product coming; maybe there are more in the offing.
For now, there are only so many details available about the Cooler Master ControlPad. It has RGB lighting, the cable is not removable, and there’s a detachable wrist rest (that is probably magnetic). As I mentioned above, all 24 keys will be analog and programmable, and there will be multiple layers available. Buyers can choose between Cherry or Gateron switches.
But the ControlPad is a teaser product for the moment; it’s entirely likely that even some of the details we have now will change when the ControlPad hits the market and becomes a Real Thing.
Cooler Master is launching a Kickstarter campaign on September 27 to produce the ControlPad, and we’ll likely know more at that time. My suspicion is that the higher-ups at Cooler Master are wary about the ControlPad’s chances for success, and that’s why they’re using Kickstarter to not just raise funds to make the thing, but also to gauge consumer interest and solicit feedback before they finalize the design. (Update: It seems I was right. On its ControlPad site, Cooler Master said it’s looking for feedback from backers concerning keycap set design, desired functionality, and type of software support.)
There’s no link yet to the Kickstarter page, but we’ll publish it when we have it.