Dieter Bohn on the iPad Magic Keyboard

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

In the first of several “finallys” for the iPad, the keys are also backlit. They adjust automatically based on the ambient lighting conditions, and they were exactly the right brightness most of the time. However, if you just want to turn them off if you’re watching a movie in the dark or something, then you’re in for a hassle.

To fix that, you have to go to the iPad’s Settings app, then dig into General, then Hardware Keyboard, and only then will you be able to adjust the brightness using a slider. […] Both of these hassles could have been immediately and instantly solved if Apple had simply put a function row of keys above the number row. There are plenty of system-wide buttons that would be useful there! Music controls, volume, screen and keyboard brightness, home, multitasking, search: all things for which it would be convenient to have dedicated buttons.

I’m OK with omitting F-keys, both in principle and in practice. In principle, F-keys are fiddly holdovers from decades ago; I don’t think using Control Center to manage audio, display brightness, music playback, etc. is a hassle. That’s obviously my subjective opinion though — I seldom use those keys even when I have them. But practically, as I mentioned in my review, there just isn’t room for them on the Magic Keyboard — when the connected iPad is at its widest angle, it already overhangs the row of number keys. A row of F-keys would be completely under the “floating” iPad.

The problem with controlling keyboard backlighting isn’t the lack of dedicated hardware F-keys. The problem is that going deep into Settings is the only way to control it. Clearly it ought to be a slider in Control Center, and backlighting ought to be controllable via Siri. (If you ask Siri to control the keyboard backlight brightness, it just shows you the slider for display brightness.)

Any app that doesn’t use Apple’s standard APIs for creating buttons or text views feels off-kilter with the trackpad. Stuff you can swipe with your finger can’t be swiped with the trackpad, text selection can be a fiasco, and the cursor doesn’t always do its neat shape-shifting tricks. Google’s apps are particularly guilty here, but they’re far from the only ones.

Google’s apps are awful iOS citizens in general — Chrome being a notable exception — so this is unsurprising. Trackpad issues aside (and Docs is just atrocious with a trackpad — it doesn’t even switch to the I-beam pointer for text editing, which I’ve never seen on any other app), where Google’s iPad apps fall completely apart is keyboard support. The ones I’ve looked at don’t have any keyboard shortcuts at all. No ⌘R for replying in Gmail, no ⌘N for creating new items in Gmail, Tasks, or Keep. Nothing. At least trackpad support in iPadOS is a new thing. Hardware keyboards have been supported for years. It’s ridiculous. (Again, Chrome is a bit of an exception — it has a bunch of good keyboard shortcuts. The Chrome app for iOS feels like it was made by an entirely different company than the rest of Google’s apps — a company that is at least notionally aware of how iOS apps should behave. But even in Chrome you can’t use the trackpad pointer to drag tabs, etc.) Lesson: native apps that follow the idioms of the underlying platform are good, film at 11. [Update: Turns out the Gmail app for iPad does support some keyboard shortcuts, but (a) they’re based on the Gmail web app, not the standards for native iOS apps, and (b) they’re hidden behind a setting that for some bizarre reason is off by default.]

Bohn argues toward the end of his review that he prefers several aspects of Microsoft’s keyboard/trackpad cover for the Surface Pro X. (This segment is best illustrated in his video.) I just don’t see how the Surface keyboard design could work without a built-in kickstand on the tablet, and I, for one, say no thanks to a kickstand built into iPads. And the Surface keyboard design is a no-go for use as a laptop on your actual lap or on an airplane seat-back tray. But it’s definitely interesting to get the perspective of someone who owns and likes a Surface Pro.

Friday, 24 April 2020