Virtually Pleasing: The iPad’s Virtual Keyboard

When Apple introduced the iPhone, its on screen virtual keyboard was met with skepticism. The iPhone’s virtual keyboard turned out to work better than expected, but not as well as a real keyboard connected to your computer would. With the launch of the iPad, Apple promised its near full size virtual keyboard would be even better, and it turns out they weren’t kidding.

When the iPad is positioned horizontally, or in landscape mode, the onscreen keyboard is only slightly smaller than the physical keyboard on the MacBook or MacBook Pro and it looks much like its real-world counterparts, too.

The iPad virtual keyboard

Despite its reduced size — a limitation of the iPad’s screen size — typing feels surprisingly natural. Like the iPhone, the iPad virtual keys change color when touched so you know which key you hit. The click sound that accompanies each key tap adds audible feedback, but you can disable the feature in the iPad’s Keyboard settings if the sound annoys you.

Also like the iPhone’s keyboard, tapping and holding keys displays additional characters such as é, ï and ã. That’s a nice feature since it’s actually easier to find special characters on the iPad’s virtual keyboard than on the real-world keyboard on your computer.

Finding special characters on the iPad keyboard

The auto-complete feature that guesses what words you are typing and offers suggestions you can select by tapping the Space bar is especially handy because in many cases it can save you extra key taps. When it guesses wrong, however, you’ll spend more time than you want retyping words and retraining your iPad to overcome annoyingly common auto-completions, like replacing your f-bombs with “ducking.”

That said, auto-complete’s new-found ability to suggest adding a space between words when you accidentally miss tapping the spacebar is a very welcome treat.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how nice a software-based keyboard looks if it isn’t easy to use, and the iPad’s holds up surprisingly well — as long as you stick to using it in landscape mode. In portrait mode, or when you are holding your iPad vertically, the virtual keyboard is just a little too big to easily thumb type on and a little too cramped for two-hand typing.

The landscape view keyboard is usable enough to write articles with, and on iPad launch day, I wrote one article in the Notes app without any problems. I followed that up the next day with four more articles, all written in the iPad’s Notes app. I was able to write all five nearly as quickly as i would have on my MacBook Pro, and they were all written while I was riding in a car just to make the process even more difficult for me — yes, I was touch typing on the iPad’s virtual keyboard almost as fast as I type on my MacBook Pro’s built-in keyboard.

Moving out of the car and into my local coffee shop to write didn’t improve my typing speed, but at may well be a side effect of having so many people interrupt me to ask questions about my iPad.

So far, I’m pleasantly surprised with how well the iPad’s virtual keyboard performs and I find it completely usable for day to day writing. In fact, I’m so pleased with it that I chose to write this article on my iPad, too.