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A Hardware Keyboard for iPad

I’ve been toying with the idea of an external keyboard on my iPad for some time now. There are several options available, from the more or less loosely integrated approach of the Incase Origami Station to a more tightly integrated package (where the keyboard is part of the iPad cover) that can be purchased e.g. from Logitech.

My idea of a keyboard for my iPad primarily follows the tightly integrated approach because this seems to be better suited for being carried around and requires less effort to get the entire rig into operation.

Enter the Logitech Type+, a protective case and keyboard for iPad. Snap the iPad into the cover and you’ll be presented with a laptop-like setup that is really fun to work with. Nothing beats having a full screen of text without the on-screen keyboard taking the better part of the screen real estate.

The entire package, iPad plus Type+, weights something in the range of 900g. This may seem unbearably heavy for an iPad, and yet this number is in the same ballpark as the new MacBook which can be rightfully considered as a super-lightweight workstation.

On top of that, you can separate the iPad from the case and enjoy less weight at any time. If this was the only concern, I think I could easily live with it.

The product can be used in two different positions, one for “creation” (with the iPad in a near upright setting and keyboard activated) and one for “consumption”1, with the iPad positioned flat on the inactive keyboard.

Pairing between iPad and the Type+ couldn’t be easier. It just works. However, it only works if the correct version of the product is used. Due to oversight from both myself and the sales person in the Apple Store I went out first with the version for iPad Air and that one refuses to pair with an Air 2. So keep your eyes on the numeric qualifiers when purchasing.

The build quality of the keyboard is within the expected range, i.e. definitely worse than a Mac keyboard and similar to many PC laptops that I already have had the pleasure to work with.

I’ve got the German layout and I’m happy to report that the key combinations for e.g. square brackets are exactly the same as on my Mac2.

The keyboard features an extra (top) row of function keys specifically tailored to be useful on iOS. These are (from left to right):

  • Go to springboard.
  • Activate task switcher.
  • Search. Note that the focus is not set to the search text field automatically. In order to actually start searching it is necessary to manually tap the search field to set the focus to it. This is inconvenient for obvious reasons because the keyboard-centric workflow is interrupted.
  • Language. On pressing this button, an on-screen menu appears that displays the new keyboard3. The keyboard layout changes to the selected language. As far as I can see, there is no way to keep the layout that is printed on the keys and just switch the spell checking (like on OS X).
  • Activate on-screen keyboard.
  • Take screen shot.
  • Media control: rewind, play/pause, fast forward.
  • Volume control: speaker on/off, volume down, volume up.
  • Put iPad to sleep.

As expected, the actual switch of the keyboard Layout is one of the most glaring downsides of using a hardware keyboard in iOS. You better be good in memorizing key positions in different keyboard layouts.

Admittedly, it is beyond the keyboard manufacturer to “fix” this. This is a consequence of someone at Apple thinking that it would be brilliant idea to bind the spell checker to the keyboard layout and not let people select keyboard layout and spell checking language separately. Let me tell you, it’s not.

Interestingly, there’s a hole in the cover through which the back camera could take pictures.

Theoretically.

In reading mode, this does not work because the camera points at the underlying keyboard. The only way to actually use the camera would be to put the iPad upright in the cover or else hold the iPad in your hand with the keyboard part dangling. Just don’t.

I’ve come across reports from customers at Amazon such that physical contact between the keyboard and the iPad’s display may cause scratches on the latter. Well, all I can say is that if you hold the folded cover against the light such that the small gap between the keyboard and the iPad becomes visible I can see the point of such claims.

There is one area, right above the keyboard itself, where the iPad and the Type+ touch each other even if there is no stress put on the cover. I can imagine that given some stress and movement between the iPad and the cover damage could very likely occur.

This is a shame because The cover seems really sturdy and able to protect the iPad against influence from the outside. In this case, however, the weak point may very likely be on the inside and that is just sad.

I guess it would not do any harm to always have a piece of microfiber cloth handy.

All things considered, I’m personally in two minds about a hardware keyboard and the Type+ in particular. On the one hand, I can type much faster on a hardware keyboard and There is a lot to like about the function keys.

On the other hand, having to memorize key positions and, in consequence, blindly use a significant part of the keyboard isn’t fun at all and decreases my average typing speed a lot. The gain provided by the existence of the keyboard is effectively consumed by the necessity to find the correct key.

Plus, the sheer possibility to physically damage the display when putting the cover into a bag for transportation is outright scary.

I’m not a big fan of using the on-screen keyboard but the downsides of the Type+ will probably weigh heavier than the benefits I can take from it. So far, I haven’t tried writing in portrait mode using the on-screen keyboard.

In portrait, the ratio between the part of the screen that contains text and the part occupied by the keyboard is much higher than in landscape and this would at least mitigate one of my complaints about using the on-screen keyboard.

But don’t get me wrong, I still believe that the Type+ is a great addition to an iPad if the user does the majority of writing in the language supported by the particular variant of the Type+.

  1. Sorry, Federico, could not resist.

  2. This information is a special service for the geniuses at the local Apple Store.

  3. This works in pretty much the same way as keyboard switching using the on-screen keyboard.

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