Several years ago, before I ever got my first iPad-specific keyboard case (the Logitech Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard by ZAGG for the iPad 2), I purchased an Apple Wireless Keyboard to see what it would be like not having to type on the screen of my original iPad. Even though it was a little awkward to carry around with what was supposed to be a mobile device, I still absolutely loved this keyboard. The layout and key spacing were perfect. The action felt good and the keys were responsive. The battery life was great, even if it ran off of actual batteries. It worked very well for me at the time.
Eventually I found the Incase Origami Workstation, which doubled as a protective cover for the keyboard, and then folded out into a stand for the iPad. This was a perfect setup for me at the time, and it got me writing more on my original iPad and early on with my iPad 2.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling. It’s been a while since I’ve really had a need to try out an Apple keyboard, as there is absolutely no shortage of keyboard cases out there for every model of iPad, and I am a Windows user on the desktop, so there is no reason for me to use an Apple keyboard there. However, I noticed an Apple Smart Keyboard for the 12.9″ iPad with an Open Box discount at BestBuy a few days ago, and decided to take advantage. I had heard polarizing viewpoints on this accessory for over a year, as people either seemed to love it or hate it. I figured, why not give it a try at a little cheaper price and see how it goes after more use than I can stand looking at a demo at the Apple Store.
Haters Gonna Hate
I guess I’ve already tipped my hand, but I definitely fall in with the “hate its.” I honestly can’t understand the design of the “Smart” Keyboard on any level. It’s as if Apple stood by and watched Microsoft make early mistakes with the original Surface and Surface Pro (most, if not all, of which have been corrected since) and didn’t learn ANYTHING from them. The biggest knock on the original Surface Touch Cover keyboard was that no one wanted to type on fake keys with poor response. Their newer Type Covers reflect how much they learned from user feedback, and responded with appropriate design changes.They also evolved their keyboard designs QUICKLY, which is key. Now Surface users have a couple of really solid mobile keyboard options because of it. Unfortunately, using the Smart Keyboard makes me feel like Apple decided to re-invent the wheel, and ended up making something that works and responds like an original Surface Touch Cover. Too bad they effectively knocked off a colossal flop of a keyboard.
All kidding aside, I do have what I feel are legitimate gripes with this accessory. The fabric covering acts as a barrier that dampens the feel of the keys. I understand that Apple must have had some reason why they felt this design was superior. However, MANY other keyboard manufacturers have been making iPad keyboard cases with plastic keys for years and designing them work without issues for seven years now. The fabric seems like a solution in search of a novel problem that unfortunately causes other problems of its own.
Another issue with the Smart Keyboard is that it leaves the back of the iPad exposed when folded up. Again, this design decision seems to have been made in the interest of thinness, rather than functionality. Now, I have had and used devices like this on past iPads, such as the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case for the iPad 2/3. I really liked that case, because it was not only thin and light, but it gave solid aluminum coverage to one side of the iPad. More importantly, it also delivered a great keyboard with amazing battery life. You see, that’s the key to this situation. If you are going to take something away or have a trade-off of some kind in your design, you need knock it out of the park in the areas where your accessory is focused. If the Smart Keyboard served up a best in class typing experience for the iPad, I would absolutely accept the trade-off of no rear protection, the way that I did with past keyboard covers. Unfortunately for Apple, it isn’t a best in class experience. Not even remotely close.
For me, the real issue here is Apple’s overriding obsession in all areas of their laptop and mobile business- thinness. No device can EVER be too thin or too light, even if that comes at the expense of battery life, or in this case, outright functionality. The only thing that the Smart Keyboard gets right is being thin, and that just isn’t all that compelling. The bottom line is that the response and feel of this keyboard is really below average, and doesn’t hold a candle to the third-party competition on their own devices, much less anyone else’s.
This Smart Keyboard is going back to BestBuy to become an Open Box special for another sucker as soon as I can get it there. Again, I just can’t believe that this accessory passed through the QA and marketing departments at Apple and made it to market the way that it currently stands. Apple touts the iPad Pro as a competitor to the traditional laptop for the modern student and professional, but that kind of work often requires a high quality physical keyboard. For someone like me who is actually using their Pro for just such tasks, the Smart Keyboard is more of a hinderance than a help. It doesn’t hold a candle to my ZAGG Slimbook, even with all of the additional size and weight that keyboard case adds. I’ll take the better keyboard and increased flexibility every day of the week and twice on Sunday, thank you very much.
Unfortunately, Apple’s quest for thinness isn’t limited to the Smart Keyboard. Their Magic Keyboard, the follow up to the original Wireless Keyboard that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, is also super small and light. Thankfully, it is a MUCH more sucessful keyboard than the Smart Keyboard, offering a far superior typing experience. However, most of the complaints that I came across online had to do with wanting a larger version of the Magic Keyboard, with bigger keys and a little more space. The keys also have a very low profile, which just isn’t necessary on what is supposed to be a full-sized wireless keyboard. Again, we see design decisions made for the sake of thin and light before device-specific functionality.
I would love to see Apple go back to the drawing board and create a keyboard case that is truly worthy of the iPad Pro moniker. They don’t have to get rid of the Smart Keyboard to do it, either. By all means, keep that one around for those who want it, but how about at a more reasonable price going forward. Then take a page from Microsoft’s book, and release another version that is geared toward greater productivity, even if it is a bit bigger and weighs a little more. A keyboard case with the “soul” of the old Wireless Keyboard and half of the portability of the Smart Keyboard would absolutely set the standard for the iPad Pro. Come on Apple. Myself and others like me are ready and willing to fork over our cash for this bad boy. How about giving us something worth spending it on this time.
Do you have an opinion on Apple’s Smart Keyboard? As widely as I’ve seen the opinions on this accessory differ elsewhere, I am sure many of you will disagree with me. That’s fine. Tell us why! Please let us know in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog or @jhrogersii. We would love to hear from you.