The Magic Keyboard has for some time been Apple's de facto Bluetooth keyboard. It was built-in to the 16-inch model of the MacBook Pro in 2019, and it was also adopted in the MacBook Air in March 2020.
Personally, I was shocked when I heard the announcement of a Magic Keyboard that could be docked with iPad Pros from 2018 onward. The iPad Pro is practically my main system, and now I'd be able to use it with the same keyboard as the latest Macs.
Technically, it was already possible to use a Magic Keyboard with an iPad. The Bluetooth Magic Keyboard mentioned above gives a pretty good user experience. However, this meant carrying around a separate keyboard and stand, which obviously had a negative effect on mobility. So instead I was using the Smart Keyboard Folio, even if there was a trade-off in terms of a slight drop in typing speed and accuracy.
The announcement of a Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro has made huge waves. Why? Probably because people still love the traditional computer interface that a keyboard brings, and the arrival of a proper keyboard has changed people's perception of the iPad.
No problems with typing
The newly released Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro uses the same keys that you'll find in the MacBook series. The 1mm keystroke, proprietary rubber dome design, and the scissor mechanism that has earned a reputation for reliability, are exactly the same as you've experienced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
However, although the keys themselves are the same, the feel of the keystroke is different because of the body of the keyboard. Changes to the body's rigidity, weight, and stability, as well as the height from desk surface to keytop and other factors, means that the feel and sound of tapping those keys is different.
With nothing directly beneath the keyboard, the keytop stands at a height of about 5mm from the desk surface. Even including the Bluetooth version, this means Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro is the closest to the desk surface, which makes for comfortable typing with no need to elevate your wrists.
My own impression was that the rubber dome was having a greater effect than the mechanism. The bounce of the keys makes it possible to type with dancing fingers, achieving a more natural rhythm than was possible with the Smart Keyboard Folio, where finger strength was everything.
Also, the dull sound of the rubber dome means you don't need to worry about bothering others when using the Magic Keyboard while out and about. Just keep in mind that unlike on the MacBook series, the Enter key makes a clicking sound. This could be fun at the workplace, though: a different sound signaling that you've finalized something.
There's also a palm rest that was missing from the Smart Keyboard Folio, so even when typing with the keyboard resting on your lap, you can enjoy stable typing by supporting the keyboard with your wrists. On the downside, the stiff hinges mean the keyboard could fall back when you lift your wrists from the palm rest. I got the impression that it would be difficult to use the Magic Keyboard anywhere other than on a desk or, just for quick typing work, as a laptop keyboard.
You'll probably need to continue using the self-supporting Smart Keyboard Folio in situations such as event coverage where you might be resting a keyboard on your lap to take notes while also taking photos with a camera.
11-inch or 12.9-inch?
I'm sure that many people who buy the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro will already have a 2018 or 2020 model of the iPad Pro. The majority of buyers will be those who are looking for a keyboard that can be installed on their iPad.
Of course it's a good idea to select an iPad Pro that's suitable for what you want to do on your iPad, but it could be that some people now want to buy an iPad Pro specifically because of the Magic Keyboard's arrival. And for those newcomers, the inevitable question is whether to go for the 11-inch model or the 12.9-inch.
The key points to consider are size and weight. You might think the 12.9-inch model is smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it's virtually the same width. It'll be jutting out when used with a Smart Keyboard Folio or Magic Keyboard. Of course you'll get a bigger screen, which is a plus when editing content.
Also, when the Magic Keyboard is attached to the 12.9-inch model the total weight will be about 1.35kg, which is heavier than the MacBook Air (1.29kg). A combination with the 11-inch model weighs about 1.1kg, so it's far to say that the 11-inch wins in terms of mobility based on size and weight.
However, while the 11-inch Magic Keyboard has the same width of alphabetic and numeric keys as the 12.9-inch model and retains the 2mm key pitch, the right tab and control keys and the left symbol keys and return key, etc. are slightly narrower, squeezed into the 11-inch width of the keyboard.
Prior to 2018 I used both 9.7-inch and 10.5-inch iPads with Smart Keyboards, and from my experience I can say that the symbol keys weren't especially difficult to hit. It just required a little practice. For size and weight the 11-inch model is the winner, delivering an easy-to-use keyboard that's highly portable.
Getting to grips with the trackpad
iiPadOS 13.4 supports both mouse and trackpad as a standard. Bluetooth mouse and trackpad connection is possible, but when both mouse and keyboard are Bluetooth there's the hassle of setting up connections when starting work.
With the Magic Keyboard docked in the iPad Pro, you'll be able to use mouse and keyboard interfaces right away. This is one of the advantages of the Smart Connector being a physical connection.
The Magic Keyboard's trackpad is the same width on both 11-inch and 12.9-inch models, but the trackpad on the 12.9-inch is slightly taller. Three-finger gestures also work well, and there's an excellent response no matter where on the trackpad you touch.
But will you really use it? I have my doubts. I've been using a combination of the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard over a period of four years since 2016. Four years of keyboard and touchscreen. I found myself automatically reaching to touch the screen while typing, and I had to make a deliberate effort to use the trackpad.
Apple has in some respects been pushing the shift from mouse and similar pointing devices to intuitive finger operation, and it turns out four years was long enough for me to make that switch.
Apple Pencil can be used even while using the Magic Keyboard, and with its fine nib this is another great way of pointing and drawing. The stand is slightly unsteady, but you can enjoy accurate pen control without any shaking if you hold it still by hand. So personally, I'll probably struggle to find a use for the trackpad. Actually, that's what led me to opting for the light and trackpad-free Smart Keyboard Folio in the first place.
The Magic Keyboard is priced at 31,800 JPY for the 11-inch model and 37,800 JPY for the 12.9-inch version (both prices include tax). This is an even more expensive keyboard option than my personal favorite, PFU's HHKB Professional HYBRID Type-S
, which costs 30,000 JPY.
And does the Magic Keyboard keystroke rival the premium-quality keystroke of the HHKB? I'd have to say no. The Magic Keyboard is a standardized keyboard that's easy to use. Its value stems from the fact that there was no such keyboard for iPad previously.
On the other hand, its design is outstanding. Where the iPad Pro had previously looked out of place on a desk, the design of the Magic Keyboard, which suspends the iPad in mid-air like an iMac, establishes the iPad Pro's position there. Its slightly retro-looking posture is also unique.
The option for self-standing at 90 degrees (which wasn't possible with the Smart Keyboard Folio) is a powerful feature when taking photos or videos with the iPad Pro. Up until now, it could only be fixed in such a way that there was always a sense that it was about to fall over on the desk, so it was no good as a stand for shooting videos.
But the Magic Keyboard should be ideal as a camera for recording interviews, for example by shooting with the iPad Pro as a fixed camera and taking moving close-ups with an iPhone. Or you might want to use LumaFusion to edit with keyboard shortcuts after syncing iPhone video files on iCloud.
This article was originally written in Japan. The images and content are as they were in Japan at the time of writing.