Apple keyboards are now safe for calibrated Apple LCD monitors

If you’ve carefully calibrated your monitor and you use the white Apple keyboard that came with the iMacs and Mac Pros, you may have encountered that nasty surprise when accidentally pressing the F14 and F15 keys: They change the monitor brightness.

Changing the monitor brightness is obviously a big no-no if you’re maintaining a color-managed environment, because the monitor no longer represents the conditions under which it was profiled. Even worse, you may not notice that you’ve hit the key, or you may not know how far off you changed the brightness. All you can do is re-profile the monitor. The constant risk of accidentally hitting F14 or F15 and invalidating your monitor profile is an unusual misstep for Apple, which promotes color management as a Mac platform advantage.

There used to be no way to disable or remap the F14 and F15 keys on the Apple keyboard, but thanks to newer hardware, it looks like this problem can now slowly fade into history. If you use the new slim aluminum Apple keyboard, you can require that the Fn key has to also be pressed to set brightness with F1 or F1. If you have the older white Apple keyboard, you can take advantage of new keyboard shortcut editing options in Apple Keyboard Software Update 1.1 or later.

Changing keyboard brightness control with the slim aluminum Apple keyboard

The slim aluminum Apple keyboard introduced in 2007 puts the brightness keys on the function row along with the Exposé, Dashboard, and media keys. Why is this good? Because now you can bury the brightness function. To do this:
1. Open System Preferences.
2. Click Keyboard & Mouse.
3. Click the Keyboard tab.
4. Click to enable the box “Use the F1-F12 keys to control software features.”
5. Close System Preferences.

After enabling the “Use the F1-F12 keys…” option, you must press the Fn key (to the right of the Delete key) to use F1-F12 to use the alternate labels on the F1-F12 keys, such as brightness and the media keys. That means if you accidentally hit F1, you won’t throw your system out of its calibrated state.

If you still want single-key access to Dashboard and others, just redefine their shortcuts. You can do this in the System Preferences pane for each feature (such as Dashboard & Exposé), or in the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard & Mouse preferences pane.

Changing or disabling keyboard brightness control with the white Apple keyboard

It turns out that Apple Keyboard Software Update 1.1 or later adds a keyboard shortcut option to disable or change keyboard brightness control for the older white Apple keyboard. To do this:

1. Open System Preferences.
2. Click Keyboard & Mouse.
3. Click the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
4. Scroll all the way down to where it says Displays.
5. Disable the check box for “Display” Or, if you just want to change the shortcuts, click in the Shortcut column and press the new shortcut. For example, if you change Increase Display Brightness to Shift+F15, you prevent unintended brightness changes due to accidental key presses, but by adding Shift you can still control brightness with the keyboard when you really intend to.

OS X keyboard shortcuts after Keyboard Update 1.1

6. Close System Preferences.

Note: You won’t see the Display section if you’re using the slim Aluminum keyboard, only if you are using the older white Apple keyboard.

One comment

  1. The right arrow key is broken on my computer and I can not increase the display brightness. Do you know of another way around this?

    In Mac OS X, the right arrow key isn’t normally involved with display brightness. It’s normally controlled by one of the function keys along the top of the keyboard. Or am I misunderstanding something? But even if your keys are broken, you should be able to adjust the display brightness using the mouse in the Displays tab in the Displays system preference.

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