I’m writing this newsletter out to you on the new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro. I used to not be able to write the newsletter with the iPad — my process unfortunately involves dealing directly with HTML code because my newsletter provider hasn’t seen fit to update its version of the CKEditor WYSIWYG since 2014. Now I can, and I think the reason why is interesting for anybody who wants to push their iPad to do more.
No, the Magic Keyboard hasn’t magically solved these problems. Instead, it has made the things the iPad already does somewhat nicer. The iPad with iPadOS remains the most enjoyable computer I use right up to the point where I need to do something complicated, at which point it becomes something else entirely.
On a traditional computer, solving a complicated problem is a matter of searching around the internet until you discover a new ability or find a fix. It might be beyond your skills, but you rarely are stopped cold.
On the iPad, the first step isn’t necessarily looking for the solution itself, but looking to see if you’re even allowed to do the thing you need to do. For me, it was inspecting HTML source code for particular elements on a web page, which Safari doesn’t let you do.
You’re reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important tech news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers “mostly daily,” which nets out three to four times a week, some of which include longer columns. You can subscribe to Processor and learn more about it here. Processor is also a YouTube series with the same goal: providing smart and surprising analysis with a bit of humor. Subscribe to all of The Verge’s great videos here!
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Some of you are reading the previous sentence and scoffing that I’d ever ask an iPad to do such a thing. Others are wondering why I don’t just switch newsletter providers or find some other solution that gets around this limitation.
All valid points, but I’m obstinate. I have a process that works on Windows, another for macOS, and yet another on ChromeOS. I wasn’t going to let the iPad beat me.
But more to the point, Apple is obstinate — in ways both good and bad. Obstinately refusing to just copy over all the stuff I think I want from a desktop operating system means that the iPad won’t just get used like a desktop OS (which is what happens with the Surface).
On the other hand, sometimes that obstinacy means it’s hard to know if the iPad will allow you to do something advanced in the first place. There are rules against apps running certain types of code, for example, which makes it a challenging device for app developers to use. Was my HTML problem one of those kinds of issues, or was it just something Apple hasn’t gotten around to adding yet — like when it added USB drive support?
Apple’s dropping new iPads with whiz-bang Lidar features and shiny new cases and all I want is an iPad with a proper shell where I can run homebrew, docker, python, cron jobs and the like.
I think the answer might be both? It turns out that there is a Siri Shortcut — the system for automating certain tasks on the iPad — that lets you grab source code. From there, it was a matter of teaching myself some Siri Shortcut methods then a lot of trial and error. I think hiding what is a core browser function on every other platform inside the iPad’s macro app is loopy, but at least it worked.
What does all of this have to do with the Magic Keyboard? Simply this: I think a lot of the pent-up demand for it and its trackpad is actually pent-up demand to see if the iPad can finally be made to do things that it still struggles to do today.
I reviewed the Magic Keyboard yesterday and I think it’s incredibly well-made. The trackpad has made manipulating text ten times easier than before, which has in turn made the iPad Pro much more useful to me in situations where I would want to use it like a laptop.
But I never expected the Magic Keyboard to …magically make some of the limitations I’ve run into on the iPad go away, and neither should you. Sometimes new hardware, even if it has new features like a trackpad, doesn’t unlock new features. Instead, it can just make your experience a little less annoying.
As I noted in the review, I think Apple could have made different design choices that might have helped the Magic Keyboard do more than make using the iPad as a laptop nicer. I think it makes a better keyboard dock than a mobile keyboard case.
For $299 or $349, I think you should get much more than a keyboard dock. I’d like to say that another company will come in and offer something more versatile for a lower price, but I am not holding my breath. The lack of third-party iPad Pro accessories that take advantage of the Smart Connector remains one of the weird mysteries in consumer tech — one that I think will never get solved.
We usually reserve this spot to talk about deals on niche products. But it’s hard to deny the practicality of Anker’s four-port USB 3.0 hub, which is $7 right now at Amazon when you use the offer code AKUSBHUB at checkout. Since I’ve started working from home, I’ve driven myself crazy reaching behind my PC every hour or so to swap USB devices. Plus, I’m simply running out of spots to plug in stuff. With this hub, you’ll have a few more ports, and they’ll probably be easier to access.
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