Palette's modular controller brings dials and sliders to your laptop (hands-on)

Palette co-founder Calvin Chu has a problem with how people work. "Creative professionals spend so much of their time on the computer, and at the moment, they still use a very generic one-size-fits-all keyboard and mouse interface." It doesn't make sense, he says -- photographers, gamers, film editors, musicians and accountants all using the same interface? Surely there is a better way. "It should be specialized and made for your needs, and that's where we came up for the idea for Palette." Palette is Chu's answer to a world that's discarded tactile dials and switches for keyboards, mice and touch screens. It's a modular collection of buttons, sliders and potentiometers that can be programmed to do almost anything on your PC. We took a look at an early prototype of the customizable controller to reacquaint ourselves with the tactile world.

Building control layouts with Palette is dead easy -- within seconds of touching the assorted modules, we were able to snap together a nifty control board with multiple buttons, dials and even a slider or two. The components connect using up to two ports located at their base, daisy chaining their way to a power module that connects to a laptop. Firing up a copy of Photoshop Lightroom, Chu puts our creation to use, tweaking a image's lighting with the twist of a wrist or adjusting digital brush sizes on the fly. The demo didn't use Palette's buttons, but we couldn't help mashing them anyway: they respond with the delightful pop of a classic arcade controller.

Although the system can work with only one or two units linked together, we found it worked best in larger groups. The weight of a larger controller helps keep the setup grounded, and while we enjoyed the light resistance the slide-controller offers, the unit sometimes slid across the table if it wasn't anchored to other modules. For now, the entire setup connects to the computer via USB, but Chu says that might change in the future. "We're playing with the idea of a wireless version, connecting over Bluetooth or even wifi." Luckily, upgrading is easy. "All you'd have to do is switch out one little power module." Chu says that after the Kickstarter orders are filled, Palette hopes to sell individual modules and upgrades through an online store, which should make it easier for builders to get the components they want to build their dream interface.

Palette has only been on Kickstarter for about a week, but it's already collected $78,000 of it's $100k goal. At this rate, it'll probably make the cut by the end of the year, but if you want to help it along anyway, check out its product page at the source link below.