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Should Apple bring the Smart Keyboard to iPad Air 3?

When Apple introduced the iPad Pro, the company introduced the Smart Connector along with it. A single magnetic port that carriers power, data, and ground, while not as positionable as Bluetooth, has proven much more reliable. With the iPad Air 3 rumors heating up, it's only natural to wonder if Apple would bring its smart new connector to the 9.7-inch screen size.

Better than Bluetooth

iPad Pro Smart Connector

iPad Pro Smart Connector (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Bluetooth Keyboards, which pair and communicate wirelessly, do have some advantages. They can be positioned anywhere, so you can place both your hands and your iPad where it's more ergonomically advantages. That makes them great for standing desks and some table layouts alike.

Pairing doesn't always work, though, and communicating wirelessly isn't without its interruptions. Hence, the Smart Connector. Bluetooth Keyboards also have to be powered independently, which means another battery and charging cycle to manage.

It's physical, so the keyboard does have to be stuck directly onto the iPad, which does limit the flexibility. But when it connects it's rock-solid. Since it carries power as well as data, it runs off the iPad's charge. That might put a small — very small — dent in your iPad's battery life, but it also means you never have to worry about not having the keyboard charged.

Having used the Smart Keyboard since November of 2015, I can attest to how liberating that is. Just flip down, notch in, and start typing.

Size matters

iPad Pro and keyboard

iPad Pro and keyboard (Image credit: iMore)

Although some don't like the Smart Keyboard because of how it works — laser-ablated fabric over MacBook-style domes — I've been loving it. I tend to adapt quickly, but a few minutes in I forget what I'm typing on and just keep typing away.

That's on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, though, where the keys are functionally full size. I'm not sure how I'll feel on a Smart Keyboard scaled down to 9.7-inches.

The keyboard on the 12-inch MacBook, which I've used a lot, also has keys that are functionally full size — even if they go edge to edge. I've only used the 11-inch MacBook Air a few times, but it has never seemed too small to me. But those are 12- and 11-inches. This would be 9.7...

Apple famously never made a netbook — many of which were tiny — because the company said it didn't know how to make one that would be any good. When Apple introduced the first 9.7-inch iPad, the keyboard stand the company shipped with it was still almost comically full size.

That doesn't mean Apple will never make a small keyboard, but it does show the company's leaning.

Third parties

While Apple has no history of making smaller keyboards, several third-party accessory vendors do — both for the iPad Air and the tiny iPad mini. The iPad Air keyboards have all been perfectly good. The iPad mini ones haven't been ideal, but have at least been usable.

More importantly for our purposes, they show what's possible even at the 9.7-inch size. They're just currently constrained to Bluetooth.

With a Smart Connector, 9.7-inch third-party keyboards will be just as reliable as the third-party keyboards on the iPad Pro. (Well, hopefully more reliable....)

When the iPad Pro launched, the Logitech Create launched with it. It's not impossible to imagine an iPad Air 3 could launch with third-party keyboards of its own.

iPad Air 3 + Smart Keyboard

Whether or not Apple decides they can make a small keyboard good enough to bear the company brand, I hope the rumored iPad Air 3 includes a Smart Connector. It makes for a much better keyboard experience, and companies including Logitech have shown they can make usable keyboards at any iPad size.

And I'd love a more reliable and usable keyboard for when I inevitably get it.

Would you prefer an iPad Air 3 with a Smart Connector? Let me know!

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

23 Comments
  • The interesting question is: Will Apple ever make a Smart Keyboard for the rest of the world? The Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro is still not available (or even announced!) with a non-US layout. No French, no German, no Italian, no ... other language. Strange, but true.
  • How about USB 3-C instead of lightning while you're at it? Then give us the pencil and you'd have the perfect hat trick.
  • So so the iPad can be more like Lagdroid tablets with USB Type C no thank, I like that Apple uses its own stuff like the current lightning connector used already with iPhones and iPads. The F outta here with that suggestion Fagdroid. Sent from the iMore App
  • Because everything Apple is the best. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I agree that the addition of a USB type C port would be beneficial although I wouldn't want to see Apple change the charge port again (#longlive30pin). I could see the addition of a USB type C port in addition to lightning instead of replacing lightning.
  • That'd be weird having two ports that basically do the same thing though…
  • Smarter keyboard with a trackpad please. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I'm surprised they didn't include a trackpad in the smart keyboard. Obvioulsy the trackpad would not put a cursor on the screen but should allow navigation swipes like it does on the Mac. (Ex. - 2 finger swipe up and down to scroll up and down in safari or any other vertical scrolling app. And swipe left and right to toggle between iPad home pages. And if you use three finger swipe it should multitask between the different apps.)
  • Apple filed a patent recently for a new tech that allows gestures in mid-air - no trackpad needed. My guess is this tech will be coming to the Smart Keyboard 2. The sensor will be built into the keyboard so you can hover your hand above it and pinch, zoom, swipe, etc.
  • I don't think that Apple would put a trackpad in the smart keyboard just for the sole purpose of navigation swipes (mainly because of the high added cost for limited functionality). I think that if they were going to put in a trackpad they would just go all the way and add cursor functionality in iOS.
  • I really doubt we're going to see cursor functionality in iOS, what with the whole interface being designed for touch, it's be weird clicking on large icons with a cursor
  • iOS doesn't need a trackpad and there isn't enough space on the Smart Keyboard. Aren't the key's touch sensitive anyways?
  • iOS has a sort of touchpad with 3D touch, I would love to be able to press hold and move the cursor around like I can on my iPhone 6s.
  • I realize most do not see a need for a trackpad, but for my job it would eliminate my need for a computer as several of our webpages require a mouse for input. A trackpad would also be nice when remotely connecting to my pc. Because of this, I sold my iPad air 2 and bought a surface 3. I realize a device that isn't tryjng to be a tablet and pc isn't likely to include a trackpad though. I can wish though. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • How about make one that actually has shortcuts on it, to go home without having to touch the home button and one to pull down the notification shade and etc you know one that's actually useful unlike the one for the iPad Pro.
  • I say yes, out the Smart Connector in the new iPad Air 3. And if Apple doesn't make a keyboard for it, tho they should, the newly added Smart Commector would enable the third party manufacturers to utilize it. Either way the consumers would be well served. Win-Win.
  • I'll say yes to the Smart Connector on iPad Air 3, for exactly the reason that I didn't buy one for my iPad Pro: there are too few Smart Connector keyboard options right now. I think the Smart Connector has a lot of promise due to light, battery-free accessories, no Bluetooth-related issues, etc. A bigger market for Smart Connector accessories would be a good thing. For my uses, the Apple Pencil is often the central accessory and the keyboard is secondary and/or optional. The bulk of the Logitech Create was a no-go and the compromises inherent to the Smart Keyboard seemed off the mark for my usage. Instead, I went with a plain-old Smart Cover and a Magic Keyboard. The Smart Cover is lighter and more useful than the Smart Keyboard *as a cover*. Likewise, the Magic Keyboard has been a great keyboard and is amazingly light . I was surprised that I never feel burdened carrying it around if I /think/ I'll need it. Even better, the Magic Keyboard is trivial to leave behind when I don't need it, because it's not of-a-piece with the cover.
  • And bring it to the iPad mini lineup too Sent from the iMore App
  • I see no reason why Apple wouldn't make a smart keyboard accessory for the new iPad. There are already plenty of third party keyboards that work just great so I don't think size is an issue. It would be less material than the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard, so one would think it would cost less. My guess is $120. It seems clear to me Apple is wanting to compete directly with the Surface line, specifically the Surface 3 (iPad) and Surface Pro 4 (iPad Pro). Pencil support with smart keyboard cover. I'd bet money on it.
  • I wouldn't use it either way simply because IMO, when I have used Keyboard with the iPad in the Past, it felt like an accessory getting in the way rather than helping me be more efficient when it came to school assignments and essays. I just use the on-screen keyboard just fine. But for those that benefit from the keyboard, and even the pencil, I'd say go for it. I actually rather see Keyboard and Pencil support rather than 3D touch.
  • As a former employee of Apple in the retail side, I worked as an FRS and quickly adapted to typing on the iPad screen without keyboard when taking appointments. At that time I was very "anti-keyboard" because it just seemed to defeat the purpose of portability and something that I would have to make sure was charged, etc. However, now seeing what Apple has designed for the iPad Pro, I would certainly be willing to give it a go and try out a keyboard on a new iPad Air 3.
    I've been rethinking my workflow and wanting to use an iMac as my home based computing and using the iPad for my on-the-go solution.
  • I think Apple needs to bring its smart keyboard to the iPad Air 3. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't care, really. I bought the iPad Pro and now have the Smart Keyboard. Nya-na. ;) Sent from the iMore App