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Summary:

Someone with a formidable knowledge of iPhone hardware has managed to attach a working external keyboard to his 3G iPhone. For those inclined, there are some technical explanations here and here, though the translation renders them difficult to understand. It would appear that at present this […]

iPhone KeyboardSomeone with a formidable knowledge of iPhone hardware has managed to attach a working external keyboard to his 3G iPhone. For those inclined, there are some technical explanations here and here, though the translation renders them difficult to understand.

It would appear that at present this is primarily a proof of concept, and doesn’t perform any real functionality. It’s achieved by using a piece of Ruby code running on the iPhone which allows it to connect to a Palm keyboard through a custom cable. It doesn’t integrate with the iPhone on a low level, and isn’t able to be used in any applications other than the Ruby app it interfaces to.

Here are a few pictures of the device in action, and the electronics connecting it all together:

While this is still a very long way from having a real, functional external keyboard, it does create debate over the demand for an accessory such as this. I’ve mentioned before that I think an external keyboard could contribute significantly to the iPhone being a viable laptop replacement.

Unfortunately, to see support for something like this throughout the iPhone software, it will require Apple to be on-board with the idea and happy to allow an interface such as this to be built. I don’t foresee this as being a likely situation in the near future simply because it could be seen as a sign that Apple is recognizing the software keyboard on the iPhone isn’t good enough.

What are your thoughts? Would you use an external keyboard?

  1. Not a lot to do with the present software keyboard (which I love) being inferior, but everything to do with adding choice for a user who needs such a keyboard for a particular requirement.

    Therefore, pas de probleme — just so long as the peripheral looks and works well…

    I don’t see that Apple would have any issues.

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  2. Well, I’ve always dreamed of something for the iPhone that worked like the Palm Foleo concept from last year, where the iphone would dock in a larger-touch-screened device, running a stripped down version of OSX. That could also explain the reports of a small apple device running OSX, with an intermediary screen resolution.

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  3. Let’s hope that Apple isn’t so out of touch that it thinks we can be fooled into believing a constantly changing on-screen keyboard with no tactile feedback can be as useful as even a Blackberry keyboard, much less the MacBook keyboard I’m typing on now. All but the dimmest customer should know by now that with an iPhone they trade a large screen and compact size for inferior text input. The iPhone and iPod touch will remain incomplete until they gain full Bluetooth functionality, including working with Apple’s bluetooth keyboard.

    Someone with time on their hands should work on a text-input scheme that blends a touch screen with something like Morse code. Sliding our finger on the screen in some way, would ‘send’ Morse code text. A short slide is a dot, a long one is a dash. For a new character, we return to the screen’s upper left. Uppercase could mean touching the lower left corner of the screen with our left thumb. Once learned, we could type accurately without looking down.

    I learned Morse code to get my ham radio license. Learning to send isn’t hard at all, no harder than learning a few dozen other associations, i.e. states and their capitals. It’s so easy in comparison to receiving that the FCC didn’t even test for it. And there have been tests where sending Morse code on a PDA was faster than thumb input. It’ll beat the socks off the iPhone’s screen keyboard.

    –Mike Perry, KE7NV

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  4. Fausto Bandini Monday, November 10, 2008

    Though I’m running a G1 rather than an iPhone (I’m ready for the cat-calls), I was thinking about just such a thing. I could do some real work with a setup like th is, and I don’t mind if my ‘computer’ is half the size of its keyboard.

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  5. For me personally, copy/paste feature is way more necessary than an external keyboard.. Built-in touch-keyboard is not so annoying. And if I need to type looong texts I would prefer using my netbook anyway =)

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  6. If there was cut/copy/paste, then yes I’d use an external keyboard. I used an external with my Treo–virtually a subnotebook that fit in my pocket.

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  7. Yeah i would, I mean after going through the Hiptop1, 2, and Treo 650… I absolutely hate my iphone… I mean, I figured in the beginning it would be ok, i would get used to the lack of tactile feedback… Wrong.

    I used to type notes into my treo 650 in class. Yeah Honors seminars where laptops are frowned upon, I could take full notes on my treo, and not have to worry about mail.app crashing when I went to long… However, I can’t type near as fast on this excuse for a keyboard… :(

    Further, as others have mentioned… No copy and paste? No spreadsheet built in, can’t watch divx movies like I could on my treo 650, locked into jailbreaking, or a censored software suite…

    Essentially i traded a proper PDA / comm suite (which is far superior in texting and mail) for an ipod with a phone haphazardly thrown into it.

    However, the phone quality is better (voice audio) then what it was on my treo 650… But, my Treo 650 is 4 years old now? I only wish Palm had gotten off its ass and kept innovating in the market place, instead of simply re-releasing the same crap in different packages. Oh where we would be, if Palm didin’t seemingly enter stasis.

    As it stands, I am seriously considering offloading this device to someone that wants an ipod, and looking into the Android phones, or a blackberry… Maybe Palms Nova might offer something… A snap out, fold down, half cover pull down keyboard would be great, as would cut and paste, one of the many open source players, and a choice in mail and browsers would make the iphone soo much better. I hope the jailbreaking community can make some of these a reality… I like the hardware, but its a shame its shackled by mac. We would so have a case incorporating a real keyboard by now, if it wasn’t for Steve Jobs, and his acolytes.

    Sigh.

    Sadly, I am jailed by Jobs.

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  8. Here’s a further elaboration of a technique to use swiping to input text on iPhones via Morse code. It should be fast and grow faster with experience. And it means not having to look at the keyboard.

    A Morse interface would use a well-established ‘open source’ standard—International Morse Code. Dots are input by short swipes. Dashes by long swipes.

    Speed of input doesn’t matter. Letters are distinguished by alternating swiping right/left and then up/down. (A user-set delay inputs the last character, i.e. one not followed by a swipe in a different direction.)

    Lowercase letters are made by swiping left-to-right or up-to-down.

    Uppercase letters are made by swiping right-to-left or down-to-up.

    Alternately, two-finger swipes could be used for uppercase.

    Swipe mode changes when the user rotates the screen.

    Common punctuation uses diagonal swipes, i.e. upper-left to lower-right for a space, lower-left to upper-right for a period or a period plus space.

    Circling CCW might delete the previous character. Circling CW might enter a Return. Alternately, a short shake of the iPhone deletes the previous letter, while a longer shake deletes the previous word.

    Touching the keyboard with another finger, perhaps the thumb in the lower-left corner for right-handed people, might signify something. It might bring up a scrolling list of long text strings (i.e. a phone number or address) from which the user could select.

    In learner mode, the screen would display the Morse alphabet and text input would be on a scrolling line. Letters or words could be spoken as typed.

    For those willing to learn Morse, it offers a fast, virtually error-free text interface for the iPhone, one that has tactile feedback built into the design. For most European languages, it takes advantage of the fact that Morse code is already optimized for speed. A short swipe is an “e,” and a longer swipe is a “t.” Most important of all, it’s a text input technique that doesn’t require them to constantly look at the screen. Since the target is the entire screen, it’s impossible to miss.

    Fee free to use this idea or pass it on.

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  9. I can type 102 words a minute on a regular keyboard. I hate typing with my thumbs on the iphone and the hunt and peck frustration of it all. I need to lay my fingers on REAL KEYS. I use my phone for emails, documents, tons of things that require efficiency, speed, cut, paste, scrolling, etc.

    I only came to this site because I am searching for an external keyboard. Depressing to know it doesn’t exsist. I vote for a completely compatible external bluetooth keyboard. Apple should know that it would be a great sales item for them.

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  10. We managed to get an external keyboard working on iPhone OS 2.0 without jailbreaking:

    http://www.perceptdev.com/labs/content/iphone-keyboard-no-jailbreaking-required-using-20-sdk

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