First look: Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

Posted:
in iPad edited November 2015
As Apple Pencil stock trickles into brick-and-mortar Apple Stores, the iPad Pro's other first-party accessory, the Smart Keyboard, has become somewhat of a hot commodity. AppleInsider was able to snag a copy of the hard-to-get device to offer this first look.




Like all Apple products, Smart Keyboard is a well-designed piece of kit, uses top-shelf materials and comes built to last. For many potential buyers, however, there is concern that a tablet peripheral, even one made by Apple, can't compare to the stellar hardware keyboards found on MacBook. In our initial testing, we found Smart Keyboard more than serviceable for heavy word processing tasks, though users looking for desktop or laptop class key depth might want to look elsewhere.

Apple's design is spartan, as usual, but perhaps most interesting is the keyboard material itself. As reported earlier this week, Apple's woven nylon key cover serves many purposes. Aside from its sleek look, the cloth is textured to prevent slippage, is sealed to protect against liquid spills and provides a rebound effect that replaces the need for physical springs. This last consideration is important to Apple's design, as it makes the keyboard less bulky and incredibly quiet, while maintaining a modicum of "click."




Proper key feel is traditionally a feature iPad-connected keyboards concede for ultimate thinness, but Apple has taken a different approach. Inside Smart Keyboard are dome switches pioneered with the 12-inch MacBook, one for each key. Unlike the MacBook, the iPad Pro version does not include a butterfly mechanism, relying instead on the nylon cover material and the dome switch itself for spring-back.

To further obviate the need for actual springs, Apple cleverly built in ducts to relieve internal air pressure when a key is pressed, reducing any perceived damping effect to zero. Taken together with the dome switch, the air ducts and springy nylon canopy give the keyboard a reasonably "clicky" feel, much more so than competing products.




Still, Apple designed Smart Keyboard to be thin, and the truncated key depth results in an expectedly short key throw.

For users jumping to a fold-up keyboard for the first time, Smart Keyboard does take some getting used to, but those familiar with low-profile units will likely be pleasantly surprised at what Apple was able to accomplish. In our case, it took about five minutes to acclimate to Smart Keyboard's tactile sensation and we are now typing at speed.




Because Apple basically integrated a keyboard into a Smart Cover, unfolding the device is straightforward. Unlike third-party products, Apple's tri-fold design means Smart Keyboard cannot be adjusted beyond its set viewing angle.

The tilt is fine for use on a desk and even for impromptu lap typing, but anything beyond that and things get uncomfortable. For example, trying to type while sitting or lying on the ground is a difficult proposition. The lack of flexibility is unfortunate considering one of the iPad's strengths is its ability to be used in unconventional locations like the couch or in bed.




As can be expected, iOS app support is robust, especially with Apple's first-party software like Notes and Pages. The keyboard has many of the same capabilities one would expect from a full-size Mac, including cursor-based text selection using the shift key and arrow buttons, document browsing considerations and iOS system shortcuts. Since some menu shortcuts are contextual, users can invoke a command overlay on an app-by-app basis by holding down Command, Option and Control keys.

When Smart Keyboard is connected, iOS automatically ditches the soft keyboard, dropping the top row of user selectable commands down to the bottom of the screen. The resulting physical/digital interface is very handy, putting onscreen buttons like undo, redo, paste and -- importantly -- autocorrect choices within fingers' reach.




Being an iPad, it goes without saying that users have unhindered access to multitouch screen controls. In a word processing scenario, for example, users can relocate the cursor or select chunks of text with a tap and hold gesture. The interface can be a bit ungainly when dealing with long, multipage documents.

Pressure-sensitive technology like Apple's 3D Touch on iPhone 6s, which lets users select words, sentences and paragraphs with force-sensitive screen gestures, would have been a great addition here. Perhaps we'll see that on iPad Pro 2.




For road warriors looking to use iPad Pro as a word processor, or for iPad owners looking for an alternative to the iOS soft keyboard, Apple's Smart Keyboard presents a compelling option. The tactile experience is impressive for such a thin device and included support for iOS 9 shortcuts makes it feel like a true extension of Apple's mobile operating system.

AppleInsider will be taking a more comprehensive look at Smart Keyboard, its features and software compatibility in an upcoming review.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 60
    The trackpad support still exists: simply use fingers anywhere on the screen when the keyboard is connected to move the cursor. You don't actually need force touch to do it and force touch may not be ideal since you would push the iPad backwards in its stand, and with it out of hand you wouldn't get the best haptic feedback anyway. That's why I think they omitted it.
  • Reply 2 of 60
    Pressure-sensitive technology like Apple's 3D Touch on iPhone 6s, which lets users select words, sentences and paragraphs with force-sensitive screen gestures, would have been a great addition here. Perhaps we'll see that on iPad Pro 2.

    Actually iPad has the same text selection abilities by simply using two fingers.

    ATBKVst.jpg
  • Reply 3 of 60
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    Actually iPad has the same text selection abilities by simply using two fingers.

    ATBKVst.jpg
    Doesn't do you much good when using the Smart Keyboard. But yeah.
  • Reply 4 of 60
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    When in the Apple Store Monday, I was surprised at the feel of the keyboard. It was much better than I expected. Considering how the concept of keyboards have changed over the decades, and how we've gotten used to the newer designs, I suspect that in a few years, this type of keyboard will be accepted as well.
  • Reply 5 of 60
    I've ordered my keyboard, but I do wish there were color choices other than just this dull grey.
  • Reply 6 of 60
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member

    It's a fine keyboard if you WANT one attached to a flappy cover all the time.

     

    For most of us, a plain old Bluetooth keyboard plus a stand (maybe a cover that IS a stand) makes more sense. And for cheaper.

     

    I'm planning to use a Magic Keyboard myself—thin and light, I liked the feel at the store, and it has the Fn key, which means it can do forward delete. Try THAT on a Smart Keyboard! And play/pause/skip keys to boot!

     

    I also would rather type with the screen laid back farther. Less effort touch and scroll. Laptop-style is not the best format, really.

     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pmz View Post





    Doesn't do you much good when using the Smart Keyboard. But yeah.



    Why not? Reach up just a half-inch above the keyboard and use two fingers. It's no mouse, but it doesn't sound difficult. (Realistically I'll use the arrow keys more, though.)

  • Reply 7 of 60
    melgross wrote: »
    When in the Apple Store Monday, I was surprised at the feel of the keyboard. It was much better than I expected. Considering how the concept of keyboards have changed over the decades, and how we've gotten used to the newer designs, I suspect that in a few years, this type of keyboard will be accepted as well.

    It surprised me as well, so I added one to my order.
  • Reply 8 of 60
    I've ordered my keyboard, but I do wish there were color choices other than just this dull grey.

    Black and red would've been nice.
  • Reply 9 of 60
    If the iPad Pro had built-in handwriting recognition it wouldn't need a keyboard, only an aPencil. Wouldn't hand writing that converted to text on the fly, like the Newton 2100, be much more natural than hunching over a keyboard and pecking away at the keys?
  • Reply 10 of 60
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by anantksundaram View Post



    I've ordered my keyboard, but I do wish there were color choices other than just this dull grey.



    Agreed.

  • Reply 11 of 60
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post



    When in the Apple Store Monday, I was surprised at the feel of the keyboard. It was much better than I expected. Considering how the concept of keyboards have changed over the decades, and how we've gotten used to the newer designs, I suspect that in a few years, this type of keyboard will be accepted as well.



    I thought they sweated the details. It feels better than it looks, or sounds in the descriptions. I heard "cloth" but it feels like it's something else. Hopefully something very durable over time.

  • Reply 12 of 60
    maxitmaxit Posts: 222member

    Im curious to actually try one, next time I'll go to an Apple Store....

  • Reply 13 of 60
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,072member

    If thin and light are one's priorities there is nothing wrong with Apple's keyboard (other than lack of international layouts and, less important, color choices).

     

    Personally, I have not used a keyboard with the iPad (regular size) a lot, but I did return my Logitech slim cover at that time, because without backlighting it proved to be useless in many situations (typing in bed, typing in a pub etc.) and got the Zagg keyboard instead. Using that I also came to appreciate the 135 degrees of screen adjustment; you simply want a different angle on your lap, a couch table or a bistro table. Having learned that lesson, I will wait for their model.

  • Reply 14 of 60
    19831983 Posts: 1,224member
    steveau wrote: »
    If the iPad Pro had built-in handwriting recognition it wouldn't need a keyboard, only an aPencil. Wouldn't hand writing that converted to text on the fly, like the Newton 2100, be much more natural than hunching over a keyboard and pecking away at the keys?
    It would feel more natural I suppose. But writing a full length document that way would prove uncomfortable and take absolutely ages! The point of a keyboard, once you learn how to type, is that you can pump out words and documents much faster...thought that would be obvious!
  • Reply 15 of 60
    mr omr o Posts: 1,046member

    The iPad Smart Keyboard Cover should actually be a Smart Keyboard Case where the keyboard flips into the case when on the go. Notice how the flat cover would eridacte - if the keyboard sinks into the case - the unsightly bulge of the Smart Keyboard Cover you got now:

     

     VS 

     

    The iPad should also be used flat -see picture -  at all times, not upright at a fixed angle. Flat surfaces offer a better affordance for touch interfaces, obliterating the need of a mouse. Imagine a keyboard which you can fold out of the case. The smart case would put the keyboard in an angle: 

     

  • Reply 16 of 60
    1983 wrote: »
    It would feel more natural I suppose. But writing a full length document that way would prove uncomfortable and take absolutely ages! The point of a keyboard, once you learn how to type, is that you can pump out words and documents much faster...thought that would be obvious!

    Input speed depends on lots of factors, particularly training. According to Wikipedia average typing speeds are 40 wpm and gun typists achieve 120 wpm. The average handwriting speed seems to be around 25-30 wpm, but stenographists can achieve 350 wpm. Thanks for promoting me to look that up, but I don't think that speed is the point. If you want speed you'll use a laptop or desktop with a key board, the iPad is for fun and creativity and now the iPad Pro is adding the ability to be an intelligent clipboard. So for iPads handwriting recognition (HWR) should be more than enough.
  • Reply 17 of 60
    pmcdpmcd Posts: 396member
    1983 wrote: »
    It would feel more natural I suppose. But writing a full length document that way would prove uncomfortable and take absolutely ages! The point of a keyboard, once you learn how to type, is that you can pump out words and documents much faster...thought that would be obvious!

    How would you handle documents with lots of symbols, such as math or chemical symbols or small drawings, with a keyboard? The hand has much more flexibility. For pure text a typist will certainly go faster but it seems a shame that learning to type is now considered more important than learning how to hand write. In fact many schools no longer teach cursive writing so printing or typing is really their preferred approach. It's unfortunate but I suspect that handwriting is a thing of the past. There is a connection when handwriting that you do not have when typing.
  • Reply 18 of 60
    @steveau No. I can type a bajillion times faster than I can hand write words. Keyboards are still a useful tool.

    And, the notes I do take with my Pencil I don't want converted to text.... they are drawings and graphs and math: stuff I can't type.

    Handwriting OCR is one thing I don't miss at all on the iPad Pro.
  • Reply 19 of 60
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    It surprised me as well, so I added one to my order.

    I haven't decided what, if anything, I'm going to do about a keyboard for my Pro yet. Looking on amazon though, I see a lot of Bluetooth keyboards and cases for it. Some are as cheap as $20! Yup, they can't be good, can't they? But I'm thinking on buying two or three of the $50 and under models to play around with them before I take this seriously.
  • Reply 20 of 60
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    steveau wrote: »
    If the iPad Pro had built-in handwriting recognition it wouldn't need a keyboard, only an aPencil. Wouldn't hand writing that converted to text on the fly, like the Newton 2100, be much more natural than hunching over a keyboard and pecking away at the keys?

    That would be a nice option. For a number of years, Apple had a developer version of a handwriting app available for OS X. I don't know what came of it though. I still have my old Newton 2000. I haven't really used it for a long time, though I take it out occasionally to charge it up and play around for a short time. Amazing just how bad it is by today's standards. But the handwriting recognition, even in that model, wasn't bad after I trained it. The 2100 was supposed to be much better. Thinking on how weak that old ARM inside is it's amazing that it worked so well.

    So with today's vastly more powerful devices, I would think that this is something that Apple would be doing. I'd bet that if they just used the same software as before, rewritten for iOS, it would work much better. Updating it would likely be great, particularly with the high Rez screens of today for better legibility for the software.
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