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Among all the introductions at CES 2010 this year, one caught my eye as either iNsane or iNgenious, depending on your viewpoint. ION introduced a full external keyboard and docking station for the iPhone and iPod Touch. One step forward or back? Maybe both.
ION is the company that creates devices to bridge the divide between the analog and digital. It makes turntables that convert your LPs to MP3 and VCRs that convert your VHS tapes to Quicktime. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the company created a new device, called the iType, to allow traditional typing via a full keyboard on the iPhone. Not quite ready for the iPhone soft keyboard? There’s an app for that.
The device is not currently available, but it will be about 12 inches by 9 inches and about 1 inch thick, weighing in just under 2 pounds. By comparison, the typical netbook is about 10 by 7 inches and weighs a bit over 2 pounds. The iType’s specs are within the parameters of similar portable devices, and it will retail for $70.
Due to Apple’s (s aapl) restrictions, you will not be able to type into any application. The iType will achieve its keyboard wizardry via an iPhone app that you will open when you want to type. You can then copy text out of it to paste into other iPhone apps. The iType app will also allow direct email, and ION hopes to provide support to give other app developers the ability to use the iType. This is definitely a kludge compared with native keyboard support in all apps.
The iPhone already has a soft keyboard and carrying a keyboard with the iPhone does, on the surface (pardon the pun), defeat the portability of the iPhone. Are people really going to keep an iPhone and an iType in their pocket? Maybe not their pocket.
Anyone who has tried to use an iPhone as a laptop alternative experiences the frustration of trying to type a long email via the tiny virtual keyboard on screen. While virtual keyboards encourage succinct replies, real typing needs to be done on a real keyboard. Perhaps the forthcoming Apple tablet will have a virtual keyboard that supports traditional typing and could be a real laptop alternative, but until such time, the iType could give you the functionality of the tablet and portability of a netbook for less than $100.
In particular, the iType can help people with disabilities use the iPhone more effectively. Having worked with clients who have physical limitations, they seem to have no trouble with swiping, pinching and spreading, but the virtual iPhone keyboard requires precision coordination that some people simply don’t have. Devices like the Pogo Stylus help in some situations, but the iType might be a welcome way to make the iPhone accessible to more people.
Completely unnecessary or invaluable? Maybe a little bit of both!