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iKeyboard for iPad review

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPad, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad

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Provides: Tactile touch typing with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard
Developer: iKeyboard
Compatibility: iPad or iPad 2
Price: $35.00
Availability: Now

Typing on the iPad has always been a bit of a chore. The on-screen software keyboard is great because it allows the entire device to be devoted to the screen, providing maximum real estate to apps and an acceptable compromise when a keyboard is needed. Still, the lack of physical keys makes it difficult to type purely by touch, and looking down at your fingers slows down typing. Simply put, the iPad is an impractical tool for extended writing or rapid note taking without an external keyboard, but those add weight, another battery to keep charged, and Bluetooth pairing headaches. The iKeyboard aims to add a tactile layer between the iPad’s soft keyboard and your fingers, allowing you to type as much as you would on a laptop without wasting time looking at your fingers.

What Is It?

The iKeyboard is composed of three elements in a super slim and very light package. A thin membrane of keys resembling bubble wrap is slotted into a plastic frame that outlines the iPad keyboard. These plastic bubbles provide approximately the same amount of key tension as Apple’s laptop and Bluetooth keyboards, so typing is natural and easy. On the back of the plastic are four special removable adhesives that hold the iKeyboard snugly on the screen, but release easily with a simple tug on the frame’s corner.

Applying the iKeyboard is simple—just line up the interior edge of the plastic frame (where the keys start) with the edge of the iPad’s screen. It helps to have the on-screen keyboard displayed for alignment purposes. Once in place, locate your home keys and type away. When done typing, the iKeyboard lifts with gentle pressure from any of the four corners, and the adhesive strip along the bottom of the device will hold it firmly in place along the iPad’s bezel away from the screen.  When you pack up, simply place the iKeyboard in the middle of the iPad and close your Smart Cover over it—the slim design means the iPad’s magnets still close securely.

Does It Work?

With a few caveats (see below), the answer is yes. The tactile feedback provided by the iKeyboard lets your brain know your fingers are in the right place, so you do not need to look down and make sure your thumb is actually on the spacebar instead of just the iPad’s bezel. According to the inventor, the premise of the iKeyboard is to utilize your muscle memory and free your attention. Years of repetitive typing have wired our brains to know, without looking down at our keyboards, that when we push our left pointer finger it will type an F, and when we move that finger up we get an R or T.

The tactile feedback introduced by the iKeyboard really does make it easier to focus your attention away from the iPad’s screen and on the task at hand. Students taking lecture notes can look at the board and their professor, business meeting attendees can focus on the speaker, and a reporter interviewing a local celebrity can direct full attention to the subject. Since the iKeyboard fits directly on the iPad’s screen, you can use it anywhere you would use an iPad alone: on a lap, on a table in front of you, airplane tray table, etc.

One area where the iKeyboard excels is in assistive use; the iPad’s on-screen keyboard is of absolutely no use to people with visual disabilities. A real, physical keyboard complete with home row markers (embossed ridges on the ‘F’ and ‘J’ keys) mean that it’s possible to type without ever needing to look at the screen (assuming, of course, the iPad is on and running an app displaying a keyboard, for which VoiceOver is required).

Caveats

One of the biggest benefits of the iPad’s soft keyboard is its ability to change layout depending on the task at hand. When entering a URL in Safari, you will never need a space bar, so the keyboard instead displays a series of URL-acceptable punctuation marks.  When entering addresses in Mail, the keyboard displays an underscore and dash to the right of the keyboard, but those keys switch to a single key that invokes the symbol keyboard when you begin typing the subject. This chameleon quality means the best possible keyboard is always available, but it breaks both the muscle memory and, in some cases, the template used by the iKeyboard, which obviously does not change dependent on the task at hand.

Other caveats include:

  • Symbol keyboard is still non-standard, so no muscle memory exists. Mavis Beacon needs to create an iPad alt-keyboard module.
  • Only works with the iPad keyboard full screen and docked at the bottom. Otherwise, the black plastic frame covers a large portion of the screen.
  • iPad’s keyboard is different from a standard keyboard. Most obvious, the colon and apostrophe keys are hidden in the symbol keyboard rather than between the L and Return keys.  When typing contractions, it takes quite a while to learn not to reach out from your home row with a pinky (which inserts a carriage return on the iPad).

For casual use of the iPad or extreme situations where weight,  bulk, and battery power must be carefully conserved, the iKeyboard provides an excellent enhancement to Apple’s on-screen keyboard. The ability to quickly install the iKeyboard when it is needed and just as quickly remove it when it is not make this a product great for infrequent or casual typing needs.

Long term typers or writers doing extensive work may find a full-sized Bluetooth keyboard both more comfortable and more practical due to the iPad’s unconventional key layout and the iKeyboard’s inability to adapt to the context-specific keyboards the iPad displays.

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