A new idea is catching on. The idea is simple: build a Bluetooth keyboard right into an iPad case, and you’ve got yourself a total netbook replacement in a single, svelte package. It’s a watershed moment for the iPad, and for tablets in general.


The slow trickle that will become a flood has begun, as Keyboard cases for Apple’s iPad begin to appear here and there alongside more traditional offerings. The idea is simple: build a Bluetooth keyboard right into a case designed to protect and carry the iPad, and you’ve got yourself a total netbook replacement in a single, svelte package. It’s a watershed moment for the iPad, and for tablets in general.

The First Crop

The ClamCase was one of the first out of the gate with the concept, but they haven’t been able to make the leap to actually producing units yet. ClamCase’s creators have pegged Fall 2010 as the timeframe for actually shipping the hard-shell keyboard case, but no concrete details have emerged.

Two other more recent competitors look poised to beat them out the gate in terms of putting devices into the hands of actual consumers. The first is the Sena Keyboard Folio, a high-end leather option retailing for $149.99 ($129.99 if you pre-order), and the second is the very similar Kensington KeyFolio, which trades real leather for faux, and retails for much less at $99.99. Neither has actually come to market, but both are available for pre-order.

Why It’s Needed

I’m excited about the arrival of the keyboard case, as it means I’ll soon be able to actually use my iPad to do work on the train comfortably, without having to figure out some way to affix the iPad itself to the seat in front of me, since my stand and keyboard together won’t fit on the meal tray. That’s an incredibly specific situation, it’s true, but it’s representative of the more general problem of using the iPad on the go.

How The Keyboard Case is a Game Changer

If keyboard cases can solve this problem, it’ll have huge ramifications not only for the iPad itself, but for all tablet computing. Apple, with its staunch dedication to ever-simpler interfaces and less buttons, will never admit that a tablet with an integrated keyboard could be successful, but its competitors could take advantage if they can find a way to make such a design work. It’s a better idea than just throwing more and more 7-inch devices at the problem.

Apple would do best to go the route of scrapping the keyboard dock altogether (extremely limited, and terrible for use while in motion), and probably the official iPad case itself, too (I bought one at launch and literally haven’t touched it since I removed it after the first day). In the place of both accessories, it should offer a case that integrates a Bluetooth Mac keyboard, slightly redesigned to include the special function keys currently found on the keyboard dock.

Building the Accessory Bridge

The keyboard case may be treading softly as it comes to market, but make no mistake, this one’s got legs. At the very least, it’ll help bridge the gap between the notebook and the tablet for users who are having a hard time adjusting, which will significantly benefit the bottom line of Apple and other manufacturers getting into the market.

What do you think? Will the keyboard case actually make a big difference in the tablet game?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Why Apple Hasn’t Sewn Up the Tablet Market — Yet
Transient Apps: The Consumer Influence on Enterprise Mobility, Part 2
Rogue Devices: The Consumer Influence on Enterprise Mobility, Part 1

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. It’s not something that I would ever buy. An iPad with a keyboard case is essentially just a laptop. If I needed to use a keyboard that much I would prefer to take my Mac.

    I have the official Apple case for my iPad and I think it is great. It’s stable, wipe clean, and most importantly, slim.

    1. Amen brother.

      If you can’t learn to use the iPad as is then you need to use something else. The whole point of the iPad is an instant on device that lasts a whole day. I have a mini 10v running snow leopard even with that thing always on it still took a minute or 2 to get a broadband card fired up. Typing on a physical keyboard requires you to be stationary.

  2. Keyboard case or not not (and these are a good idea for some users), it always was, and always will be about the software. iOS devices are the standard, everything else will be cheap imitations. The fact that the iPad can be paired with a keyboard case is a good thing — if you need this functionality.

  3. I agree with Neil. These keyboard cases have to make the iPad larger and heavier, so why not simply carry a regular notebook? Using the keyboard case only during the train ride is an option I guess, but then you need smaller cases to use during the day/night at each destination – not very convenient.

    When I’m on a train, plane or otherwise on the move I always have a backpack or messenger bag and toss the Apple bluetooth keyboard in just in case I need to do a lot of typing.

  4. Actually, a recent survey found that 33% of Americans say they want a keyboard with their tablet: http://zd.net/aX3seT

    This could mean a lot of things – Americans cling to a keyboard like a security blanket, or they expect to do a lot of productivity with their tablet.

    I wouldn’t expect Apple to ever come out with a tablet-with-keyboard. But I think a hybrid tablet/notebook running Android would be a smart move for a vendor like LG or Nokia or Motorola that wouldn’t worry about cannibalizing its laptop sales.

  5. What’s the freaking point here? Just buy a laptop computer.

    1. I think that I get the point of this quite well. Do I see potential in a tablet device: Certainly. Do I need something more than a tablet currently offers: Yes. But this bridges at least 50% of that gap.

      For me, I need the ability to generated documents, not just consume them. The iPad in its native state is essentially a consumption device. Give the iPad a way to at times act more like a laptop, particularly as related to the keyboard, and the iPad gets a lot closer to what I would need. But because this is a case, not a laptop, you still have the ability to pop the iPad out of the case and use it around the house/office/etc as a tablet device – ultra-portable consumption!

      Does this make me want an iPad? Not really, as I need a little more ease of use than the iPad offers for document generation (printing, syncing, etc.). Plus, I am not crazy about iOS and iTunes for my needs.

      Does this make me think that somebody soon could have a tablet that meets all my needs? Certainly. And it could be Apple, with a little advancement.

      I look forward to the future!

  6. I think it’s a question of size and weight of the case. Most people I know (including myself) do carry our iPads in a case. So if we are carrying cases then one with an integrated keyboard would be great (for occasional use, sometimes a keyboard is useful) but only as long as it doesn’t noticeably negatively impact on the size & weight of the total package. How much is ‘noticeably negatively impact’? I think that will be a personal decision, for me I’d be willing to carry an extra 1cm thicker and 150g heavier for the occasional benefits of a keyboard

  7. Well, first of all, you’re using the wrong tool for the job if you require a keyboard to be productive on a tablet. If you are writing extensive documents or anything that makes you think, “Hey, wouldn’t this be easier with a keyboard?” you should be using a portable computer (netbook, regular laptop).

    Also, Apple’s high price point aside, you’ve just spent way too much for what you turned into a netbook with a touchscreen. Lets look:
    Apple iPad – Starting Price $499
    Sena Keyboard Folio – $149.99
    Totaling: ~$650.00

    Or you could buy a midrange netbook for ~$400.00

    Can we please just stop trying to use tablets for portable personal computers? IMO (as well as others), they should be a shared device sitting on your coffee table for light computing. For example: I’m at my friend’s house and he leaves his iPad out on the coffee table for anyone to grab for a few minutes to check their email or show others in the room something they found online while at work or whatnot.

    1. The beauty of the iPad is that it can be both a “digital comsumption device” and a netbook at the same time. (Most netbooks are crap hardware-wise anyway…)

      The on-screen keyboard is actually pretty good for light typing; the iPad is much more usable than my iPhone because it is bigger. I can take along an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and a Compass Mobile Stand from Twelve South and it still takes up less room and is half the weight of a 13″ MacBook Pro.

      I am so impressed with my wife’s iPad that I am considering ditching my iPhone for a simple cell phone and doing the rest of my digital communications using an iPad.

  8. So then why not get a MacBook Air or even cheaper netbook. If you truly believe the iPad is a”consumption only device” then go the other route (smallest laptop available). I can see the advantage, for longer (overnight) trips of carrying a folding keyboard in your luggage (ThinkOutside Stowaway) for back in the room, but the real value of the existing iPad is it’s diminutive power.

  9. The surge in keyboards just goes to show that the people want cheap netbooks… at any price.

  10. The only thing I still need for my iPad is a sophisticated construction to hold it in my car, to use the TomTom navigator. It’s the safest device thanks to his huge screen. I do not want it on the windscreen, but lower, where the air-ducts are.
    Has anyone a good idea or can I buy it some where?

Comments have been disabled for this post