The iPad has changed significantly since its initial introduction in 2010. There have been new features like multitasking, multiple windows, and split view. There have also been changes in the way that iOS looks, from the skeuomorphic design to a more refined one. There has even been changes in the size of the devices from a single 9.7-inch iPad to multiple sizes, 7.9-inch, 9.7-inch, 10.2-inch, 10.5-inch, 11-inch, and 12.9-inch models. One of the things that has been true since the original iPad, with iPhone OS 3.2, is that some users want to use the iPad as a productivity tool. One way to be productive is by using a keyboard. The purpose for using a keyboard can be to write, like I do, but a keyboard can also be used for programming with applications like Swift Playgrounds, or even just to use keyboard shortcuts within apps like Photoshop for iPad. While it is possible to use the on-screen keyboard to accomplish some of these tasks, there are instances when using a physical keyboard is just a better overall experience.
You may think that Apple has only recently made a keyboard specifically for the iPad, but Apple has had keyboards available that you could pair with the iPad since 2010. Let us look at some of those now.
Apple’s iPad Keyboard History
Apple has been making iPad keyboards since the original iPad was introduced in 2010. They started with a forgotten device called the “iPad Keyboard Dock”. It is so forgotten that it is not even listed on the Wikipedia page for Apple keyboards, nor on the iPad page. This was a product that had an Apple keyboard attached to an iPad 30-pin dock that was specifically designed to work with the original iPad in portrait mode.
If you did not want to purchase the iPad Keyboard Dock, you could pick up an Apple wireless keyboard for $69. The difference is that the Apple Wireless keyboard was bluetooth and could work with any bluetooth device, which makes using an external keyboard more versatile.
When I first got an iPad back in 2010, I did not get an iPad Keyboard Dock. Instead, I paired my iPad with an Apple Wireless keyboard. The ones that required 3 AA batteries to power. Once Apple introduced the updated version of the Wireless Keyboard that only required 2 AA batteries, I switched to using that model.
The fact that the keyboards required batteries did make it a bit difficult sometimes, particularly if you need to use the keyboard but the batteries are dead. Additionally, it was likely that you needed to carry extra batteries with you in order to be able to make sure you could use the keyboard when necessary.
In 2015, Apple introduced a completely redesigned keyboard, they called it the Magic Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard changed almost every aspect of the keyboard. Instead of requiring batteries, it switched to being rechargeable, using the included lightning cable.
Due to the rechargeable battery the Magic Keyboard was able to have a new lower profile, which makes it much easier to carry and allowed for smaller bags and carrying cases as a result. Even though this is a much better result, it is still not ideal for some because you had to carry multiple items with you. Instead of having to carry multiple devices, it would be easier to only encompass everything into a single item. There are two different lines, depending on which iPad you own. These are called the iPad Smart Keyboard or the iPad Keyboard Folio.
iPad Smart Keyboard and iPad Smart Keyboard Folio
Apple has not focused solely on external keyboards for the iPad. They have also introduced keyboards that are embedded in cases. Apple has called these the Smart Keyboard Folio.
These are a combination of the Smart Folio, which is a case that covers both the front and back of the iPad, as well as a keyboard. The Keyboard Folio allows you to snap the Keyboard Folio onto the back of the iPad and the edge of the iPad sits on the Keyboard Folio right above the top of the keyboard. There are two positions for the iPad Smart Keyboard and iPad Smart Keyboard Folio. The iPad Smart Keyboard allows two different angles with the keyboard in front of the iPad. The iPad Smart Keyboard has one position for the iPad on the keyboard or the keyboard can be hidden behind the iPad for when you are viewing media on your iPad.
There is another additional difference between iPad Smart Keyboard and the Smart Keyboard Folio. The Smart Keyboard Folio has a fabric cover on top of the keyboard. This has two functions. The first is that it protects the keyboard from any debris getting into the keyboard. The second function is to protect the iPad screen.
The second difference is that the keys have less travel for the keys. The travel is how far you have to press down on a key in order for the key to appear on the screen and the Smart Keyboard Folio has a very short amount of travel, similar to the butterfly keyboards on the late-2015 to 2018 MacBooks and MacBook Pros.
All of this changes with the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. Before we delve into that, let us look at the design.
Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro
The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro is three devices in one. These devices are a case, a keyboard, and a trackpad. The Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro covers the entire back of the iPad and attaches to the iPad using magnets.The magnets allow the iPad Pro to be positioned properly for a few reasons. The first is so that the cutout for the camera will be positioned properly on the 4th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro as well as the 2nd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro.
The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro works with the last two generations of the iPad Pro. These are the 3rd and 4th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and the 1st and 2nd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro. The latter of the two sizes has a new camera sensor that has a square design and the Magic Keyboards are designed with these iPads in mind. Therefore, on the 3rd Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 1st generation 11-inch iPad Pro, you will see more of the back of the iPad. In practice, this is not a problem.
The second reason for the magnets is so that Smart Connector will be aligned properly. The Smart connector is how the Magic Keyboard actually gets its power from the iPad Pro and does not have any battery contained within the keyboard itself.
With the Magic Keyboard attached, the iPad Pro floats over the keyboard so that you can still hit the keys in the number row, if you need them. When you type on the keyboard, you will notice that the keyboard is backlit. This can come in handy if you are using the Magic Keyboard while in the dark. You are able to adjust the brightness of the Magic Keyboard through settings. You can go to Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Hardware Keyboard and you can adjust the brightness of the keyboard.
The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro has a cantilevered design. This means that you can adjust the iPad Pro’s angle to the most comfortable for you. This angle is limited though. This is due to the next item to discuss, the weight of the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.
As you might expect, the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro does have some heft to it. In fact, it weighs 1.51 pounds, or 684 grams. When you combine this with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the entire package, including an Apple Pencil, coms to 2.95 pounds, or 1,337 grams. I wonder if this weight is purely accidental, or is this was the target weight for the entire pack. When you first hear that the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Magic Keyboard comes to almost 3 pounds, it might sound like a lot. But the question is, how does this compare to other portable Apple devices.
I only have a few devices to compare this to. These are an Early 2015 MacBook Pro, a 16-inch MacBook Pro, and a Mid-2007 MacBook.
The Early-2015 13.3-inch MacBook Pro comes in at 3.48 pounds, or 1578.5 grams. This is approximately 20 percent heavier than the iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard. So this is a bit heavier. Even heavier still is a 16-inch MacBook Pro, which comes in at 4.3 pounds, or 1,950.45 grams. This makes the 16-inch MacBook Pro 45.8% heavier than the iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard. Lastly, the Mid-2007 Black MacBook is a hefty 5.2 pounds, or 3.45 times heavier than the MacBook.
While the Magic Keyboard does make the iPad heavier, it is not as heavy as other portable Apple devices, even somewhat recent ones.
The big draw for purchasing the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, for me anyway, is the keyboard. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro honors its name, it is the Magic Keyboard. It has the same layout, the same key sizes, and even the same key mechanism. This means that it is a Magic Keyboard through and through. There are some differences between the standard Magic Keyboard and the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.
The biggest change is that the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro has one fewer rows of keys. The entire top row is not present on the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro. This means that there is no physical escape key, nor any function keys. The lack of function keys does mean that some changes need to be made, if you are used to using another keyboard with the iPad Pro. Because of the changes, there are some things that you may have to get used to.
The first change, and for me it is the biggest, is the lack of an escape key. There may not be that many things that I can do well, but using a computer keyboard is one of them. Since I tend to use the keyboard as much as possible, the lack of an escape key makes it super difficult for me to adjust. I use the escape key for various tasks, particularly with a terminal. It is possible to re-map keys on iOS. These keys are:
- Caps Lock
So you can re-map one of these if you would like. Since I go between many devices, re-mapping one of the keys will not work for me. I really hope the second revision has a physical escape key. I completely understand the trade-offs made with the keyboard, and I agree with them, but it makes it more difficult for me. There is another way to simulate the escape key. The key combination of command and period will perform the same function as escape, for the most part anyway.
Next, let us look at the other item on the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, the trackpad.
iOS 13.4 was specifically designed for the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro. This is due to the addition of trackpad support within iOS. The first thing you will notice is the physical size of the trackpad. The trackpad is 4 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Let us see how this compares to other devices.
- My Early 2015 13.3-inch MacBook Pro’s trackpad is 4.375 inches by 3.125 inches tall.
- Apple stand-alone Magic Trackpad is 6.750 inches wide by 4.5625 inches tall.
- The Late 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro’s trackpad is 6.750 inches wide by 4.00 inches tall.
When you look at these the trackpad on the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro might seem small. However, there is one last item to compare the trackpad to, the Mid-2007 MacBook. If you measure the trackpad for the 2007 MacBook you come up with 4 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Hmm…this is the same size as the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. Therefore, while the trackpad on the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro may seem small, in comparison to more recent trackpads on devices, the trackpads on past devices have been the same size and we used those for years.
Here is an life-size comparison of the various trackpads. As you can see, the sizes really do differ quite a bit depending on the device being used.
Even though the physical size between the 2007 MacBook and the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro may be the same, they do not function the same, outside of moving the cursor. The trackpad on the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro supports many of the same gestures as the standard trackpads. This includes three finger swipes, pinch to zoom, and even four finger gestures, although the latter are a bit more difficult to accomplish with one hand.
The trackpad is a great addition and combined with iOS 13.4, it is will allow some to be even more productive than before.
To use the tag line of John Siracusa’s Hypercritical podcast, “Nothing is so perfect that it can’t be complained about.” That means there are a few things that could be possible drawbacks to be aware of regarding the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro. Most of these have been covered, but let us recap.
The first issue I mentioned earlier, the lack of a physical escape key. I completely understand the trade-offs being made. On a standard Magic Keyboard there is an additional row that has the Escape key as well as 12 function keys and an “eject” key; at least on the US English keyboard layout.
Also mentioned earlier is the fact that command + period will replicate the escape key, and for those who use the app “vim” for terminal editing, this does work well for the escape key. Despite this, a physical escape key would be nice, even if the other top row keys where reduced to accommodate the key.
The second possible drawback is the weight. As outlined above if you are accustomed to using the iPad on its own, the weight difference will be quite noticeable. However, if you compare it to a traditional laptop, it will be lighter and therefore more portable.
The third possible drawback is the possible angles. The Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro is limited in the angles that it can be tilted towards. Just as with the lack of a physical escape key, the reasons for this make sense. In the case of the limited angles is due to making sure that the keyboard is balanced.
In fact, the keyboard is so balanced that you can perch the keyboard, complete with iPad, on the edge of a desk and it will not fall. Which cannot be said for other keyboards that are on the market. I would not recommend always living on the edge, but the keyboard is quite balanced.
The last possible drawback, is the price, which is outlined below.
At first glance when you look at it, the Magic Keyboard for the iPad is not an inexpensive product. The keyboard for the 11-inch iPad Pro is $299, and the keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is $349. At first glance this may seem like a lot, and there is no denying that it is expensive. Yet, it may not be as expensive as you think. If you were to add up the cost of the three items in the Magic Keyboard for iPad, a cover, the magic keyboard, and a magic trackpad, it would be $99, $99, and $129 respectively, or a total of $327.
Therefore, this does make the overall price for the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro a bit more than buying each item separately, but for that price, you get allof them in a single package. Therefore, you do not need to worry about having three separate items. It is entirely true that you cold purchase less expensive solutions for the iPad Pro and you can be satisfied with those, but if you are looking at Apple-only solutions, then this really is comparable.
I have used my 3rd Generation iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard for just about a week now. I used to use my iPad on a somewhat regular basis, but I feel as though I will be using my iPad a bit more than before. This is because I now have a device that can fill in most of the functions of my 2015 MacBook Pro. I am not sure whether or not I will end up replacing the MacBook Pro when it comes time. This is because the iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard may be able to fulfill the role that my MacBook Pro has done so far, for the most part.
There are some items that I cannot do on my iPad, as easily, even with the Magic Keyboard and trackpad. The biggest of these is web development. I use the Safari Inspector quite a bit, and it is not available at all on iPadOS. Additionally, I use BBEdit for all of my web development. The built-in SFTP and browsing has become an absolute essential for me, and without this I am not able to be as productive with my web development. If you happen to know of another tool that is comparable, definitely let me know.
However, there are other tasks that I can do with the new setup. Chiefly among these is writing. It is my hope to be able to use the iPad to write most of the books I plan to write this summer, but time will tell. It is possible that significantly more of the books will be written using the iPad, now that there is a keyboard that makes it much easier to type on when sitting in various places.
The combination of iPadOS 13.4 and the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro has capability of fundamentally changing the way that you use the iPad Pro. While it was possible to use an iPad with a keyboard, the addition of a trackpad makes the iPad like a laptop. For those who really enjoy using iPadOS as their primary operating system, but would really benefit from using a TrackPad, then you cannot go wrong with the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, even with the starting price of $299.