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Issue 20.3 ('XDC Anywhere')
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Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro

Issue: 20.3 (May/June 2022)
Author: Marc Zeedar
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 8,161
Starting Page Number: 12
Article Number: 20302
Related Link(s): None

Full text of article...

If you've been living in the dark for the past couple of years (with Covid, no one can blame you), you might have missed Apple's release of the Magic Keyboard. In brief, it's a hardware keyboard case for iPad Pros. It has an amazing "floating" design, where the iPad seems to hover above the keyboard like magic. Really, it's held in place by magnets.

To truly understand the item, it helps to see a picture of it without an iPad attached. Then you can see it's a thin back with a foldable edge attached with hinges to a flat keyboard.

That thin back is what connects to the iPad via magnets (you can see the cutout for the iPad's camera array) and the fold line is what lets you adjust the viewing angle of the iPad. The hinge at the bottom is not adjustable—it's either open or folded flat (closed). In that mode the whole thing is a case with the keyboard protecting the glass front of the iPad.

You should note several key things about this keyboard case which are unique from most others:

  • The keyboard is not bluetooth, but is powered via the magnetic connection so it uses the iPad's battery, meaning you never have to worry about charging it or running out of power.

  • The case has a USB-C port on the left side of the hinge, which provides pass-through power to charge the iPad.

  • The keyboard itself includes a built-in trackpad, turning the iPad into a decent laptop replacement.

The main feature that was widely touted when this was released was the high price. Since I couldn't see one of these in person (they were initially in short supply and most stores were closed because of the pandemic), I just couldn't wrap my head around paying over $300 for an external keyboard when I could buy a cheap Bluetooth one for $20.

Part of my problem was I didn't have a compatible iPad Pro—this case requires a recent-generation Pro or 5th generation Air (essentially any iPad Pro that uses USB-C instead of Lightning)—so I was also factoring in the cost of a new iPad. To replace my 2016 12.9\" iPad Pro with the keyboard and a new Pencil would run me $1500, a bit rich when I already had actual laptops and the old iPad still worked fine.

I basically forgot about this keyboard for two years until a recent sale on Amazon caught my eye. I realized that in the interim, I'd purchased an 11\" iPad Pro, which would allow me to get the less expensive version of the Magic Keyboard.

It still wasn't cheap and I wondered if I needed it, since I rarely use my iPad for typing. But I had a credit on Amazon which brought the keyboard down to a more reasonable $100 and I splurged. I'm glad I did. The Magic Keyboard is a game changer.

Here are the key things I hadn't realized:

  • This keyboard makes a perfect viewing stand for the iPad even when you're not using it as a "laptop." (It's a far more stable stand than the flimsy "Smart Cover" case I was using.)

  • The magnetic connection makes it really easy to remove the iPad if you want to use it vertically or sans keyboard for a bit. I've used other keyboard cases that require the iPad to be snapped into a hard shell, so even without the keyboard, the case still adds extra weight and bulk.

  • When closed, the iPad is protected and yet the case adds little bulk. Sure, the keyboard on one side is thick and heavy (it needs to be that to balance the weight of the "floating" iPad), but the thin back evens that out. The Logitech case for my old iPad adds the thickness of the hard shell and the keyboard, so it feels far thicker.

  • While the viewing angle isn't broad (you can only move the top of the iPad a few inches), it is infinitely adjustable within that range. I was surprised how often I used this feature to make minor adjustments depending on my usage. Other cases have more viewing angles, but they're fixed with just a few choices.

  • Having a hardware keyboard always attached is really useful on an iPad (especially a smaller 11\" model) because not using an onscreen keyboard leaves you the entire display for content. Before, I only connected a keyboard when I planned to do some writing; the Magic Keyboard is so convenient I leave it connected all the time and only separate the iPad when I need to use it vertically for drawing.

  • Even with the case closed, the Apple Pencil stays attached to your iPad, charging and ready for use.

  • The addition of the trackpad is an iPad game-changer.

First, understand my own use case. I can't speak for yours, but my main work involves writing. Writing, by its nature, involves rewriting and editing. For those tasks, a proper keyboard with cursor control is essential. While I've used an iPad for work occasionally, it's a struggle (even with a hardware keyboard). Generally I have a laptop nearby already and therefore the iPad is solely used for consumption.

Until I got the Magic Keyboard with its built-in trackpad, I had never realized how significant cursor control was while editing. I always felt like I could just use my finger for selecting text, but honestly, that process is awkward, inaccurate, and I have to take my fingers off the keyboard which interrupts my workflow. Having used laptops since the 1990s, I am extremely familiar with trackpads and they feel natural to me; I don't even have to think. With the Magic Keyboard connected to my iPad Pro 11\", I can work with text almost the same as with my laptop. It's tremendously empowering.

Sure, there are some software differences (I can't run my favorite text editor on my iPad), but those are far less critical than hardware. The 11\" model of the Magic Keyboard is a little cramped, but the typing experience is excellent, with a fine layout. (Thank God it has properly inverted-T arrow keys.) There are no function keys, but I don't know what I'd do with those on an iPad anyway.

Apple's made improvements to iPadOS to better support hardware keyboards, so now there are settings to set the backlit brightness, Command-key shortcuts, and more. For instance, I recently wanted to take a screenshot on my iPad. On a whim, I tried Command-Shift-3, just the way I'd do on a Mac—and it worked!

Overall, I am delighted with this keyboard and no longer have any qualms about the price. You get what you pay for and here you get Apple build quality, a fantastic design, and a new way to experience your iPad.

End of article.