Using the iPad Pro Without the Smart Keyboard

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As an update to my previous post on everyday carry, I have been leaving the Smart Keyboard at home and bringing just the iPad Pro around with me. I thought that I’d get into the habit of bringing a stand around with me, but it had felt like just one more thing to bring around. So for the past few weeks it has been just the 12.9-inch tablet and the Pencil for occasional diagrams and a few handwritten notes.

It still surprises me how much more comfortable I find typing with the iPad Pro flat on a surface, or propped up on my legs. A typing stand like the Smart Cover or TwelveSouth Compass make it easier to view my text when there’s glare from the ceiling lights, but on the typing angle also forces me to tilt my wrists upwards. I can type comfortably for quite a while this way, but I inevitably walk way from the experience with some wrist pain or discomfort. Not being able to rest my fingers on the keys just makes typing on glass that much more fatiguing. Typing with the iPad completely flat isn’t as good as a physical keyboard, but it’s far easier on my wrists, and ultimately more enjoyable.

There is something magical about the immediacy of iOS with your hands right on the screen at all times. All of the controls along the top of the screen feel within easy reach, and it’s a different feeling to reach forward (while typing on the software keyboard) versus reaching upwards (while using the hardware keyboard). I’m a huge fan of the hardware keyboard shortcuts that we got with iOS 10, but the little gaps in keyboard support are really distracting and often break the flow of my work. After a good year of working that way, I’ve decided I do not really enjoy the experience if reaching up to tap the screen between typing paragraphs. It just feels clumsy.

Typing on the software keyboard does feel the most natural fit for the tablet, and every few months I’ll try to go software keyboard only, in order to see if there’s some trick I haven’t tried that will magically make it comfortable for me. Unfortunately in most situations I just find it too hard on my neck and my wrists to work on the iPad Pro lying flat on a table for long sessions. I’ve definitely given up on the dream of using the iPad Pro as my primary mobile machine for work — I’ve decided a laptop is simply a superior ergonomic fit for that role: the input rests on the desk and I look forward at the output on the screen.

However, the iPad Pro can make a decent ultra-light and ultra-slim setup. It’s basically the equivalent of what the 12-inch MacBook or the 11-inch MacBook Air is to most people: a great secondary computer. If I bring just the iPad Pro around, I can get just enough writing done on the software keyboard to pump out an 800-1000 word article, and do some surfing or photo editing on the side. 1.5 lbs. is light enough for me to carry a round all day without feeling sore, and I like how the Pencil can change the iPad Pro into sketchpad in a pinch.

It took a while for me to come to view the iPad Pro in this manner, and it was the Smart Keyboard that threw me off. I equate keyboards with comfort and full-fledged computing speed, but I’d actually argue that the Smart Keyboard ends up slowing the iPad down. Actual typing is of course way faster, but all of the other interface inputs — especially in multitasking — aren’t nearly as smooth. It can be harder to reach the necessary controls without leaving the physical keys and reaching up to tap the screen, and anything short of full keyboard controls means that those little gaps in the interface start to feel like glaring omissions over time.

I’d still like to find some lightweight Surface Pro-style hinge so that I can easily prop this iPad Pro up for viewing. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I research every few months to check for one, but still haven’t had any luck. But I do have a renewed appreciation for this tablet now that I’m leaving the Smart Keyboard at home.

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3 thoughts on “Using the iPad Pro Without the Smart Keyboard”

  1. Totally agree about the ergonomics – and I think this is why Apple don’t want to make a touch screen laptop – it’s a combination of UI that doesn’t work very well. Pencil in OneNote is my primary input and application for 9 inch iPadPro, for note taking in meetings (I still find writing less intrusive and distracting than typing), and also for drawing diagrams, sketching out ideas and concepts.

    I don’t do much typing, and knew I wouldn’t, so never bought an external keyboard for it. The virtual keyboard works fine for me for the amount of typing that I do. I don’t think I’d have a problem typing longer documents with it, but I just don’t need to.

    iPadPro is my primary portable device, by MBP is my primary computer though.

    1. Incidentally, since you mentioned handwriting: I’ve realized lately how much the Paper app does to make my handwriting look better. I’ve done some note taking in Evernote and Procreate and my handwriting suddenly doesn’t look nearly as clean.

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