Especially if it bring us features from the new Magic Keyboard
After a few weeks with the Magic Keyboard and getting past issues with battery drain and the form factor not being perfect for my use at work, I still really like it. While keyboard isn’t my favorite, it is a huge step up from the Smart Keyboard’s butterfly mechanism. Add in a backlight and a good trackpad and it is a pleasure to use, where the alternative was always a chore for me. I am doing a lot of my writing with the Magic Keyboard and using it often at home.
That said, the Magic Keyboard isn’t a great fit for me at work, so I don’t use it or keep it with me all the time. I have covered this plenty in other articles, so I won’t belabor the details here, but this accessory just isn’t a perfect fit for how I use my iPad Pro. That’s what has gotten me thinking about the Smart Keyboard Folio again.
If you aren’t a regular here, I will just say that I’m not a fan of the current Folio at all and I liked the original Smart Keyboard even less. I just hate the keyboard. The tiny key travel and the poor response aren’t worth the portability for me. I did use the Folio off and on for a while because there weren’t many alternatives for the current iPad Pro design. However, as soon as I got a Brydge Pro, my Smart Keyboard Folio started gathering dust.
One thing I will say is that the Smart Keyboard Folio is light and portable. It is both thin and light, but it still offers decent protection from drops and basic knocks and dings. It doesn’t offer the positioning options of the Magic Keyboard, but it does have other very useful advantages. You can fold the keyboard behind your iPad Pro and still use it as a tablet while keeping it in the case. This isn’t possible with the Magic Keyboard. You can also position the Folio for stable drawing with an Apple Pencil. The Magic Keyboard isn’t designed to do this, either.
As I critiqued the Magic Keyboard and read a few written by others over the past few weeks, one constant suggestion that I saw was that those of us who wanted a more mobile case that could be kept on the iPad Pro all the time should stick to the Smart Keyboard Folio. Unfortunately, that means giving up a far superior keyboard with backlight, as well as the option of a built-in trackpad. I would rather swap cases and work around the Magic Keyboard’s shortcomings than take that big of a step backward.
However, what if Apple upgraded the Smart Keyboard Folio to include a trackpad? I think that would get a lot of users to choose the more portable option, despite the differences in the keyboards. If Apple were to go the rest of the way and add a the same backlit scissor switch keyboard from the Magic Keyboard, then we would really have something. I have to be honest, as much as I like Apple’s new design, I would probably choose the more versatile Folio if this ever happened.
Is it realistic to think that Apple will upgrade the Smart Keyboard Folio with these features? This is a tough one. On the one hand, they are obviously backing away from the current butterfly keyboard mechanism. The mechanism breaking down wasn’t an issue on the Smart Keyboards because their fabric covers prevented the dirt and grit that jammed up their laptop cousins from getting in. However, it still wouldn’t surprise me if Apple would like to eliminate this version of the butterfly mechanism entirely from their hardware lineup and this is the last product left.
That said, there isn’t just the Smart Keyboard Folio to consider. The original Smart Keyboard is still being sold and is compatible with the current 10.2″ iPad and 10.5″ iPad Air. That accessory obviously can’t hold a trackpad and I doubt Apple wants to put effort into redeveloping the keyboard. In fact, they just worked directly with Logitech to help them release new Smart Connector keyboards with trackpads for the non-Pro iPads. I don’t think Apple has any interest in spending R&D resources on the lower end.
So the question is, will Apple upgrade the Smart Keyboard Folio and leave the older model to wither away? It’s possible. They certainly don’t mind having a significant feature divide between the Pro and lower tier iPads or their accessories, so I don’t think this would stop them.
There is one other potential impediment. Does Apple want to keep a bigger separation between the Folio and the Magic Keyboard? Right now, there is a significant divide between them and that will likely push many buyers toward the more expensive product. Maybe I’m cynical, but I could see Apple using this as a reasoning for not upgrading the Folio. That said, I also think they want to push their new trackpad compatibility forward. The best way to do that is to embrace it with their own iPad accessories. Because of this, I do think we will at least see a trackpad added to the Folio by next year.
However, I’m not as sure about the backlit keyboard. I can see Apple not adding that to keep a wider contrast between the Folio and Magic Keyboard. And if they do pull the trigger on an upgrade, I think we should expect the price of the Smart Keyboard Folio to increase. That’s just par for the course with Apple.
As for timeframe, I can’t see this happening before next year. Apple didn’t make a big deal about it, but they did slightly edit the design of the existing Smart Keyboard Folio to fit the new camera design of the 2020 iPad Pros. If Apple were going to significantly change the design of the Folio this year, it would have happened then. I can’t blame them for that choice either, as the current distinction between the accessories is likely driving sales of the newer Magic Keyboard.
However, I do feel like next year would be an ideal time for Apple to do this. We have heard rumors of new iPad Pros with 5G and Mini-LED displays coming in 2021. It makes sense to me that any redesign of the Smart Keyboard Folio would be released along with these new models. I know if a Folio with a better backlit keyboard and a trackpad does come, I will be ready to buy on day one. I would hate to lose the hinge of the Magic Keyboard, but I would gain a case that I can keep on my iPad Pro at all times, and that is far more important to me at work.
Would you be interested in a Smart Keyboard Folio with a trackpad and new backlit, scissor switch keyboard? Let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.