I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a great track record with predictions. That’s probably because I tend to swing for the fence a lot. No guts, no glory, right? Well, that philosophy leads to a fair amount of strikeouts. However, it will also net you some home runs, as well.
I can’t help but feel like I got one thanks to yesterday’s report from The Information that Apple will be adding a trackpad to the Smart Keyboard. Before getting into the details of that, let’s check the tape for a moment.
Waiting to take a victory lap
Here are a few segments from an article I wrote on January 1st called The iPad in 2020:
I can’t help but think back to the way Apple soft-launched a precursor to Dark Mode as an Accessibility feature. A year later, we got a full Dark Mode that was available throughout iOS and iPadOS without any concessions or limitations. Considering that the new Accessibility feature was no secret among Apple fans and that many used it in spite of its limited nature, I absolutely believe that Apple hid it in plain sight to gather data on how, how often and when power users chose to enable and use it.
In 2019, we got what feels like a similar addition of mouse support as an Accessibility feature in iPadOS. As with the previous trial run of Dark Mode, there are definitely limitations with this new feature. In its current form, it won’t allow you the full control and navigation of the OS that a mouse or trackpad will in macOS or Windows. That said, a new navigation paradigm is enticing enough that many power users are still kicking the tires on it. Accessory makers are even making new keyboard cases with trackpads to try to take advantage of what’s possible.
I am 100% convinced that Apple is going down the same road with mouse support that they did with Dark Mode. I believe they will add full support for both wired and wireless mice to iPadOS in 2020.
And then the next section of what was really a two-part prediction:
This prediction goes hand in hand with the one above. If Apple adds mouse support to iPadOS, then they need to provide accessories that take advantage of it. The Magic Mouse is all fine and good, but that isn’t enough. As I said above, the natural comparison for the iPad Pro is to the Surface. Like that device, mouse support for the iPad demands a trackpad.
I think Apple has too much invested in the Smart Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio to just abandon them. I’m not predicting that. I’m also not predicting that Apple will add a trackpad to either of them. Rather, I think its time for Apple to release a new product in addition to the Smart Keyboard Folio- a professional quality keyboard case that is more in line with what we usually expect from Logitech, Brydge or ZAGG. It would fully enclose the iPad, provide a hinge that allows the it to be positioned at any angle, include backlit keys (for the love of God, please) and the same scissor key mechanism that the Magic Keyboard and latest MacBooks have. A great bonus feature would be one or more additional USB-C ports to add additional peripherals without the need for a hub.
Last but not least, this high-end keyboard case needs to have a trackpad worthy of the Apple name.
Call me a blowhard, but I’m feeling pretty good about this one. I have to admit that Apple telegraphed mouse support somewhat thanks to the addition of Assistive Touch in iPadOS 13. However, my prediction of a Smart Keyboard with a trackpad was based entirely on hope.
I could still be wrong. This ball hasn’t cleared the fence quite yet. However, with a source as solid as The Information, I’m feeling pretty good about it going the distance. We shall see.
Playing in a different league
Now that my victory dance is done, let’s talk about what this accessory will mean for the iPad Pro. There is no denying that it will be a big step for the platform. The iPad Pro has been heading in this direction and it seemed to pick up speed last year with all the features added in iPadOS. I think the key unspoken part of this news is that Apple isn’t making a Smart Keyboard with a trackpad unless it is also adding full mouse support this year.
If this all turns out to be true, then one of the biggest barriers between the iPad and Microsoft’s Surface and other Windows convertables will be gone. Is Apple going to up its game to that level? Considering the comparisons that will naturally come from this move, they had better.
While we don’t how it will potentially turn out, Apple getting serious about beefing up the Pro in iPad Pro is a big deal. For a fan like me, the potential of that is pretty exciting. While I still have a to a lot of work using Windows, I prefer the native touch-first interface of the iPad. Even with the complexity of some of the new multitasking features, I still enjoy the fluid tactile experience of my iPad Pro to my laptop.
That said, there are still limitations. With the addition of real mouse support and a quality trackpad, most of what will be left has to do with software. So you have Windows, where you can run lots of existing professional software, but touch is really just bolted on. Will the iPad be a touch-native platform where mouse support is really just an afterthought (like today) and there isn’t a ton of desktop-class software available? Let’s hope Apple aims higher and delivers much more than this.
Timing is everything
So when is this new wonder of the civilized world coming? The original report from The Information didn’t specify anything except that Apple is preparing it for production and it is coming later in the year. How much later is later?
The key here is that a new iPad Pro is supposedly coming in just a few weeks. Will this Smart Keyboard arrive with it? I highly doubt it. The main reason is that, since it really needs the iPad to have full mouse support to be fully effective, there wouldn’t be much point. Since this seems much bigger than the kind minor addition that Apple would make with an OS point release, the new Smart Keyboard would be more likely to arrive after WWDC, when the new iPadOS features for 14 are announced. That means this new accessory is more likely to show up with the powerhouse iPad Pro slated to show up in the Fall.
Whenever it arrives, all I can say is I’m ready. iPad Pro power users like me want all the smoke, Apple. Don’t hold back. I want a Smart Keyboard that makes Brydge jealous. Bring your A game and give us everything you’ve got with this one.