Which Keyboard for the iPad?

By virtue of its increased size (especially in landscape mode), the onscreen keyboard on the iPad is far better than the one on the iPhone. Even so, the onscreen keyboard doesn’t come close to matching the effectiveness of a physical keyboard. The advantages of a physical keyboard become most evident when using apps such as Pages, where you may be doing extended typing.

While Apple has refused to allow the iPhone or iPod touch to work with a physical keyboard, they opened this door for the iPad. Apple offers the iPad Keyboard Dock, a combination of a keyboard attached to a docking station. The iPad must be in the Dock for the keyboard to work. Alternatively, the iPad can connect to wireless Bluetooth keyboards, most notably Apple’s Wireless Keyboard.

The primary advantage of the Keyboard Dock is that it costs less than getting both an iPad Dock and Wireless Keyboard. Still, I much prefer the wireless alternative. It offers the freedom to hold the keyboard wherever I want and doesn’t require that the iPad be connected to a Dock.

When using the Bluetooth keyboard, I usually prop the iPad at an angle via the iPad Case. So far, the keyboard has worked perfectly, with the iPad always responding immediately to any input. The one glitch you may have is, when attempting to switch back to the onscreen keyboard, the keyboard may not pop up. This can happen if the iPad believes that a wireless keyboard is still connected (as covered in this Apple Support article). The quickest solutions are to turn off the wireless keyboard or temporarily turn off Bluetooth on the iPad (via Settings > General > Network > Bluetooth). [Update: Pressing the Eject key on a wireless keyboard brings up the onscreen keyboard, even in situations where you could not directly bring up the onscreen keyboard from the iPad’s touchscreen. Cool!]

Whichever physical keyboard you choose for the iPad, you’ll enjoy a welcome bonus: Common Command key shortcuts work. Command-A, Command-C, Command-X, and Command-V act to select all, copy, cut and paste — just as they do on a Mac.

This had me wishing that the keys could do even more tricks. How about Command-Q to quit an open app? Or the Tab key to move the text cursor between text boxes (such as to shift from a Username to a Password field)? Or having the arrow keys work to navigate among app icons on the Home screen, with the Return key acting to launch a selected app?

With certain apps (Pages is a “good” example), some menu options do not appear in Landscape mode. This means, if you are working in Landscape mode, you need to shift back to Portrait mode to access those options. This can be irritating enough with the onscreen keyboard. But it is more so with a physical keyboard, as you are not holding or in any contact with the iPad as you type.

Finally, when using a physical keyboard with my iPad, I frequently find myself reaching for a mouse. I suspect I will adjust to this over time, just as I adjusted to the trackpad on my MacBook Pro. However, there are occasions, such as when trying to select text to cut or copy, where I’d prefer a mouse to tapping the screen.

Bottom line: Most apps require only minimal, if any, typing input. You’re not going to want to keep your iPad connected to a physical keyboard as a matter of course. But if you plan to do serious typing on your iPad, get a physical keyboard. You won’t regret it.