The Perfect iPad Keyboard (Has Not Been Invented Yet)
Brydge, longtime makers of laptop-like keyboards for tablets, has stirred up a lot of excitement (at least among those who care about this kind of thing, and I count myself among them) with its latest product: the new Brydge for iPad Pro 2018 is a MacBook-like, backlit keyboard available for both the 11-inch and 12-inch models. It’s also impressively styled with an aluminum housing, if the product shots are a reliable indicator.
The Brydge Pro attaches to the iPad at its corners via two reasonably elegant, padded hinges. This allows the tablet itself to be positioned at any angle, or at least many more angles than the two allowed by Apple’s own Smart Keyboard Folio for iPad. You can see it in action in this video:
Presumably, attaching and detaching the iPad via those hinges is straightforward, because Brydge touts the ability to flip the tablet around so that it faces away from the keyboard. This lets you prop the iPad up in touch-only mode, like a kiosk.
This also allows you to fold the iPad and keyboard together flat, in what Brydge advertises as “tablet mode.”
The irony of attaching a tablet to a keyboard that promises you a “tablet mode” seems lost on Brydge, but it highlights the central tension of any keyboard made for the iPad: is the goal to augment the iPad with optional keyboard functionality, or to turn it fully into a laptop? The challenge of balancing these two impulses is the reason why, in my estimation, the perfect iPad keyboard has yet to be invented.
While I have my reservations about Apple’s own Smart Connector line of iPad keyboards, they evince a better understanding of this quandary than most. Part of the beauty of the iPad is that it can be either a pure tablet or an incredibly mobile laptop. Because Smart Connector keyboards attach and detach with terrific ease, they don’t force you to choose between the two modes.
For my money though, the iPad keyboard that came closest to this ideal was the Belkin Qode line, which I used to use with my iPad Air 2 several years ago.
The Qode was actually made of two pieces: the first was a keyboard that was not dissimilar from the Smart Keyboard Folio in that you could position the iPad at two angles, secured by two magnetic strips just north of the keys. The second was a quite sturdy case for the tablet itself, which was a real boon. I find tablet cases essential because I carry my iPad with me much more often and in far more real world situations than any laptop, and also because I’m generally clumsy. The Qode’s case and the keyboard worked together perfectly, snapping together easily and, when detached, actually powering down the keyboard so as to save power. This let me use my iPad as both as a tablet or a laptop at any time, but it also did not force me to choose between having a keyboard and a case, a choice that is implicit with many tablet keyboards.
To be fair, the Brydge Pro does offer some protection for the iPad with an optional snap-on magnetic cover, but it doesn’t protect the corners. It also emblazons the company brand across the back which, well.
Unfortunately the Brydge Pro, like the Belkin Qode before it, connects to the iPad via Bluetooth. (You can also connect via USB-C cable but then you’re using a cable.) My Qode had to be manually re-paired with my iPad every week or two, an annoyance that I would be surprised if the Brydge Pro can avoid. Apple’s proprietary Smart Connector technology is far superior, of course, but even that is not without its drawbacks: the Smart Connector on the new iPads has been reconfigured such that it doesn’t allow for a fully protective case to work with the Smart Keyboard Folio.
At the risk of repeating myself: we’re still waiting for the perfect iPad keyboard. But if you’re intrigued by the Brydge Pro, you can pre-order yours at brydge.com.