Orienting the iPad for use with a keyboard
May 19, 2011
The iPhone Blog posted a poll today asking how people tend to use the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, and surprisingly, after 3k votes, portrait-based use is currently in the lead. We guess that this is based primarily on the amount of screen real-estate left after the virtual keyboard is displayed, as the landscape keyboard hides so much of the screen. If the same poll were held for the iPad, we would assume the results to be different: the landscape keyboard, while still hiding more of the screen than the portrait-based version, still leaves enough showing that enough of the working document can be seen to still be useful. Further, the iPad, simply being a larger device, lends itself better to a higher quantity of words typed, whereas the iPhone is generally used more for quick snippets of data input.
The fact that the iPad’s landscape-based keyboard is more popular is evidenced by the number of cases and stands that put the iPad in a landscape orientation in which the rear of the device is slightly elevated. This makes sense from a matter of comfort, but what if the user wants to use a physical keyboard? In this scenario, Apple’s bluetooth implementation works splendidly, allowing users a platform much better suited for considerable text input, if only for the tactile feedback of a real keyboard. The problem with this setup is that because most accessories are built around the landscape-based virtual keyboard as the ideal method for data input, users are typically forced to keep their iPads in landscape orientation, even when a physical keyboard is used.
Take Apple’s Smart Cover, for example. It works as a great stand for when the iPad is to be propped up in landscape view, effectively emulating the screen of a notebook computer. The Smart Cover is not, however, smart enough to realize that some users prefer portrait orientation when using a physical keyboard1. Often, we wish our Smart Cover didn’t fold up on the long-side of the iPad, but rather the short-side, which would allow us to have a portrait-based stand. The Smart Cover is only one example, however: look at the enormous number of case options for the iPad, and see how many of them work well as a stand in portrait view.
The forced-use of landscape orientation remains problematic when using the iPad on a lap alongside a physical keyboard: people’s laps simply aren’t long enough to accommodate both devices when the iPad is oriented for a portrait view2. Some stands, like the official Apple iPad dock, are designed specifically for portrait view, because the dock connector is at the bottom. This is the option we opted for with our original iPad, but we didn’t replace the dock when we moved to an iPad 2 because the dock is oddly-shaped for travel, and serves a very niche purpose; for lap use, like when we’re lounging on the couch, the iPad dock is useless3.
Kickstarter project goDock attempts to solve the issue of multiple-orientation-use of the iPad on one’s lap. Unlike most keyboard/iPad cases that lock the screen in landscape orientation, the goDock is more of a sleeve that holds both an iPad and a keyboard, and then allows the user to place the iPad into an insert in either orientation, effectively simulating a notebook computer experience, albeit with the flexibility of adjusting screen orientation. The goDock is a unique accessory, and would replace one’s current iPad sleeve, which isn’t necessarily fitting for everyone4.
We can’t help but think that a more convenient accessory for the iPad would be a well-designed “clip” that attaches to Apple’s bluetooth keyboard with a stand for the iPad in either orientation. This would be a fairly small gadget, would complement existing iPad accessories, and allow one to use the iPad in a lap environment without forcing the user into a given orientation. There are several accessories that exist to incorporate a physical keyboard into an iPad user’s workflow, but nothing yet that’s this versatile which maintains the iPad’s flexibility for supreme mobility when a physical keyboard isn’t needed.
We argue that portrait orientation is more appealing when viewing long documents, or when writing same. This is why most people read eBooks in portrait orientation. ↩
In some cases, laps aren’t even long enough to accommodate a physical keyboard alongside a landscape-oriented iPad. ↩
We could use a lap tray to alleviate this concern, but the point is to have less bulky accessories, not more. This is especially true when we’re traveling somewhat lightly. ↩
We like the concept behind the goDock, but aren’t a huge fan of the aesthetic. ↩