Blog Post

The iPad and the Rise of the Keyboard Case

The slow trickle that will become a flood has begun, as Keyboard cases for Apple’s (s aapl) 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

31 Responses to “The iPad and the Rise of the Keyboard Case”

  1. Sure it has the size and battery power to replace a netbook, but with that price one could get a rather nicely sized laptop or a premium netbook. $500 + $100 costs almost 2.5 times what the cheapest netbooks around costs. I think we have to remember another advantage of netbooks are their price. I got mine for about $280, I didn’t need to spend anything else to give it the portable productivity power it has already.
    You can sure argue that the iPad has a touch screen, but I’d rather fork over a b

  2. I purchased an Ipad on 9/20/10. I wasn’t told about mobile me and the ability to have my IPAD tracked at the time of purchase. To make a long story short the IPAD was stolen last night. I found out today I could have tracked the IPAD if I had down loaded the mobile me ap and established a mobile me email. I called Apple and they informed me of this and that the retail store I purchased the IPAD from should have told me this. I called the store in the hopes that they would at least give me a deal on a new IPAD; they said they were sorry but they had just been busy and forgot and could not give me any discount. Great you were busy and now I’m out $600. I think that Apple should include this info in the packaging of all IPADS!!!!!!!!!!!
    I plan to call the headquaters Monday.


  3. Well, let us say I’m one of the, say, 16-20 million post-secondary students in the country that just wants a light, instant on device, which can last the whole day(or through at least 3-4 classes). I just want to be able to type notes which I can then later transfer to my desktop, or more power laptop back in my dorm, or apartment later.

    Just a tiny market there. I’m not sure how people constantly overlook this market which has 4-5 million new entrants every year.

    I just graduated, and there were possibly 5-10% of the people taking notes on laptops in my classes. I fully expect 50% of the students to have an ipad, or similar device, likely with a keyboard case within two years.

    • I’m with the 16-20 million post-secondary students even if they aren’t in my country!. Key fact people want a light, instant on device, which can last the whole day (and they want to type on it). Yep that’s what I want too. Sure netbooks have the computer functionality but even with Sleep/standby they aren’t like my iPhone or an iPad in terms of instant on. So simple but Microsoft and Apple have failed to deliver this for years. Now via IOS and Android etc it is coming to pass. Hallejahulh the bleeding obvious is finally coming to pass! In the future people will wonder why for so long we used computing devices that weren’t instant on.

      • thenikjones

        Do you think iOS will suit your needs? I use Docs to Go and it’s OK, but getting files on/off via DropBox, or syncing to a PC, is clumsy compared to just plugging in a USB stick.
        I hope the rise of iOS means the rise of productivity Apps, not the dumbing-down of Office software [does Numbers save in Excel format yet?]

      • Will iOS suit my needs? Good issue and the answer is not totally at this time. If it’s serious spreadsheets and documents then it’s still a case of reaching for a laptop and Excel and Word. But Dropbox and Offce2 (haven’t tried Docs to Go) plus applications like Evernote and Simplenote for notes, List Master for lists cover a lot of the functionality I need with sync to the cloud to be able to open and work on stuff if needed on my iPhone PC or Mac. I’m sold on the ability to sync docs across multiple devices and have no doubt this is the future. I have no doubt that even Microsoft themselves will come to the party they are angling that way already with Skydrive, Livemesh, Office online. Maybe the future for business is a Windows Phone 7 descendent awfully like an iPad?

      • thenikjones

        @Roveit – when I used PocketPC I had Pagemaker and Graphmaker from – these were damn near Word and Excel! This at a time when you couldn’t do ANY form of graph/chart in Pocket Excel. I think iOS needs something of this power to make it fully attractive to students and businesses. Currently I do a lot on my iPod Touch but need my netbook for real work. I’d love an iPad but until the Office-type Apps get more powerful, I can’t justify one. The days of doing basic stuff on my PDA device and doing heavy re-editing on a PC are not what I want to go back do.

  4. I fail to see why this is a game changer. The popularity of the keyboard case clearly points to the limitations of tablet design, and people’s preference to revert to a laptop-style UI, touch screen or not. Whether this is just force of habit, or a genuine limitation of tablets, only time will tell. But I for one find the iPad slightly too large and heavy to hold upright for long periods. Smaller tablets may fit the bill, but for most tasks I would much prefer my laptop.

  5. I want to write a novel. I need a keyboard. End of story. You cannot type 60 words a minute and draft 300 pages of text by pounding away on a touch screen. I want the savvy features of a Mac combined with word computing. Until this is available by Apple (which it should be) or another manufacturer I cannot buy the product I so desperately want.

    Saddening indeed!

  6. I bought an IPad for my wife a little over a month ago. She is the perfect consumer of an IPad. She reads stuff on the net all the time. I mean she probably averages 4 to 5 hours a day. She can even read while in the same room as me watching TV. I can’t do that.

    She uses it for web-browsing, checking email, and real light gaming. The portability of the device around the house is great. Years ago she started out on a desktop. Then I got her a laptop. Then I got her a netbook. The IPad blows away those for what she uses it for. It is so much easier to browse the web on an IPad vs a laptop vs a netbook when you are sitting on the couch or in a recliner.

    As far as cases go the IPad left the house for the first time yesterday. Actually I took it to swim practice. I just used an old interview folder we had laying around. Perfect for transport.

    Sure a keyboard might be nice, but at home we are consumers not producers on computers. That is fine by me.

  7. Saying someone should just buy a netbook or laptop if they will need a keyboard at some point in time is bad advice, unless you understand what they’ll mostly be using the computer for.

    If I only use my keyboard for 1% of the time while I’m at my computer, it really should just be considered a peripheral and not something that’s required. This is the idea behind iOS’s software keyboard that slides into place only when needed, then slides out of the way when finished.

    I use my iPad mostly for web browsing, playing games, looking up information and chatting, however there are times I need to update some code on my web server and it’s nice to be able to use my bluetooth keyboard as the software keyboard can be difficult if you need to jump to the numbers, punctuations, and symbols layer often.

  8. Like others, clearly I am missing the point here.

    What does a tablet plus a keyboard do that the current crop of small netbooks don’t?

    Indeed I would go as far to suggest that a netbook would do a lot lot more.

    Maybe it’s a case of people buying an iPad because it’s an iPad and not because it’s the right tool for the job?

    • Paul Billings

      I use a Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 with my iPad all the time (and am using it now). I prefer text entry with a keyboard. Get a small notebook case, a leather foldable case for your iPad (I have an Acase case I bought from Amazon) and the keyboard and you are good to go. I use the small notebook case and the iPad and keyboard when I know that my work will be relatively light, and put the ipad and the keyboard in my regular laptop bag with my Thinkpad when I’m not sure whether I will need a laptop or not.

      The Mobile 6000 keyboard is actually better than my Thinkpad keyboard (I have an R52). Battery life is stellar. You can’t beat the keyboardipad combo for battery life and portability. Takes up less space on a desk than my R52.

  9. Rolf Raess

    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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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

    • 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!

  13. Actually, a recent survey found that 33% of Americans say they want a keyboard with their tablet:

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Neil Smith

    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.

    • Prethought

      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.