Tablets and Keyboards: The Way the iPad Should Work

Bump to connect. That’s what I’d like to see for pairing wireless keyboards with tablets.

I don’t own an iPad, or an Android tablet for that matter. I’ve had the iPhone since it became available in Canada, and I’m on my second MacBook, the combination of which tends to give me what I want, but those iPads are sexy toys. So I’ve thought a lot about what would make me buy an iPad and how I’d use it.

Apple has touted iPad as “the best way to experience the web, email, and photos.” In fact apparently the thing that bothered Steve Jobs the most about public reception of the iPad was the criticism that it was a media consumption, not creation, device, which is why the next thing Apple did after introducing iPad was to add a bunch of new creative tools to the App Store, such as Garage Band and iMovie.

Still, out of the trifecta of web, email and photo, the weakest link is still the keyboard–or lack thereof. It’s become a popular option for people to buy external bluetooth keyboards for the device. I’ve thought about how that should work.

Targus Bluetooth Wireless KeyboardOne of the most common problems with wireless keyboards is the fact that it’s convenient to use the same keyboard with multiple devices. Since I only have two hands to use a keyboard with, strictly speaking I only really need one keyboard for all the devices I might use. (Full disclosure: I’m sitting in front of two keyboards on my desk, four if you count the built-in keyboards on the laptops). The reason I use more than one keyboard is partly because it’s a pain to switch keyboards between devices. It’s a broken system.

As I’ve thought about how “computers should work” in the coming years, I feel like the iPad gets it almost right, and so does Microsoft’s Surface. The iPad gets everything except keyboards right, and interestingly, the value of a keyboard was the one thing Microsoft understood.

I see people carrying a very lightweight tablet wherever they go, and sitting down to work at a desk to type an email, fitting the tablet into a stand, and using the keyboard that they’ve left beside it. But with the current system of bluetooth pairing, you have to do some voodoo to switch it each time. Instead, it should be easy to sit down to a keyboard and immediately start using it with your tablet.

There are some bump-to-connect systems already in use. For years there’s been an iOS app for syncing contacts called Bump (also available for Android) that was one of the first to introduce that concept: it uses the accelerometer to detect the exact moment of the bump, enabling an ad hoc network to be created. Geek speak aside, you just bump the phones together and it works. Or in reality, you hold your phone and fist-bump your new friend.

Bump App: Bump to Connect and Exchange Contacts

Some variation on that theme is how the bluetooth pairing of wireless keyboards should just work. Maybe instead of bumping, it could be something like shake together or swipe the side (using RFID??) to avoid damaging the tablet. Families would just buy a few iPads and wireless keyboards, and leave the keyboards in useful places like the coffee table and a desk. The “computer desk” would turn back into a generic work desk with the assumption that you’re supposed to leave the keyboard there.

And in a strange twist, coffee shops could start offering spots with bluetooth keyboards permanently attached to the table–the world’s first wired bluetooth keyboards.