Bring back the iBook!
Hi guys and gals (and Apple in the very very VERY remote chance you’re reading this),
My favorite accessory for an iPad EVER isn’t something Apple makes, it’s the Zagg Slim Book for my old iPad Air 2. It’s a bluetooth keyboard that attaches to an iPad case magnetically, creating something resembling a very small laptop when I’m typing, but when I’m not, I can just easily detach the iPad and I’m back to doing iPad-y things.
Now that every single non-mini iPad sold by Apple has the smart connector for keyboard attachments, it has me thinking that Apple has recognized the potential of these devices as productivity machines (even including limited Mouse support!).
If that’s the case, as we enter 2020 and the tenth year of the iPad line, I would love to see a hybrid device that gives me the joy of typing on a laptop, but the flexibility and size of the iPad. Once upon a time, Apple sold “mini MacBooks”, the 11 inch MacBook Air, then the 12 inch MacBook, but now those devices have been sacrificed at the altar of the iPad (and good riddance, since they were slow out the gate and have aged extremely poorly), but in order for the iPad to live up to the potential of those devices, Apple needs to revamp their keyboard accessory and go full mouse mode. They need an iBook.
Some of you may be too young to remember this, but once upon a time Apple had an iBook – a mobility first, productivity machine for people who didn’t want or couldn’t afford Powerbooks. These weren’t devices you were ever going to code or work with giant Excel sheets on, but they were good for many of the things people use iPads for today: email, internet, word processing, note taking, and more.
Two years after the first iPad released, Microsoft updated to Windows 8, a touch-first interface for Windows that, while not perfect, brought forth a plethora of hybrid devices, that flipped, detached, had screens on both sides of the display (who remembers the Asus Tai-chi?). Microsoft brought forth a vision of the future. The future, however, flopped, and now laptops will MAYBE flip over, but that’s it. The issue with detachables was, at the time, that all of the hardware had to be crammed into the back of the display and required bulky and/or expensive cooling solution (think the Surface Book). The iPad on the other hand, does not suffer from these issues – it being ARM based, and Apple’s SOC being faster and cooler than quite a few x86 processors Intel and AMD make. Microsoft’s vision of the future failed because when it came out, the hardware simply wasn’t there to support it, and the software wasn’t built for the hardware that could potentially do it (RIP Windows RT).
So where does that leave us? Take a look at what Brydge is working on for 2020 – an all aluminum keyboard, with a solid keyboard and a trackpad. All of that is great! Here’s what isn’t – the clamps that secure the iPad in place need to cover an increasingly small bezel, it lacks the elegance of a magnetic solution, and at the end of the day, it’s still bluetooth. It may be a nicer, more complete product, but at the end of the day it is no different than any other bluetooth keyboard on the market, but at double the price, especially compared to my still beloved Slim Book case.
What can Apple do here? Well let’s compare to the product category (bluetooth keyboards for iPad) to another product category: battery cases for iPhones. These cases have existed for a long time, and some of them are even very good (Mophie springs to mind), but that doesn’t come close to the first party accessory that Apple sells – one that integrates into the software, charges with the same lightning cable, and now does some voodoo wizardry to add a camera button. The integration makes the product better. So what does that mean here – well let’s combine the two categories: Apple’s Smart Keyboard uses the connector to verify whether a keyboard is connected or not, and the keyboard draws power from the iPad, while Apple’s Battery Case connects to the iPhone, charging it and giving a detailed look (through software). Combining the two and looking to other keyboards/detachables on the market, you would get something that looks remarkably like Brydge’s solution but that connects to the iPad via the smart connector and that can charge the iPad through it, combining the batteries in both the keyboard and the iPad to make a device that can last up to 24 hours on a charge.
What about the Smart Keyboard? Well – the Smart Keyboard would still exist for customers that don’t want a premium laptop-style typing experience, but just need something that can fold away when not in use.
The question is, of course, the hinge – Brydge (and Libra) solve this problem with clips that hook onto the corner of the iPad, Zagg solved it with a special case with magnets at the bottom that could snap onto the keyboard, but Apple could solve this with a hardware redesign – especially because it ALREADY uses magnets in the iPad for the Smart Cover.
A hypothetical 2020 iBook would be aesthetically very similar to the 2019 iPad Pro (no home button, small bezels, squared off edges), BUT the smart connector would return to the bottom where it would be flanked by magnets (these make the Smart Cover for this product work when not on the keyboard). The Keyboard would be a near hybrid of the Brydge/Zagg keyboards and the Surface Book keyboard – connecting to the iPad via the smart connector, and holding onto the device using the magnets.