AMITIAE - Monday 30 November 2015

Apple Smart Keyboard: More Productivity with the iPad Pro

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers

Apple Smart Keyboard

Since the iPad Pro arrived, I have been using it as much as I can to find out for myself about the device. I have been surprised at just how much work I am able to do. The most interesting ideas about the iPad Pro came from Ben Bajarin who nailed the point that we are no longer slaves to the desktop computer. Many have developed alternative ways of working, and despite the reported decline in sales of iPads, many I know who have them, hardly use anything else.

A related problem for Apple is that these (mainly) young people hang onto them for much longer: while some of us crave new features that come with updated versions of iOS (and perhaps need a new device) those I know who have older versions of the iPad and the iPad mini keep working away.

Smart Keyboard
iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard and MacBook

Us older folks are still locked into outmoded ways of working where input demands mouse, keyboard and a recognisable file structure with data organised in folders. Users of OS X may see how that has changed with color-codes and flags making traditional file-organisation methods less relevant.

Contradicting myself slightly, one of the accessories that has made my use of the iPad Pro so productive in the last week has been the Smart Keyboard that also acts as a convenient cover. The other device is the Apple Pencil and I looked at this over the weekend.

The keyboard has much that has made my experience more efficient over and above the typing input, particularly the use of key commands, something that experienced Mac users value. A major drawback currently is that the keys are only set up for QWERTY input, no AZERTY, no QWERTZ, and certainly no Thai. It is rumoured these alternatives are coming, but no arrival dates are known.

Smart Keyboard
Thai Character Keyboard on iPad Pro

Not that it is impossible to type using another character set. If the user has set the device up for alternative keyboards, a globe icon (bottom left of the Smart Keyboard) allows switching: I have English (US), Emoji and Thai available via a small semi-transparent panel that appears. Selecting Emoji brings up a half-screen panel from which a user may select just the right emoticon from the hundreds available (7 sections, 80 - 90 each). Pressing the Globe icon, or a hide keyboard symbol returns the usual functions.

It is not impossible to type in a language that the keyboard does not show: after all, many are able to touch-type; but this is not the real solution. The sooner Apple makes these alternative Smart Keyboards available, the better.

Smart Keyboard

Certain key commands are available, but these differ with the use. Just pressing the Command button at the Home screen, shows me a short list of commands

  • Command + Shift + H - Go to Home Screen
  • Command + Space bar - Search
  • Command + Tab - Switch apps

Smart Keyboard

There are other commands that work that I am finding one by one, for example Command + N will create a new file in Notes or Pages, but not in iA Writer. Once or twice iA Writer which I use a lot, has not accepted input from the Smart Keyboard, usually after I have accessed the Home Screen or other iOS function. I can return to normal keyboard access by switching to another app (e.g Notes) or by detaching the iPad Pro from the keyboard case, then re-linking. Either takes only a second or so, but should not happen. Fortunately this is rare.

Smart Keyboard Smart Keyboard

3-pin Connectors on iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard

The link between the iPad and the Smart keyboard is via a three pin connector in the right side of the iPad Pro that connects with a similar connecter in the middle of the case, just above the keys. The case has four folds in the hard back and when these are set right, the right side of the iPad Pro fits snugly in a groove so that it is relatively secure and sits back at a good angle for viewing. Initially, it requires some dexterity to make the folds behave properly, but after a couple of tries, I found this was easy to do.

There is a similar, "just right" way to fold the keyboard over when it is stowed so that it becomes part of the screen protector. It all functioned well, once I was used to it. As the case only fits one way, I had to enter another fingerprint for Touch ID, as the Home Button is on the right when the keyboard is in use and I am left-handed.

The keyboard and case are covered with a dielectric fabric: it carries the (small) current. Key movement is small and I have found that the input is just about right for my bash-the-keys style of typing. I am making no more mistakes than I would with the MacBook Pro that is my main computer.

Smart Keyboard
Smart Keyboard and Wireless Keyboard

The keys are smaller than those on the Apple Wireless keyboard I have at work and each has slightly rounded corners. The keys match those available on the wireless keyboard except that the Fn key is used as the Globe (language selector) key; and there are no ESC or Function keys available. As such there are no features like Volume or Brightness. When I tried a locally available keyboard/case a couple of years ago with the iPad, these worked fine. Other external keyboards available, such as one from Logitech ($149.95 in the US Store), may have such keys.

When the case is closed and the screen is covered, like versions of the smart cases that have been available from Apple for a while, the screen goes off. I did find, however, that if an Apple Music radio station was playing, the sound continued.

Smart Keyboard
Smart Keyboard - Closed

The iPad Pro weighs some 713 grams or 723 grams with cellular capabilities. As a comparison, the MacBook weighs 920 grams. That 200 grams may not sound a lot, but even with this slight difference, my bag feels much lighter; and that is important to me travelling about the city. The cost of the Smart Keyboard is $169 in the USA and is shown as 6,700 baht in Thailand. With VAT factored-in the converted US price is some 6,483 baht, so the Thai price is slightly higher. There is also a Smart Cover for the iPad Pro at $59 or 2,800 baht in the Apple Thai online store; and a silicone case for $79 (4,100 baht).

Expensive as this Smart Keyboard may appear to be on top of the relatively high price of the iPad Pro, it is a real investment for those who intend the iPad Pro as a productivity device. Most of the above text was typed straight onto the iPad Pro at my office, with the last two or three paragraphs (and some HTML code) added on the Mac.

I would be hard pushed to decide between the MacBook and this iPAd Pro because when it comes to work, both are up to the tasks I am asking; and the keyboard is making a considerable difference.

See also:

Apple Pen: Enhancing Productivity with the iPad Pro

Apple Charging: iPhone 6s and Apple Watch Docks

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.



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All content copyright © G. K. Rogers 2015