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
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.
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.
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!
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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.