Juggling Software and Bluetooth Keyboards on the iPad

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I’ve been testing a Smart Cover + Magic Keyboard combo with my iPad Pro; partly because the Smart Keyboard is nearly impossible to find, but also because I really like the drawing angle provided by the Smart Cover, and that feature is completely absent on the Smart Keyboard (it only ever props the iPad up like a laptop screen). The Smart Cover lets me maintain the flexibility I love so much about the iPad form factor, and the Magic Keyboard gives me a good low-impact keyboard to use in the day-to-day. However, this setup has re-introduced me to the First-iest of First World Problems.

Picture this: you’ve been typing away your desk on your iPad and paired Bluetooth keyboard for a few hours. Your stomach grumbles and you realize you need to make dinner. You pick up the iPad and bring it to the kitchen and load up Safari to search for a quick recipe. There’s just one problem: the software keyboard won’t pop up.

That’s because the iPad is still paired to your Bluetooth keyboard. You can still see the Shortcut bar across the bottom of the screen, but there’s no on-screen prompt to help you get the software keyboard to pop back up. You can’t even use Siri to dictate text into a field because you’d need the keyboard for that, too!

Panic starts to settle in. But then you realize you still have a few options at your disposal:

  1. You walk back across the room and flick your Bluetooth keyboard to OFF. The issue with this is that you have walked back across the room to flick a physical switch, so your inner geek is dying.
  2. You bring up Control Center with a quick upward flick, tap on Bluetooth twice (to toggle it off and on), and rejoice as your software keyboard appears once more.
    • This works wonderfully if your only paired Bluetooth device is a keyboard, and it’s the method that will work for most people. It’s far more effective than option #1 because your Bluetooth keyboard will reconnect to your iPad once you tap on the keys.
    • However, this option really sucks if you’re an Apple Pencil user because it will also disconnect the Pencil. That means that next time you want to use your Pencil, you’ll have to plug it back into the iPad Pro to re-pair it.
  3. You go to Settings -> Bluetooth -> [Whatever your keyboard is called] -> Disconnect. This is a new feature added in iOS 9, and it’s great for disconnecting headphones or speakers, but it’s a bit of a pain to do every time you want to disconnect your keyboard. Thankfully, it does have the advantage of method #2: once you head back to your desk, you can just tap on your Bluetooth keyboard a few times to have it pair automatically.

I tried out a fourth workaround because I want to keep the Pencil connected at all times, while also maintaining access to the software keyboard as I walk away from the Bluetooth keyboard. The workaround seemed simple:

  1. Press Cmd + Space to activate Spotlight, then press the Eject key on the Magic Keyboard (sometimes F5 on other specialized iOS keyboards)
    • I activate Spotlight because it’s the quickest way to get to an active text field, and pressing eject causes the software keyboard to pop up, even while the Bluetooth keyboard is attached.

However, this fourth workaround was just felt too roundabout — a little too clever for my own good. It was great having the Bluetooth keyboard stay connected to the iPad at all times, but it also meant losing my place each time I left my desk because I’d be in Spotlight.

The simplest solution is to simply flick the bloody Bluetooth keyboard off each time I’m done using it. This includes situations where I flip the iPad around to draw, or when I walk away to the kitchen to listen to podcasts. This is a fool-proof solution as long as I remember to do it, but it’s tricky to remember to do it after all these years of clever third-party keyboards with auto-sleep functionality. I’m also not sure if the hardware switch on the Magic Keyboard is built to be toggled that many times.

This situation isn’t ideal, but it’s working so far — at least while I decide whether to go with a Cover + Keyboard or an all-in-one Smart Keyboard solution.

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