From the very beginning, the iPad was meant to represent a limited device. While Apple continuously pushes it as the harbinger of the next generation of computing, there is no denying the fact that it simply isn’t good at certain tasks. Some of those tasks are trivial: file management, multitasking, and various other small issues annoy those who try to get actual work done on the device. Thankfully, applications are released daily that help to alleviate many of these pain points, and limitation often helps breed creativity.
The largest issue, however, isn’t one that developers can fix: data entry on the iPad is abysmal for any task that involves typing more than 500 characters.
When the iPad was originally announced, the late Steve Jobs sat on stage, comfortably sitting on a plush chair while he demoed the various features of Apple’s latest and greatest device to the world. Browsing the web had never been more seamless, photos looked stunning on the large display, and the various new applications that Apple would be shipping to support the device were top-notch.
Jobs, however, did make at least one mention of the keyboard. In typical Jobsian fashion, he rained praise upon an aspect of the iPad that was neither surprising, nor particularly great: “It’s a dream to type on.”
Cue the utter annihilation of Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field. The iPad’s built-in keyboard is functional. The auto-correct algorithms used by Apple serve to make the experience of inputting text or data in to the device manageable. But a dream? If typing on an iPad is “a dream,” then I can’t even begin to imagine the pure, unadulterated productivity terror of what Jobs’ idea of a typing nightmare was.
The iPad’s on-screen keyboard is functional to a point. After that point — personally, I find that anything more than 500 words qualifies as being “after that point” — typing becomes laborious. The overall experience of the iPad is ruined: I want my MacBook, and its reassuring physical keyboard.
There is a happy medium. That happy medium does, however, add some of the bulk of a laptop computer to the iPad. Unlike a traditional laptop, however, an iPad keyboard case can be removed. While the first few generations of keyboard cases were large and obtrusive, designers are increasingly able to slim down the traditional keyboard case in to something much more manageable. The Microsoft Surface shipped with a keyboard case that was roughly the same thickness as the iPad’s Smart Cover. That same design and technology is quickly making its way to the Apple side of the technology world.
The more traditional keyboard case design continues to thrive, with one of the best examples being Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. This particular product makes excellent use of the magnetic strip found in Apple’s iPad line, and is an even better example of a case designed for a specific use. Are you going out today and want to use the iPad with a less-intrusive case? Then simply pop Logitech’s case off, and replace it with anything else — Apple’s own Smart Cover, for instance. Or are you at the office and need to respond to a lengthy email? Pop Apple’s Smart Cover off, and pop the Ultrathin back on.
This is a compromise. Even the best keyboard case for the iPad — and even more so on the iPad mini — isn’t exactly a typist’s dream. Personally, I wish that there was some incredibly innovative method of inputting text on the iPad. The fact is that there isn’t, and most people prefer the feel and response of a physical key. A physical key is more responsive, and gives the necessary tactile feedback to allow the human mind to type faster and more accurately.
So until Apple — or anyone else, for that matter — is able to create a new and revolutionary way of inputting data in to a tablet, I will continue to purchase a keyboard case for any and all tablets that I own and intend to actually work with.