Apple’s New Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Shakes Things Up

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I have wanted Apple to go all out and give us their version of a standard laptop keyboard for the iPad Pro for a while now. Even if you like the Smart Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio, they aren’t what I’m talking about. Those were thin, light and mobile at the expense of all else. You know, things like backlit keys. Or a key mechanism. ANY key mechanism at all.

For those who prioritize traveling lite, the Smart Keyboard was often an acceptable compromise, or even preferred. For anyone else like me who would rather have the features and better typing experience, these keyboards just didn’t cut it, especially for what they cost. That left those of us searching for a better keyboard looking for third-party options where we could find them.

I’ve tried most of the good ones over the years. I used to like ZAGG’s gear, but I haven’t seen an iPad Pro keyboard of theirs that I’ve liked in a while. They tend to be big and clunky. I really dug Logitech’s Slim Combo Keyboard Case for the original iPad Pro design.

The 12.9″ version of that case was probably my favorite iPad keyboard case of all time. It was fairly thin and light. It provided adequate drop protection. You could easily remove the keyboard and use the other half as a case for the iPad alone. The keyboard was excellent. You could easily position the kickstand to hold the iPad Pro at any usable angle.

Unfortunately, Logitech never released a follow-up for the current iPad Pro design that was originally released in late 2018. In fact, no third-party manufacturer has made a keyboard case compatible with the current Smart Connector arrangement since the 2018 models were released. I’ve never gotten a completely clear answer whether that’s because the current Smart Connector is out of bounds for MFi accessories, or if third-party manufacturers have just given up on messing with it. Either way, the Slim Combo is still available for older iPad Pros, but I’ve given up waiting on a newer version.

Oddly enough, Logitech just released some new iPad keyboard cases with this same design and trackpads added today. Unfortunately, they are for the 10.2″ iPad, the iPad Air and the older 10.5″ iPad Pro. These all have the older Smart Connector design, so it seems nothing has changed. Sad trombone.

I’ve been using a Brydge Pro for several months now, and it is definitely a very nice keyboard case. Easily second place to the Slim Combo, but a great accessory in its own right. While dealing with the occasional brief delays while Bluetooth re-connects when I start using it is a little annoying, the Brydge Pro has all of the features I was looking for that the Smart Keyboard Folio doesn’t have. It has a great keyboard with backlit keys. It is versatile and its durable hinges can be positioned at any angle. The iPad Pro can easily be removed. It isn’t too thick and heavy, and with the magnetic back cover, it provides enough protection for me to be comfortable using it everyday.

Based on my experience with this product, I went ahead and pre-ordered the Brydge Pro+ with trackpad a few months ago.

It’s taking a while to get here thanks to the same supply chain delays that all other manufacturers are currently having to deal with. I can’t fault them for that. It should be here in mid-April and with full trackpad support already here in the iPadOS 13.4 beta (which I just installed), I can’t wait to get my hands on this new Brydge model and kick the tires.

Then we got Apple’s new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro today. All I can say is WOW. This keyboard case is what I’ve been asking Apple for over the last 4+ years. It has it all, at least according to the pictures and specs. Real scissor-switch keys, rather than cloth cover keys literally full of air. The ability to position the iPad anywhere with a cantilever hinge, rather than being stuck with one or two preset positions. A separate USB-C charging port, which frees up the one on the iPad Pro for use with accessories or a USB-C Hub. An Apple quality trackpad. Also, since it takes advantage of the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector, it should work without any delays and should be thinner and lighter than competing products.

This is all good. I really don’t see a downside to this product….until we get to the price tag. WOW again, but not in a good way. At $299 for the 11″ model and a whopping $349 for the 12.9″ version, this keyboard had better be literal magic. I can buy a 10.2″ iPad at retail price and pay the sales tax for only $3 more. That alone is going to make most buyers look down the iPad lineup at other options.

$349 for a keyboard case is a big ask, even of big time Apple fans. The cost really adds up when the 12.9″ iPad Pro starts at $999 and then you add the Apple Pencil and this new Magic Keyboard. That is an incredibly powerful setup, but you pay a high price for that capability.

I can’t help but wonder if the Magic Keyboard being a little thinner and lighter and from Apple will be enough to offset the Brydge Pro+ being over $100 less per model. Because of this, I’m really looking forward to trying both and seeing how they stack up against each other. There is enough difference in the products that there’s going to be plenty of room for both, but it will still be an interesting head-to-head battle.

So Apple has a big hill to climb here. They have to deliver an accessory that justifies this high price tag. However, I’m not betting against them, as they definitely know their hardware and they seem to be systematically righting all of the design wrongs of the last few years with each successive new product release. Today was just more of the same from what I can tell today.

Even if the Magic Keyboard’s price tag is a bit too much for many to bear, it does set a high bar and I hope that it inspires a few other third-party accessory makers besides Brydge to up their game. Yes, I’m looking at you Logitech and ZAGG. I fully expect to see competing products with competitive prices ready to go by the Summer.

As for me, I am very excited to get my hands on these new toys in April for the Brydge Pro+ and May for the Magic Keyboard. However, I am FAR too impatient to wait that long to try out these new touchpad features. I’m leaving work now and heading to BestBuy to pick up a new Apple Magic Trackpad so I can get a feel for what the future holds.

 


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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