The Upcoming iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. A Lifestyle Choice…?

Coming soon from Apple is the recently announced Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro. Like before, it’s a combined protective case and keyboard, but this one will have 2 dampened hinges and a secondary USB-C port for passthrough charging. The headline feature though is the inclusion of a trackpad and accompanying, underlying changes to iPadOS and the UI to accommodate the use of a pointing device for navigation. Basically, the iPad is becoming more laptop-like since the diversion from a unified iOS code base to separate iPadOS and iPhoneOS. Now the hardware will begin to reflect that change.

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Do I like it? I don’t know… I obviously haven’t tried it yet as it’s not due to be released until May. I do like what it signals; Apple is taking the tablet sector even more seriously despite their already commanding ownership of it and are targeting all challengers, in this case the Microsoft Surface. Personally, I’m not a fan of the touchscreen laptop. Last thing I want is a laptop with finger smudges all over the display. Once an OS goes touch, they tend to rely too much on the touch component, forcing one to stab the screen instead of using the much faster keyboard. That change also brings about a revision of onscreen icons to ensure they’re large enough for touch compatibility, which can interfere with total real estate; this is especially relevant in viewing photos during the editing process as controls expand in size, forcing image previews to be shrunk to accommodate. These are compromises I’m generally not willing to make.

This is different though. Like a hybrid camera, whose aims are to be equally proficient at both stills and video, versus a stills focused camera with video or a video camera capable of stills, the iPad is seemingly being forced into the same divergent path. Where Microsoft chose to begin with a full PC and shrinking it into a tablet form factor and modifying Windows to be touch compatible, they obviously ran into a lot of failures before the Surface 4 arrived and the hardware technology finally caught up to their ambition. Apple insists that a tablet is a tablet and should be treated differently from the start. In the case of the iPad Pro, power users demanded certain features and they always seemed “tacked on,” until now. Beginning with a “true tablet,” Apple has worked from the other end of the spectrum towards middle, the exact opposite of Microsoft, only to reach a similar yet distinctly different result. The philosophies of both are readily evident when used side by side: the Surface is a PC in tablet form while the iPad Pro is clearly the modern, simplified tablet experience that’s able to do PC-like things. The Magic Keyboard only amplifies that philosophy with their ambitious take on how to integrate a redundant control scheme.

Personally, I believe it’s a fool’s errand. There are some things a laptop just does better and one of those things is sitting comfortably in your lap and able to be used efficiently. I’m using a MacBook Pro 15 on my lap right now to type this and there’s none of the springiness, flex or imbalance that a tablet with keyboard on my lap would offer. All tablets are poor laptops by design and acceptance of the fact that a tablet is not a laptop is necessary to be successful; it is its own device category. The amount of users clamoring for a more laptop-like experience from iPad is likely just loud, not large, and never would consider the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement no matter how good the keyboard feels or if it can be controlled by a mouse.

However, there are non-power users like me who would actually appreciate the mashup of an iPad Pro with a more laptop-like experience and capability. I’ve almost fully eliminated the use of Lightroom Classic and Photoshop CS on my iMac and replaced it with Creative Cloud on my iPad Pro. Even if my MacBook Pro had a touchscreen and could accept pen input, adopting a more tablet-like design would compromise the very foundation of the MacBook Pro while anything less would make using a pen too awkward to be useful. The iPad Pro’s interface and UI is designed from the ground up for touch and thus works marvelously for pen input. The result is a version of Adobe CC that’s mostly a joy to use. Adding a truly competent keyboard to the mix would give me more control and further erode my needs for a MacBook Pro. I believe it’s the people like me who will truly spend the money for the Magic Keyboard Case while “power users” will continue using PC’s. There’s also an egotistical component at play, where power users would never give up their laptops, snobbily believing tablets are for plebes. I may not agree with the latter sentiment, but I do believe a keyboard cover will never replace a real, hard decked laptop keyboard because of feel; feel that’s created by the stability and rigidity of a laptop’s keyboard centric design.

So yeah, I plan to get one when it’s released. At $349 retail it’s not cheap, however, if it ends up being the catalyst that results in finally giving up the need to own a laptop, it’ll ultimately prove to be cheap as hell. Spending $1500 on an iPad Pro every 2-3 years plus $3000 on a MacBook Pro every 4-5 years, a $349 keyboard could result in me saving nearly $1000 per year on hardware and associated support costs.

Are you considering the Magic Keyboard or adopting an iPad Pro for the first time in your workflow? Comment and let me know your thoughts or experiences with either the Surface, iPad Pro or Magic Keyboard and Apple’s adoption of a more crude pointing mechanism on a device already built for direct pointing.

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