A keyboard for my iPad

At the risk of being labeled Not Cool Enough to Grok the Post-PC Era, there are still times when I really want a physical keyboard.

I'll admit that I don't need one quite as much as I initially expected. I rarely miss it when surfing the Web; and even writing short email messages on the iPad is easier than I'd feared, either with the on-screen keyboard, Google's search app or the free Dragon Dictation speech-recognition app.

But when it comes to composing a lengthier message, story or blog post, tapping on images of keys on a screen doesn't quite do it for me. After years of touch typing, the tactile feedback of an analog keyboard significantly boosts my speed and efficiency. (Haptics may bring similar tactile feedback to on-screen keyboards someday, but that's not here yet, at least on the iPad).

Unfortunately, the most elegant iPad keyboard designs I've seen are high on portability and convenience but fall short either on keyboard feel or real estate. For example, I'm impressed with the industrial design of Logitech's Zagg combined iPad keyboard/case/stand; but after two minutes testing out my boss's, I knew that the cramped feel of the not-quite-full-sized keyboard would drive me nuts. (Note: If you're a two-finger, hunt-and-peck typist, this might be a great choice for you. ) I also checked out a flexible keyboards that can roll up for easy packability, but I disliked the feel of keys.

In the end, I went with a conventional Apple wireless keyboard: It's full sized, I like the feel of the keys themselves and it's not nearly as large as the conventional USB keyboards I use on my Windows 7 desktop at home. Bluetooth setup took about 3 seconds -- I just turned on the keyboard, enabled Bluetooth on the iPad and typed a short code that popped up on screen. Done.

Apple wireless keyboard (photo courtesy Apple Inc.)

This wasn't the most portable of choices, but the Apple wireless keyboard is flat and light enough to pop into an overnight bag. Why not just take a laptop instead of hauling two separate items, iPad and keyboard? The iPad/keyboard option would let me use just the more-totable iPad when I want to, leaving the keyboard portion in my suitcase or hotel room, while still having the option to pull out the keyboard when I want to write something longer than a couple of paragraphs.

I'm typing this now on my Apple wireless keyboard and iPad, using an app called Clean Writer that's designed to remove all distractions from your screen (such as complex menus -- or pretty much any menus) and let you concentrate on your thoughts. But actually, using the iPad with almost any app is an interesting experience in distraction-reduction, thanks to iOS's somewhat limited multi-tasking.

I hadn't realized how severely I suffer from Internet Attention Deficit Disorder, constantly flitting from one task to another while trying to write, until I didn't have a mouse to click and bring up a new window. Stuck trying to find just the right word? That's typically a good time to pop up Tweetdeck and see if I've missed anything interesting. Grappling over a headline that's reasonably SEO-friendly but won't bore a human reader to tears? Hey, good time take a look at my work email.

I also didn't realize just how often I pop up my Web browser while I'm writing, checking everything from the correct names of products and companies I'm mentioning to prior Computerworld stories I might link to. Hmmm. I wonder if there are keyboard shortcuts to select text and jump the cursor around? If I were writing this now on my MacBook, I'd be popping up a Web browser and searching to find out.

(Back briefly on the MacBook: found a list of iPad keyboard shortcuts.)

Besides going through multiple-window-swapping withdrawal, I find writing on the iPad with the keyboard to be a pleasant experience. It's not a replacement for my laptop -- I'd miss all my custom AppleScript editing macros, for one thing; and easily monitoring content email, social media and IM while also writing or editing a story on deadline can be important for an editor on the Web. And while there are some interesting apps for photo and video editing -- although I haven't used it too often yet, so far I'm particularly impressed with Nik Software's Snapseed -- I don't envision having the power of Lightroom, Photoshop and iMovie on the iPad anytime soon.

Still, I might feel comfortable now going on a short business trip with just my iPad and keyboard, leaving the laptop behind for a couple of days. I wouldn't have considered doing that with just the iPad and the keyboard onscreen.

(Keyboard photo courtesy of Apple Computer).

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Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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