Hey Apple, the Magic Keyboard needs improvement!

If anyone can make a keyboard that works well with an iPad you’d expect Apple to be the company to pull it off. The Apple Magic Keyboard and iOS combination is more frustrating than magical. Apple hasn’t pulled a rabbit out of a hat, but they have made important functions disappear.

Magic Keyboard and iPad

There’s plenty of scope to improve the Apple Magic Keyboard when paired with an iOS device.

Background

I’ve struggled to do much writing lately. Other priorities have restricted the time I can put toward it. Much like exercise, writing is a high-inertia activity. It’s easy enough to sustain once you get going, but getting started is hard work. Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes, so I experimented with drafting posts using my iPad. (Any excuse to try a new tool, right)?

My Filco Majestouch Convertible 2 is a great desk keyboard, but it’s hopeless as a portable iPad companion. At the office, I use an Apple Magic Keyboard rather than test my colleagues’ ability to tune out the chatter of a mechanical keyboard.

Side view of the Apple Magic Keyboard and Filco Majestouch Convertible 2

Apple Magic Keyboard and Filco Majestouch Convertible 2 side-by-side.

These two keyboards are almost diametric opposites. The Filco is designed for Windows. It’s big, black, solid, and the long key travel makes a satisfying racket when I’m in full flight. The Apple keyboard is small, slim, light-weight and its white keys have the shortest travel of any keyboard I’ve used. The purr of its keys is more office-friendly than the clatter of its mechanical cousin. Despite these differences, I have no trouble switching between the two. I thought the Magic Keyboard would make a great portable option to use with an iPad. And it would be if it weren’t for two significant issues.

Good points about the Apple Magic Keyboard

The Apple Magic Keyboard has been widely reviewed so I won’t go into the features here. Tools and Toys or Macworld have detailed reviews if you want more information.

Magic Keyboard alongside a Filco Majestouch Convertible 2

The Apple Magic Keyboard’s compactness, size and weight make it an idea iPad companion.

Several features make the Magic Keyboard an ideal iPad companion:

  • Key size and action. Unlike the 9.7″ iPad keyboard covers, typing is easy because key size hasn’t been compromised. Key travel is short, but typing remains swift and accurate.
  • Portable. The compact layout takes no more space than necessary. It’s slim and light making it easy to carry.
  • Long battery life. The first charge lasted me about three months. A few minutes charging gives a healthy boost to the battery level, with a full charge taking about two hours.
  • Power switch. A physical power switch means there’s no risk of draining the battery through accidental activation in transit.

Problem areas

Other reviews have drawn attention to the absence of backlighting, the somewhat annoying cursor key layout, and the single-device pairing constraint. Backlighting isn’t an issue in my situation, but could exclude the Magic Keyboard if you plan to use it in a dimly lit environment. The absence of multi-device pairing doesn’t bother me either — this keyboard is only for use with my iPad.

After 5 months I still find my fingers often land in the wrong place when reaching for the cursor keys. I prefer the MacBook Air layout with half-sized left and right arrow keys. This layout provides better haptic feedback to confirm my fingers are where they should be.

Of more concern are two shortcomings that only surface when the Magic Keyboard is used with an iPad. These are not evident when paired with a Mac.

No forward delete (fn + delete)

That’s right, there is no way to delete the character to the right of the insertion point. At first I thought the keyboard was faulty, but I reproduced this behavior with another keyboard and a different iPad.

While I’d prefer a dedicated forward delete key, I have learnt to live with fn + delete on the Mac. When connected to an iPad, fn is ignored and the normal backspace operation occurs. In fact, none of the shortcut combinations involving fn work — fn doesn’t do anything when using the Magic Keyboard with an iPad.

fn key close up

The fn key is only decorative when the Magic Keyboard is paired with an iOS device.

ctrl + d, the other option for forward delete on a Mac, also does nothing. Yet ctrl + k deletes to the end of the current line, just as it does on a Mac. Seriously Apple!? People have bemoaned the absence of forward delete on the iOS software keyboard since its launch. There is no sane reason to cripple this function on hardware keyboards too. Let’s hope either iOS 10 or a firmware update address this omission.

This seemed so asinine that I tried pairing other keyboards to see what happened. The dedicated delete key on my Filco keyboard works as expected (forward delete). In some ways, this Windows keyboard is a better option with iOS.

I also tested an Apple Wireless Keyboard, the Magic Keyboard’s predecessor. fn + delete kind of works on the older model. While it does forward delete, pressingfn also toggles between the iOS keyboards you have installed. (ctrl + space does the same job on the newer Magic Keyboard). Forward deleting isn’t much use if you then have to change from your Emoji keyboard back to your standard keyboard every time you delete text. I understand this curious behavior arrived with iOS 9 and that fn + delete worked correctly before this upgrade.

ios software keyboard selector

fn + delete works on the older Apple Wireless Keyboard, but it also switches between keyboard layouts.

So, for Apple keyboard users we’re left with the sucky workaround of shift + right arrow to select the text, followed by delete to remove it.

Apple wants you to be able to continue your work on any device. Small differences like this feel like jarring potholes in an otherwise smooth highway. I move between a Mac and iPad several times each day and these small details create more friction than you’d expect.

Poor sleep / wake performance

A discussion on the Apple Support Communities is one of the few references I’ve found to this issue. The Apple Magic Keyboard sleeps after approximately 45 seconds of inactivity, presumably to conserve battery life. It takes a second or two to reconnect when you start typing — long enough for two or three keystrokes to disappear into oblivion. This makes for a frustrating interruption when pausing to collect your thoughts or mentally reconstruct sentences.

I’ve never seen this problem with a Magic Keyboard paired to my Mac. I’m not sure whether the sleep time varies when connected to different device types (I doubt it) or whether the Mac handles reconnection better.

This problem was not evident with the older Wireless Keyboard which maintains the Bluetooth connection much longer. The Filco’s 30-minute timeout means there is never a problem here either.

45 seconds is ridiculously short and once again detracts from an otherwise first-rate device. Let’s hope a fix isn’t too far away.

Alternatives

The Logitech K811 tops many lists as the best alternative to Apple’s offering. For about the same price, it’s only slightly larger but adds backlit keys and the ability to switch between three paired Bluetooth devices. I have not been able to test one to confirm it isn’t afflicted by the same issues as the Magic Keyboard. Do your homework before purchasing one. If you use a K811 and can confirm the forward delete situation with iOS 9, leave a comment below.

Let’s get the problems fixed

Perhaps none of Apple’s executives use a Magic Keyboard with an iPad. It’s hard to believe these problems would persist if they did. Whether the issues stem from appalling design decisions or simple oversights, they need fixing. Rather than just criticize, let’s do something constructive about getting it resolved. You can help draw attention to the absence of forward delete and the overly-aggressive connection timeout by leaving feedback with Apple.

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8 Responses

  1. Mat says:

    Pro tip: get the k810 and add a forward delete key to your keyboard.

  2. phil says:

    I ran into the same Problems: I want to use a Magic Keyboard 2 on all my setups (2 at home, 3 and more at work), of which only one is a full OS X Mac. The haptics, the keys, size, is why I want exactly this keyboard. It’s good hardware per se.

    Due to the lack of the real “DEL” (or forwards-delete) Key however, this becomes incompatible with all Computers.
    That is the big misunderstanding on Apple’s side: They think they are distancing themselves from PC with those design decisions, while the truth is, that they are distancing themselves from Computers.

    I’m working on systems in the industry, that are much further away from PCs than a Mac. But even these follow the basic rules of Computer key-layouts, or at least remain compatible.

    fn+”delete”=DEL only works on full OS X; it’s an unprofessional, hacky, software way to handle it. It should just truly send the DELETE keycode on fn+”delete” out of the hardware.

    I had to send it back and bought a Logitech K380 instead. Let’s see how that goes.

    • John Scullen says:

      Thanks for stopping by Phil.

      I’m still hopeful for a firmware update to address these issues. It’s nearly 18 months since the Magic Keyboard was released. I’m not holding my breath…

  3. iPad Guru says:

    I agree in that you would expect Apple to come up with the ideal keyboard. However, I eventually chose a Logitech model for my iPad. Alongside my Macbook Pro, I have the tools for my authoring in the office or when traveling.

  4. Matt says:

    Just bought the magic with numeric keypad. It has a forward delete dedicated button and it works. I also tried fn delete. It also forwards delete. I assume this is now fixed in iOS?

    • John Scullen says:

      Hi Matt

      Thanks for the update. Good to know it works correctly on the larger keyboard.

      I just retested with my setup (9.7″ iPad Pro, iOS 10.3.2 and Apple Magic Keyboard) and it’s still broken 🙁 . Hopefully there is a firmware update for the Magic Keyboard coming soon.

      John

  5. Great post!! It’s very informative blog. Thanks for sharing this blog.

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