From time to time I want to simulate having a full keyboard even though my Mac uses the smaller Apple bluetooth keyboard. It is most important for the system events to get the actual key pressed as much as possible and not just find another shortcut that maps to the same action once it hits the OS.

I had hoped to use (or better trick) the supplied keyboard viewer, but the OS "cleverly" shows me the layout I have instead of the layout I want.

enter image description here

It's nice to have fast access to the keys including/under F13-F15 and the key pad enter only key from time to time without plugging in more hardware. It's also nice to make tutorials that show the full key layout.

enter image description here

Can anyone help me trick my software into showing the larger keyboard like this without having one physically plugged in?

9 Answers 9


Many years later, but this works for me:

MacOS 13.3

Enable the mac onscreen keyboard: System Settings > Accessibility Keyboard

Create a custom panel to get an extended version: Press the ... (button on the top right of on screen keyboard) > Customize Then Add Panel > Keyboard ANSI (Large) (for the USA english layout)

If you zoom out the view you will see this is a full size board. However the F1-F15 keys require using the on screen Fn button. If you want you can create a custom set of buttons to have direct F keys, by clicking Add Button and then recording the input.

Once this keyboard is made, select Show: As Home Panel over on the right. Then cmd+s to save it. Enabling the accessibility keyboard should now look like this:

on screen full size

  • What a superb tutorial with pictures - thank you for showing this so clearly and solving the Fn problem
    – bmike
    May 4, 2023 at 12:48

Apple has a pretty good record on accessibility features, one of which is the onscreen keyboard. I would be surprised if there is not a way to do enable the extended onscreen keyboard, but I'm still researching where this precise bit of how-to knowledge.

In the meantime, here is Apple's official page for accessibility features related to Physical and Motor Skills (which is the category for the Onscreen Keyboard): http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/physical.html It shows the extended version in their screenshot.

This is overkill (both in features and price), but I felt the need to add the application called "the best on-screen keyboard, not just for the Macintosh, but for any platform." I'm too new to have lots of links. but look at atri.misericordia.edu for a review of KeyStrokes.

Here: have a layout editor, so if you can't see the keys you need in Keyboard Viewer, you can switch them in to replace some keys you don't really care about: http://scripts.sil.org/cms/scripts/page.php?site_id=nrsi&item_id=ukelele

still doing research, will be adding what I find

  • Ukelele looks the most promising. It lets me color the keyboard the same, and I have yet to figure out how to show the normal keys - it does draw all the special keys. Perhaps I just need to build out a qwerty KB and use that... Thanks @fontgoddess!
    – bmike
    Aug 3, 2011 at 15:02
  • In .keylayouts (and Ukelele) F-keys are normally assigned the value  (data link escape). If any non-F key is assigned to 0x10, it'll still be usable as a unique key in shortcut recorders, but it won't be equivalent to any particular F-key. I'm not sure about other special keys, but there's always some exceptions.
    – Lri
    Aug 4, 2011 at 23:03

I found that if you have an Apple Extended Keyboard, that keyboard is automatically used in the display of the keyboard viewer. I have it plugged into my MacBook, which is usually on a stand. When I switch between keyboards, the built-in keyboard viewer automatically uses the right layout.

So the short (though perhaps expensive) solution to this is to simply plug in an Apple Extended Keyboard if you want to see the whole keyboard in the viewer as well.

Here's a 2 second screencast of the live swapping in action, as I switch between the built-in keyboard and the external one.

Live preview of keyboard swap

This also works with non-Apple extended-format keyboards (tested with Microsoft-brand extended keyboard).

  • 4
    Please make it faster.
    – Matthias
    Jun 4, 2016 at 23:08
  • This would make a sweet project for an Arduino or other small programmable device to connect via USB and be sort of a chameleon/ universal donor keyboard to make whatever layout you prefer.
    – bmike
    May 10, 2020 at 20:06
  • 1
    This does not work with a Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad
    – Wizard79
    Jul 22, 2022 at 8:22

Virtual Keyboard from http://www.corallosoftware.it/index.html looks good. It's shareware with a 14 day trial and can be downloaded here as well.

  • 1
    I used version 3.8.3 today on 10.6.6. Unlike Keyboard Viewer, keys like Shift and Opt/Alt are also operational from the virtual keyboard, not just the physical keyboard. Can send it to you if you want to email me (tom at bluesky dot org). Aug 3, 2011 at 15:15
  • 1
    PS Here is a better link to get it: download.cnet.com/VirtualKeyboard/3000-2094_4-11681776.html Aug 3, 2011 at 17:32
  • Tom - I'm picking the other solution, but think you get bounty too. It'll take a bit to offer and wait, but sincere thanks - your solution is also nice, but for me I'll spend the extra effort on the free solution.
    – bmike
    Aug 4, 2011 at 21:32

I have a full size bluetooth keyboard and when I open the keyboard viewer I see the full keyboard that you are looking for.

The keyboard viewer was probably intended to help people find special characters that aren't displayed on the keys of the keyboard they have in front of them. This is especially helpful when trying to type in a foreign language when using a US keyboard, for example.

Unfortunately my Rocketfish keyboard doesn't connect as faithfully and simply as my Apple bluetooth keyboard. :(


I have the smaller Apple bluetooth keyboard also and if I press "shift" on it then the onscreen keyboard viewer shows the numbers key pad.

  • 1
    What OS version? And how can you click on the NumPad keys while clicking on shift?
    – Elliott
    Feb 14, 2019 at 17:04

There's always been an option to choose what type of bluetooth keyboard you have. When you connect a USB keyboard, the OS asks you to press the key next to shift and based on the key code it receives it autoselects the board. if you click a random key like a number the computer wont be able to auto select.

IN that case if the detection fails, you are given choices and must pick yourself which keyboard layout you want. Choose the largest to cover the most possibilities as it has no idea what you have. Some aftermarket keyboards still register as smaller ones because it spoofs the USB id and pretends to be a genuine part.

TL:DR go to preferences and set up bluetooth keyboard type. Here's the ey if auto selection fails, don't follow the instructions and just press random keys. This interrupts auto selection and you can pick what kind of board you know you have over what the USB hardware selects.

  • Way to go with the "Here's why you don't press the keys according to instructions to get your chance to override the preference." Knowing it's intentionally wrong USB identifier will help lots of people remember this.
    – bmike
    Sep 26, 2018 at 12:04

If anyone is still interested in an answer all these many years later, if your keyboard happens to have keys not currently implemented in the basic keyboard, clicking them will tell the OS that it has incorrectly selected the keyboard to display, and swap the onscreen keyboard to the extended layout automatically. This even occurs for keys Apple does not even implement (like the "Tools" key on my Samsung Bluetooth keyboard, that has no equivalent on the Mac, displays nothing on the onscreen keyboard, but still causes the onscreen keyboard layout to swap to the extended layout when clicked. (There is no way to switch it back, however, other than closing the keyboard viewer then reopening it.)


As far as I know I don't believe this is possible. However some bright spark may be able to find some plist hack to do precisely what you are looking for. As a less bright spark I can perhaps offer a partial workaround for the function you are attempting to achieve.

cmd + up arrow takes you to the beginning of a document. cmd + down arrow takes you to the end of a document.

cmd/ctrl + left arrow takes you to the beginning of a line. cmd/ctrl + right arrow takes you to the end of a line.

fn + backspace is "delete"

fn + up arrow is "page up" fn + down arrow is "page down"

I'm not familiar with the wired keyboard but from pictures those seem to be the buttons you were asking about. Learn those and it'll be faster than the onscreen one anyway!

I've never had cause to use it but the specific "enter only" key may be a type of special character. If that is the case then it seems to me you may be able to assign it a keyboard shortcut using an AppleScript in Automator, which can be saved as a Service and assigned a shortcut from the keyboard menu. If anyone has a more efficient way of assigning a keyboard shortcut to an awkward character (unicode or otherwise) I'd be interested to hear it (as a linguist!).

  • Ouch, downvote. Didn't mean to be useless.
    – Swizzlr
    Aug 2, 2011 at 20:44
  • Sorry - I really want a clickable picture on my screen. It's a great answer and I see how my first two paragraphs opened it up a bit for alternatives. Forgive me if I edit the question to reiterate the picture on the screen need.
    – bmike
    Aug 3, 2011 at 14:43
  • (my vote is +1 for your attempt - but I only get one vote)
    – bmike
    Aug 3, 2011 at 15:05

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