Turn iPad or iPhone into external button control

I've been using a very powerful piece of essentially freeware to turn an unused iPad into an external control panel for my Mac. The software is called ActionPad. Buttons can launch keyboard actions, mouse actions, file actions, URL actions, and text actions. In particular, if you set up an app to execute a KBM macro you can use an ActionPad button to execute it.

The free server for the Mac is here: https://actionpad.co The iOS app is available for a few dollars on the App Store. The image shows one of my panels; you can have as many as you like. Setting up a panel is a little tedious, but it is extremely flexible.

Mostly what this panel does is launch apps, but the group in the bottom left might be of particular interest here. Apart from the obvious, the "Make App" button turns any macro into an app. The six buttons labeled "TEST" launch macros with names ActionPadTest1, ActionPadTest2, etc. When I'm putting together a macro I build it with one of those names so that I can launch it instantly, and then when it is working move it to where it belongs.

I've been using it for a while now and it has been remarkably reliable. I've never been a Streamdeck user, but this impresses me as probably more flexible and powerful.

Thanks for recommendation. There are also other alternatives:

Thanks for the pointer to Touch Portal. I will check it out as an alternative. How flexible is the available button layout? One of the things that I like about ActionPad is the flexibility of layout, including any button size, grouping, position, choice of icons, colors and text, and using your own images, etc.

It's very similar to action pad.
As far as I know, it's not as flexible on layout. You can add icons to the buttons, merge adjacent buttons. You can set as many as 10 X 11 = 110 buttons per page, but the buttons have to be conformed to the grid.

One advantage might be that it works with Mac and Win, iOS and android.

I think that ActionPad is multi platform as well, but since I live in a Mac world I’m not sure. I wondered why I had not found Touch Portal when I was looking for a way to do this, but it looks like Touch Portal has only been around for a couple of years. The guy who wrote ActionPad was early to the gate with a really nice product, but never really tried to market it in a serious way. I’m happy with what I am doing, but might consider Touch Portal to make sure I have future support.

I could track this down myself, but how how much control does Touch Portal have over itself? I’m thinking of things like opening contextual screens, or at least being able to launch an app and automatically bring up the control screen for that app.

Like you, I have an iPad that just sits there in front of my computer. Those who haven’t discovered how nice that is don’t know what they are missing. Or maybe everybody else who uses KBM just has a much more reliable memory for hot keys than I do. :wink:

Yes. You can open apps, simulate keystrokes, run shell scripts, etc.

I made a keyboard button page:

For individual buttons, there there are some settings:

Very nice!

So apart from flexibility in layout I probably wouldn't be losing capability. Although being able to customize button images makes it a lot easier for me to scan a screen and find what I am looking for. When I first started using ActionPad I mostly did colors/text/standard icons, but quickly learned that being able to glance down at images was worth the effort. That might be what keeps me in ActionPad world for the time being.

But I didn't specify my last question well enough. Can a Touch Portal button change the state of Touch Portal itself? For example, suppose that I have a screen full of commands for Final Cut Pro X. I would like to have a button on a utility screen that launches FCPX AND open the Touch Portal panel with the FCPX commands.

If so I would probably set up a standard panel with a selection of apps along the bottom then use those buttons to jump from application to application, automatically pulling up the panel for that app. THAT would be very handy.

Yes. You can do it. You can set multiple actions for a button. You can change the appearance for the button after press, and change to another appearance after another press. You can launch an app and then switch to another page of buttons.

For instance, I set the Shift key to:
The Shift key lasts for 3s, so I have time to press other keys.
During that 3s, the button background color is changed to yellow. After the 3s, the bg color is changed back to green.

This button will go to a specified page:

You can set the button to first perform a few actions, and then go to a specified page.

Thanks for the overview, and for turning me on to Touch-Portal! You persuaded me to dig deeper. It turns out that you can fully customize button graphics. Left click on a button while setting it up and you can pull in images off of the disk. I went ahead and bought in, and will give it a try. There still is not as much flexibility in button layout as I'd like, but the degree of internal control of the configuration itself is very appealing.

1 Like