For the past two years I have used the iPad only with its built-in virtual keyboard. Just the other day I finally picked up an Apple Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard to use with the iPad. To be honest, as of right now, I have mixed feelings regarding its use.
Although the iPad’s onscreen keyboard is great, and my touch typing skills are getting better especially with aids such as TapTyping, I’m still not as fast as I would be with a physical keyboard. The onscreen keyboard does offer a flexibility that a traditional keyboard does not, which is nice when adding accents to letters and invoking other odd characters that aren’t often used in my native English.
Even though there is the benefit of tactile feedback when using a physical keyboard with the iPad, to me, it becomes an exercise in aggravation trying to break old habits. When I sit down in front of my Mac, I regularly use keyboard shortcuts to navigate the system. The main one being Command+Tab to rotate through open applications. This keyboard shortcut does not work with iPad multitasking.
What is more frustrating to me though, is the fact that some keyboard shortcuts such as Command+X, for cut, or Command+C for copy, do work. Also, on the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, the function keys that control screen brightness and system volume on the Mac, also work as expected on the iPad. This leads to an unreliable experience on the keyboard. Apple needs to decide if physical keyboard support is only present for pecking out long documents, or if they want to deeply integrate a keyboard into the system and support keyboard shortcuts. For me, it would be a black or white decision, not this muddled grey area Apple is in.
So, it would seem to me, that Apple only half-heartedly built bluetooth keyboard support into iOS, and did as little as needed to get by. I think more can be done here, especially as we see more people transition from traditional PCs to iPads as we go forward. Then again, the lack of deep keyboard support might be intentional, insofar as it’s a mechanism for steering customers into using the onscreen keyboard. I doubt this though. Apple would be more than happy to sell you a bluetooth keyboard if you really wanted one.
When I sit down in front of my Mac, due to years of use, I expect it to function a certain way. In this case, the keyboard helps me to navigate through the system. When I sit down with my iPad, I expect it to function another way. In that case, my fingers do the navigating on a piece of glass. When you slam these two ways of working together by adding a bluetooth keyboard to an iPad, at least in my case, keyboard muscle memory kicks in, and absolutely nothing happens. I feel as if I have to transition in and out of muscle memory, which at least feels slower and ultimately more frustrating to use on a regular basis.
Circling the square, this is why I believe touchscreen laptops are a poor idea. It may make for a great demo, but pawing at a vertical screen and then pounding on a keyboard back and forth all day sounds exhausting. This is also my biggest fear for Microsoft’s exciting new Surface initiative. Microsoft is hoping to deliver the best of a tablet and a notebook in one package. For me, these two ideologies do not mix well. I’m hardwired to work a certain way on each. I would wager other people would behave in a similar manner.
In all, a physical keyboard coupled with the iPad makes it easier to write out long documents, but anything more than that, like correcting an error, adjusting text, or a slew of other things, feels convoluted due to expectations of how a keyboard will work, and what an operating system actually supports. It was certainly worth trying out, and I will use the keyboard with the iPad for longer writing sessions, but in the long run, the keyboard will be left behind.
P.S. For what it’s worth, this entire piece was written with an iPad and an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard.