Improving the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard

Although I’m fond of my Touch Bar MacBook Pro, the majority of my computing time is done on iOS, whether it be on my iPhone or my iPad. I use the iPad (the 10.5-inch model) often as a “laptop” to write blog posts and stories for my various freelance outlets. When I write on the tablet, my keyboard of choice is Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I like it for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact it’s an “all-in-one” solution. Unlike something like Studio Neat’s Canopy, the Smart Keyboard attaches itself to the iPad—which means it’s also a cover, so I’m effectively carrying a single entity. That matters for accessibility insofar as it’s one thing to carry, as opposed to carrying my iPad and the Canopy stand with the Magic Keyboard. For me, the Smart Keyboard is less weight and less cumbersome. Not to mention the advantage of the Smart Connector over Bluetooth; overall, the Smart Keyboard is a winner in my book.

Ergonomics and portability aside, I do like the Smart Keyboard as a keyboard for typing. The keys feel good, and not being a touch typist, I’m not concerned about words-per-minute or key travel. My cerebral palsy makes typing somewhat difficult for me, so the only way I can put “pen to paper,” so to speak, is to use the hunt-and-peck method. (I also do this on iOS’s virtual keyboard. In my almost 5 years as a member of the tech press, I’ve written innumerable articles using only the glass on my iPad.)

Despite my Smart Keyboard fandom, there are two key areas that are in dire need of improvement. The enhancements I suggest would make the accessory more accessible to me, and I hope the company considers adding them, if possible, in a future version of it.

The Caps Lock Key Needs an Indicator Light

One huge advantage the Magic Keyboard has over the Smart Keyboard is its Caps Lock key has a light that indicates state. The Smart Keyboard desperately needs one, and I sorely miss it. It drives me crazy at the beginning of a sentence or when I type a proper noun that I can’t tell whether Caps Lock is on/off. I end up with many typos as a result, which I find disrupts the writing process because I always feel compelled to stop and correct myself.

The lack of a Caps Lock indicator is so infuriating not only for convenience, but more importantly, for accessibility. The reason for this is because the little light on my Magic Keyboard—or on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard, for that matter—is a clear visual cue signaling that Caps Lock is enabled. By contrast, the lack of said light on the Smart Keyboard today means users effectively play a guessing game every time they write. You don’t know what state the key is in unless you press it once or twice—this abstraction is both annoying and inaccessible, at least for me. Adding a light would give me (and others) a concrete indication that Caps Lock is on or off. No more ambiguity or frustration.

The Keyboard Needs to Be Backlit

In a similar vein to how an indicator light on the Caps Lock key acts as a visual cue of state, backlit keys would make seeing the Smart Keyboard easier. The keyboard itself is relatively low contrast, as its dark grayish-blue color makes distinguishing individual keys somewhat tricky. I find this especially problematic in low-light environments or at night, because the dark styling of the keyboard can’t offset the ambient conditions. I’m able to manage despite this, but it isn’t an ideal situation.

Adding backlit keys to the Smart Keyboard would help immensely in boosting contrast because the LED lights would be the contrast. It’d make typing in low-light conditions exponentially better, particularly for someone like me who’s visually impaired. I don’t know how feasible this would be, engineering-wise, but it would be awesome if Apple can pull it off. I’d be very pleased.

As I mentioned at the outset, the addition of a Caps Lock indicator and backlit keys to the Smart Keyboard would make the product more accessible—and more enjoyable. The Smart Keyboard seems to be a divisive product amongst iPad writers, but for my needs and tolerances, it’s nearly perfect. Enhance it with my suggestions, and I’d likely never use another keyboard again.