Rarely does Apple ever sell you an accessory that competes with a basic function of the device it's intended for. Apple believed in its virtual keyboard on the iPhone and thus you never got a physical alternative. So what makes the iPad so different that Apple would offer a $69 dock with a built in keyboard?

The iPad keyboard isn't really portable. It is from a size/weight standpoint, but its shape tells a different story. It's the dock part of the keyboard dock that really prevents this thing from being portable in any normal iPad case. It's because of this that I believe it turns the iPad into more of a desktop than a netbook/notebook.

And I think that's Apple's intent as well. In Apple's eyes, the iPad is already more than capable at the sort of casual web browsing/emailing that netbooks are designed for. The keyboard dock simply makes the iPad function as a light desktop when you're at home. It's not going to make the iPad any more appealing, but if the device was designed for you, it's going to make your life easier.

The iPad keyboard dock has made me understand the real focus of the iPad more than I did a week ago. This truly is a computing platform for people who don't really need a computer, at least not all of the power and capabilities of a full fledged computer. It's great for the basic things: typing, checking email, looking at photos, playing music, browsing the web. These are all things any computer can do, and a netbook can actually do them cheaper. The iPad just does them simpler. In achieving that simplicity you do lose out on some higher level functionality of course (e.g. not being able to open zip attachments in Mail), but for some that's a fair tradeoff.

Strange Behavior

The keyboard dock has three points of interface: the dock connector for the iPad, the dock connector for your power brick/computer, and a line out port for external speakers.

The iPad dock connector is a relatively snug fit, which unfortunately means you'll have to remove Apple's case before docking your iPad. The external dock connector works as advertised, although given that most PCs can't charge the iPad while connected you may find yourself switching dock cables quite a bit (unless the iPad is your primary computing device).

The line out port is the strangest of them all. When in use, you lose the ability to adjust volume on the iPad. Either via the volume rocker or the hotkeys on the keyboard, you can't adjust volume. It defaults to four bars and anything more you have to adjust on your speakers. You can still mute audio however.

I also found that I'd occasionally get a hissing sound out of my speakers occasionally when I'd launch certain apps or hit the lock button on the keyboard.

The Keyboard & Using it
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  • Exodite - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    What if there were some commonly available and widely used port standard that would allow a device such as the iPad to make use of any number of readily available keyboards, mice, printers etc.

    Oh wait...

    A computer for someone that doesn't need a computer indeed.

    I'm not an Apple and I can't see myself ever becoming one but I can see the point, and allure, of several of their devices. It takes a certain kind of user to enjoy an iPhone or Macbook but these devices have their niche well in hand.

    I do not get the point of the iPad however.

    It combines part mobile device, part media player, part computer and part eReader into a whole that somehow ends up being less than any of the former. And it does this while lacking any unique functionality and 'killer app' of its own.

    What's the point?

    Even more so when you add a peripheral such as this.

    So it's a very limited, shiny and expensive desktop now?

    I can build, or buy outright, a device with three times the functionality and power and a multitude of exotic connectivity such as USB, HDMI and card readers for half the price. Likely even less if push comes to shove.

    Heck, if I were worried that all the massive functionality and resources available on a real, actual, computer would confuse poor granny I could install any number of dumbed-down-for-the-masses-interfaces on top of the OS to hide it.

    I've tried my best but I'm really struggling to see the point of the iPad. To be fair that's not Apple's fault though, while the device could have been so much more I just don't think there's any place for a tablet computer at this time. Regardless of manufacturer, at that.
  • hughlle - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    all this for a keyboard. makes you wonder why companies don't just add a keyboard into the thing as standard. wait.
  • Some1ne - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Because they'd rather be able to force everyone to pay an extra $69 in order to use the only non-bluetooth keyboard that is actually compatible with the device. Because supporting all those other USB keyboards that everyone has lying around would have been too difficult. Because, you know, backwards compatibility and supporting industry standards just isn't cool anymore.

    "It's too advanced to be compatible with anything else!"
  • Some1ne - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Just noticed that all the articles that get posted here are tagged.

    Given that, how about implementing a feature that allows logged-in users to specify what tags that are/are not interested in seeing. That way, all the users who have no interest in Apple-related reviews don't have to see them at all. Probably the filter would have to be exclusion-based, such that users see everything until they explicitly say "do not show anything with this tag on it", as otherwise introducing new tags becomes problematic.

    Should be simple enough to implement. You'd just need a new DB table to store the exception list, a minimal configuration UI to allow users to manage their list (like just a page listing all the tags that exist, with a checkbox next to each one), and some logic to do the filtering. The filtering step is simple enough that it should be doable in javascript (just set 'display: none' on any post which has an excluded tag), which means the server-side performance impact of this change would be negligible.

    Anyways, just a thought. If such a feature existed, I would certainly use it to turn off anything with an "Apple" tag. I'm just not interested in such articles.
  • Hsuku - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    Thanks for a whole article dedicated to .. well, not very much. If you're going to actually review a keyboard and dock, why don't you get a little more technical with your reader base and supply comparisons such as the quality and size of the keyboard, key depth, key spring responsiveness and the like, instead of spending three pages saying, "It helps typing on a device on which it was terribly difficult to, but ignore the price and other negatives; it's just so cool!"

    A little hissing from the line out? Is that acceptable to you now? Few basic keyboard shortcuts?

    And is it just me, or is actually reviewing this item seem a little bit over the top? I can't recollect a time when you reviewed my favourite ThinkPad Business Topload Case, or BlackBerry Multimedia Headset. You're actually reviewing a dock accessory, without providing technical details about the keyboard itself, and ignoring or accepting the line out faults and lack of common shortcuts. And you say you like it, no less. Why? Because this one necessary accessory makes using the iPad usable for what you want to do with it?

    Have you sold out? Is this meant to be advertising in disguise?

    I'm actually posting this because, honestly, I don't know what's going on with my favourite tech site.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - link

    My apologies for not going deeper into the keyboard comparison - I just realized I didn't make it clear in the article but the keyboard here is virtually identical to Apple's standard aluminum keyboard, which in my opinion ranks up there with ThinkPad keyboards in terms of typing feel.

    I don't believe I ever stated that the hissing from the line out as acceptable, nor the missing keyboard shortcuts. I do like the device as a basic addition to the iPad that simply makes typing easier while at a desk, no more, no less. As I said in the review, it doesn't make the iPad any better for you if you aren't sold on the base product.

    No article on AnandTech is ever advertising in disguise. I do not employ any sales people on staff, all ads are handled independently of content by a third party with no access to our editorial calendar. We publish what we want, when we want to :)

    As I mentioned before, this article shares the top of the site with a number of other pieces including our Nehalem EX review. It takes no time or focus away from anything else we're working on and simply addresses a portion of our readers who might be interested in such a thing. It's not intended to harm anyone, just give iPad users access to the same sort of content we provide elsewhere :)

    Take care,
  • Hsuku - Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - link

    I hate to say this, but this isn't the norm in terms of your standard articles. Open up your Opteron and Nehalem EX review and put these two articles side by side: the differences are clear. There is clear and evident bias in the Apple article write-up, and none detectable for Intel/AMD. There are facts laid out for your readers concerning the new chips, and feelings concerning your new Apple iPad. The iPad just feels right? Why run SAP benchmarks at all? We could say this Opteron feels good and be done with it.

    There were numbers on your original iPad review itself, mixed in with your feelings. The feelings? They rubbed me the wrong way, but at least you catered in part to your primary (or did that change along the line?) audience with some benchmarking. This review doesn't cater to people who want to know the technical details. It tells me what I already know from the specifications. It doesn't dig to see what the cause of the line out issue is. Is this a standard Anandtech review or a blog?

    I doubt I am in the minority on this site hoping for real meat in technical excellence. I have no qualms with Apple content -- I simply want it to be as technical as everything else, not just feel-good stuff. I don't want to know that "it just works," I want to know that you broke it down to show us this UI design is efficient, snappier, or what have you. Sure, add in that you like it, but I want to know why.

    And that's what I come to this site for: the why. Why is this new chip doing better? Why should I opt for multiple rails on my power supply? Why is a monolithic chip design not the way to go? And then yes, I want to see the numbers as support for those statements.

    I am upset, I admit. Heck, upset enough to rant twice, but at least we know it wasn't a temporary feeling. I am but a single reader, and I've been here for the last ten years (give or take) now. I read every article here, and I expect the majority of Anandtech's core fanbase (because that's what we are!) does. Yes, you've helped some fellow on his quest to purchase an iPad, but what about us folk that don't care to purchase, but still want to know every technical detail? Is your title now meaningless?

    "Anandtech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News."

    I need more analysis. I need data. I need the why. No one else does it -- or at least I'd given up on them when they demonstrated clear bias. Don't let the magic of Apple mar your methods; it's what's kept me here all this time.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Wednesday, April 14, 2010 - link

    I totally agree that this belongs in the blog section. At least there used to be one; is there still a place for Anandtech writer blogs? It's not on the top bar.

    As if the iPad wasn't dumb enough, this keyboard took it to a new level of dumb. It forces 768x1024 res (that's less width than 800x600!). The first picture on the Final Words page makes it look like text is too small to read (and this is a "desktop writing station"??). You can't adjust the angle, and there's no portability, so why would anyone write on this thing at home as opposed to using their main rig? Hmmm, do I write on low profile keys and a 9.7" screen, or a real keyboard and a 30" screen. That is a real tough call. And it must be used on a desk since there's no way you could balance this on your lap or on a bed...but you can with laptops!

    This thing doesn't even have a USB port, so good luck with transferring files. If I hand my iPad friend a flash stick, what does he have to do--use a desktop PC along with iTunes?

    In a sense, iPad is to laptops as Segway is to bicycles. It's about versatility, cost, practicality, and novelty.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 15, 2010 - link

    I do believe there's a difference between our Apple coverage and something like a CPU article. The OS is much more closed, the company less willing to give us access to engineers (believe me, we try).

    The trick to reviews like the iPad, Nexus One or other more consumer facing devices is to balance the user experience (feelings as you put it) with scientific benchmarking. That's why those reviews read differently than actual component reviews which are much further away from the user experience side of the spectrum.

    Ultimately this is a keyboard, so the review leans more towards the user experience side rather than quantitative benchmarking.

    There's a balance that must be struck for every type of review, but I'd argue that it's a moving target. As you pointed out, discussing user experience in an Opteron review doesn't make sense - but it does in a SSD vs. HDD article and user experience matters even more when you're talking about a smartphone, or something like the iPad.

    This review is for users who've already decided upon the iPad as a platform they're interested in, it's not for everyone but it wasn't positioned as such either. I believe we provided the analysis and data you're looking for in the iPad review itself, this was simply something for those users who liked what they saw.

    Take care,
  • Hsuku - Friday, April 16, 2010 - link

    I agree there's a difference between your Apple coverage and your CPU article. However, the comparison you make is that, similar to SSDs/HDDs, it's about the user experience. User experience is not undefinable, hence why we can break it down to see the how and why, and the relevant benchmarks that give a good indication of how much a product can be appreciated.

    It's not magical. It's definable, and therefore testable.

    I implore you, hold Apple in the same light. Define what that user experience special sauce is, break it down and attack it, whether it be consistency, fade timings or pre-cached user operation paths. I've already heard Apple's line of, "it just works." I come to Anandtech to know more.

    As an aside, though, I wanted to say I appreciate your willingness to come out and butt heads with me. I sincerely hope my criticism is taken as constructive and doesn't come across as abrasive. And as always, I look forward to reading more of your articles.

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