Lately, there have been quite a few interesting developments in the keyboard world. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad shows what’s possible if a keyboard is made specifically for a device, utilizing the iPad’s Smart Cover functionality to both double as a cover itself and provide a more secure connection to the keyboard. A friend of mine has one, and it’s a very nice product. You also have laptop-style keyboards like the Brydge, which despite bad reviews is still an interesting product.
Then you of course have the Microsoft Surface, which takes the keyboard thing to a whole new level. While the Touch Cover is as much a continuation of Apple’s Smart Cover as it is a completely original invention, it’s still a brilliant idea that is designed to work with the Surface from the beginning, allowing it to be ridiculously thin. I would give my left arm for something like that on the iPad, but I don’t exactly expect one anytime soon.
What these keyboards have in common is that the devices they’re made for stand out in the market. While there are both first and third party accessories for Android tablets, I’ve not seen anything I would actually consider a good keyboard design for an Android tablet. While generic Bluetooth keyboards (like the Apple Bluetooth keyboard I have) offer great versatility, their use with specific devices can never compare to keyboards made for those devices. I’ve used the Apple Bluetooth keyboard with a myriad of devices, and while it’s a great keyboard that works decently with multiple devices, it doesn’t feel like it really belongs with any of them.
Since the 7-inch market has been mostly Android devices until now, this also means that there hasn’t really been anything in that size range that stands out when paired with a keyboard. The one possible exception is the official Blackberry Playbook keyboard, although it’s hard to get too excited about accessories for a dead device. There are plenty of cheap, generic keyboards available for 7-inch devices, but that’s about it. I had the 7-inch Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus for a year, looked up and down for something that would turn it into a very compact typewriter, but found nothing that spoke to me.
Now that the iPad mini is out, I expect all of that to change. Actually, I know that all of that will change, as it’s already begun. ZAGG already has the ZAGGkeys mini 7, which looks to be a massive upgrade from any of the cheap keyboards we’ve seen for this size segment before. Unfortunately it does use a case system where you also have to put your mini in a case to use it, so it won’t end up in my bag, but it does show how quickly the big names (which ZAGG is for keyboards) wake up when there’s a new Apple device.
I’m hopeful that we’ll see a lot more high quality keyboards for the iPad mini in the coming months, and perhaps even a version of the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the mini. That would be the ideal keyboard for me, as it’s easily detachable to allow the iPad mini to remain the thin and light device it is when the keyboard is not in use. The ultimate keyboard for me personally would be a mini version of that keyboard that also has a Bluetooth trackpad, something the iPad mini will be able to utilize once a jailbreak is available for it. I use Splashtop to remote control my Windows machine from my iPad fairly regularly, and that combo would be killer. Realistically though, I don’t think anyone – let alone Logitech – would make an iPad specific keyboard that is made for jailbroken devices.
Even without the track pad, the iPad mini with a high quality keyboard will be a very interesting beast. I can’t help but think back to those early netbooks, where the 7-9-inch range made for some extremely portable typewriters – even if the keyboard wasn’t full size. The iPad mini has the capacity to become like that, just thinner, lighter, longer-lasting, not as laggy, and without a running fan.
In many ways it’s sad that you need something with an Apple logo on it to get the good accessories. Nevertheless, reality is what it is, and I’m frankly just glad that there’s at least one brand out there that gets good accessories. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for what comes out in the iPad mini keyboard department in the coming months, and I’m hoping that something will hit the nail on the head.