With all of the hype about Apple’s newest iPhone and Apple Watch, one could easily forget that phones and watches have lineages dating back centuries. Interestingly, the computer keyboard, that mainstay of desktop inputting, can trace its roots back to the invention of the typewriter — right around the same time that the telephone was invented.
Of course, typewriters typically had a row of numbers across the top, but nothing that would resemble a calculator-style numeric keypad. That particular section of a modern computer keyboard can actually trace its lineage, and layout, back the Sustrand adding machine in 1914.
When Apple revamped its line of computer keyboards in 2007, the sleek aluminum devices came in two versions: a wired, full size model that included the numeric keyboard, and a more popular (and pricier) wireless, compact model that omitted it. Anyone hoping for an official Apple wireless version with a numeric keypad was out of luck.
Like in many other areas (floppy drives, CDs), perhaps Apple was foreseeing the future ahead of everyone else, although they later did add a wireless full-size keyboard to their offerings: the Magic Keyboard at a less than magical price of $129. Sibelius expert user Robin Walker on this blog said in 2014 that the keypad is “an object which is by now almost extinct. Nothing more clearly labels Sibelius as a child of the 1990s than its dependence on the numeric keypad.” Indeed, with Dorico eschewing the numeric keypad, this prophecy is somewhat fulfilled, but for Sibelius and Finale, their efficient use relies heavily upon the numeric keypad.
Construction and use of the NewerTech wireless keypad
Several offerings have tried to fill the void for a perfect wireless solution, either through hardware, or apps like NumPad for iOS, which can be used with Finale and Sibelius layouts. But no one has come closer than NewerTech, which makes its $50 Wireless Aluminum Keypad, available from Other World Computing.
Unabashedly described as “the keypad that looks and feels like the Apple Keyboard you already love,” it fulfills that promise. Even the most ardent Apple fan would be hard-pressed to identify the keypad as a non-Apple product. Everything from the brushed aluminum enclosure to the font on the keys on the NewerTech product matches up with Apple’s products. Only upon very close inspection and regular use do subtle differences become apparent: on the NewerTech keypad, the keys are raised ever so slightly more, leading to a miniscule difference in the keypress action compared to Apple’s keyboard; and the keys themselves are just barely more rectangular on the NewerTech product than are the more rounded corners of the Apple one.
But it’s as close a match as one will find. The NewerTech keypad even comes with a plastic bracket to attach to an Apple wireless keyboard or trackpad. The bracket I received worked well, but left a slight gap that was partially remedied by a couple of adhesive strips that are included with the keypad, designed to make the fit more secure.
The keypad itself is powered by two AAA batteries that are included. Inserting them is the same as replacing the batteries on an Apple keyboard. The keypad pairs easily with a computer using Bluetooth, so no USB ports are sacrificed, which is not the case with another wireless keyboard that I otherwise enjoy using, the Logitech K750 wireless solar keyboard. NewerTech says that the Bluetooth range of their keypad is 30 feet.
The keypad gripped firmly to my wood desk, and in several days of heavy use with Sibelius and Finale, it performed well. In addition to the numbers and arithmetic keys, NewerTech’s engineers wisely included some other keys that are missing from the compact Apple keyboard: F13, F14 and F15; a forward Delete; and Page Up, Page Down, Home and End. An extra backwards Delete key and an extra Fn key are also included.
The NewerTech product is the perfect complement to the Apple Keyboard. Designed, as it was, more for accountants than musicians, however, there were a few issues of which users of Sibelius and Finale need to be aware (and can be remedied by reading on):
- The Enter key does not work as expected. Instead, it mimics the Return key. It only works as an Enter key if the Fn key on the keypad is pressed. Although sometimes these keys do the same thing in simple programs like word processors and e-mail, in programs like Sibelius and Finale, the Enter and Return keys perform different functions. NewerTech says that this is a design feature to ensure compatibility with iOS devices, since iOS does not recognize the Enter Key.
- There is a Clear key on the keypad, but out of the box it can only be used in conjunction with the Fn key on the keypad. NewerTech chose to make that key’s primary function be Tab, which already has an analog on Apple’s keyboard. NewerTech says that their research showed that the majority of users, such as accounting professionals, use Tab to move rapidly between spreadsheet cells, so that was the main use they built in. Finale users know that the Clear key performs an important function in that program.
- Out of the box, the keypad doesn’t operate in conjunction with modifier keys (e.g., Command) when pressed on the main keyboard. For instance, Command-Home doesn’t work; only Home is recognized. If you rely on that shortcut, or others like Command-4 to type a quarter note in a tempo mark, you’ll be stymied. NewerTech says this is impossible with any wireless keypad, out of the box, due to two signals being sent via Bluetooth at the same time.
Fortunately, the remedy for all three of these shortcomings is to install the free keymapping utility Karabiner-Elements, from Takayama Fumihiko (PQRS.org). Although the forthcoming instructions seem technical, they are really very easy to follow, and in the end you’ll be able to fully use the NewerTech keyboard with Sibelius and Finale.
Using Karabiner-Elements to remap the NewerTech keypad’s defaults
Go to the Karabiner product page, and download and install it according to the instructions.
Launch Karabiner and follow the directions for initial setup, making sure to allow Karabiner to access the Mac’s Input Monitoring features.
Follow the instructions to open Karabiner-Elements Preferences > Simple Modifcations and find the NewerTech Keypad in the Target Device drop-down menu.
Click Add item and choose:
From key: Return; To Key: Enter
From key: Tab; To Key: Clear
If all goes well, your NewerTech keypad will now properly transmit the functions of Clear and Enter key to your Mac without needing to use the Fn key, and you’ll also be able to use your modifier keys such as Command on your Apple wireless keyboard or MacBook in combination with the keys on the NewerTech keypad.
Despite the need to install the Karabiner key remapping utility to override the keypad’s defaults, the NewerTech Wireless Aluminum Keypad is an excellent and long-overdue addition to the market, especially for laptop users for whom adding a full-size keyboard that takes up a USB port is unsatisfactory. At $50, desktop users with more options will have to weigh its pros and cons against getting a full-size Apple keyboard, or another option like the $60 Logitech full-size wireless model.
You could also do as my friend Doug LeBow suggests: Keep a full-size primary keyboard with an attached numeric keypad, but place the additional numeric keypad on the left-hand side of your computer keyboard. If you do a lot of step-time MIDI input with your right hand on a MIDI piano, this may well be the best of all possible uses for NewerTech’s numeric keypad.
Thanks, Philip. You always come up with amazing and useful stuff.
I use the Belkin Bluetooth Wireless Keypad here in the UK (http://www.belkin.com/uk/support-product?pid=01t80000003K3f9AAC) which works absolutely fine alongside an apple wireless keyboard and the Apple magic trackpad which all work together fine via Bluetooth. Most of my note input is done from a Midi Keyboard, so like Doug, I generally work with the keypad on my left, with my left hand, my right hand note inputing via the 88 note midi controller.
Hi Tim, great tip on this!
It’s also worth considering the Mobee Magic Numpad solution. Software interacts with the Magic Trackpad. Although there are no raised keys, the functionality is there. You can also program individual keys to fulfill other functions. It’s helped me to bridge the gap.
Thanks for the tip, Brent!
I’ve been using Sibelius on a laptop without a keypad since 2011, simply by reprogramming some keys on the left side of the laptop keyboard. It has been great — I’ve been using this layout on many orchestral and film projects to great success. I wrote an article about this here: http://www.ljova.com/2011/05/sibelius-on-a-laptop-without-a-keypad/
Thanks for sharing this, Ljova!
Your review/endorsement of the wireless keypad from Newertech for in Sibelius sounded like the left-handed note entry solution I was hoping for. I purchased it from OWC last week and, once paired with my Mac Pro, experienced frequent loss of bluetooth connection, particularly when the keypad was idle for even a brief period. This would become most irritate interruption for workflow and continuity.
As far a key-remapping via Karabiner, I didn’t get very far in the process but did download the file: KeyRemap4MacBookver. 8.4.0, and tried to followed the directions provided. I’m neither a programmer, or a technophobe, but found this more daunting that expected. I may try to implement the re-key process again, however if the bluetooth disconnect can’t be resolved, I’d sooner return the product to OWC. Maybe they have a solution.
Here’s what is keeping my hopes alive:
Do you happened to know for certain if the “enter” key on the NewerTech device, once properly re-mapped, will function to create a Tie between notes, just the same as the enter key on the visible Sibelius keypad, or a wired keyboard?
If not, that would be a deal-breaker, for sure. It is an important workflow feature that I’ve been missing since I began using a wired Targus keypad with my left hand, some time ago.
Your thoughts/suggestions on any of this would be welcome.
Thank you –
– Don Wilkins
Don: The key-remapping does definitely work and I have been using it that way. I know that the instructions are somewhat technical, but unfortunately I don’t know of a simpler way around it. Once set up correctly, though, it works well.
I have not experienced the loss of Bluetooth connection that you’ve described. I do find OWC’s support very helpful, so you might contact them to either try to solve the problem, or request a replacement unit.
Thanks for your helpful comments and suggestions.
I’m encouraged to keep trying, starting with the OWC folks for their take on the bluetooth dropout issue. If that can be solved, I’ll have another go at re-mappng the NewerTech keypad.
With my appreciation –
I had the same modifier key issue with a different numpad (this one: http://www.belkin.com/us/p/P-F8T067/), and it was solved by just installing Karabiner. Thanks for the tip!
I’m glad it worked for you, Jeff!
Thank You! Very Useful!
It doesn’t work. Karabiner only modifies the default Apple Keyboard, it makes no change in 3th parties keyboard such the Newertech
The current version of Karabiner is different from this articles so I’m struggling to get this to work. Is there an updated article for this?
Stuart: Unfortunately I haven’t kept up with the latest releases of Karabiner, so I don’t have a solution at this time. If you manage to get it working, please let us know.
I actually hadn’t read the post properly and didn’t realise I needed the number pad. I have it now and its after connecting it via bluetooth Karabiner recognised it and it worked straight away. It seems a lot simpler then on the most recent version of karabiner.
Unless I sorted it while I was mucking about in Karabiner before I got the number pad and that meant it worked straight away.
Anyway it’s working for me.
Good to know, Stuart. I’m glad to hear it, and thanks for the update.
Does anyone still have the remapping file available?