To iPad or not to iPad? For some entrepreneurs and high-tech aficionados, that is the question.
For entrepreneurs, the allure of the iPad grows daily. Starting at just $399, the tablet offers a blissfully low-cost entre into the Apple world of portable computing. An entry-level MacBook runs more than double that figure. High-end units run 10 times the cost of the an iPad. What's more, the business software gap between the iPad and other notebooks is slowly narrowing. The App Store on iTunes now stocks business-ready tools such as QuickOffice Connect, Documents To Go and MobileFAX.
I, for one, have been carrying my iPad increasingly for work on the go to review files, present work to clients and answer longer emails that are tough to do on my mobile phone.
But one thing holds the unit back for me and other small-business types: the lack of physical keyboard. Despite Steve Jobs's assurance that we small-biz types need only an elegant touch-activated text-entry system, it's nonsense. Having a real keyboard to type on is simply a must for most small-business uses. Many companies, Apple included, are flooding the market with add-on keyboards for the iPad that hold potential for being the perfect on-the-go work keyboard.
In particular, I have been intrigued by an offering from Paramus, N.J.-based Accessory Workshop. The company's tyPad Bluetooth iPad cover and keyboard ($100) strikes a good balance of business-ready looks and functionality.
I have been giving the unit a thorough test in my work day for the past few weeks. Here's my take:
What It Is:
The tyPad is a synthetic leather iPad cover that also has a nearly full-size wireless keyboard built in. The unit opens like a thick document and pad holder and comes with a Velcro-controlled sleeve that holds the iPad securely, while still providing access to the main screen and home button. The audio volume control and other controls are easy to use. The keyboard connects to the iPad using the wireless Bluetooth standard and disables several features when engaged. It's heavily padded, weighs less than a pound, must be fitted for either an iPad or iPad 2, and essentially triples the overall thickness and bulk of the iPad to about an inch and quarter. The tyPad has no mouse; the Apple tablet is touch controlled. But the keyboard does have directional control and key and tab functions similar to a typical laptop.
Why You Might Like It:
- The tyPad is good-looking and can protect your investment.
Most people will readily see the logic of the tyPad. The rugged cover gives you a simple, attractive way to keep that far too fragile iPad from being dinged, beaten or broken. The padding is excellent, as is its overall design. While you will still need to handle your iPad with care, with the tyPad, you no longer need to cradle the thing like you would normally.
- It's easy to use.
The tyPad as a stand-up cradle for your iPad could not be simpler to use. Unfold the case, prop up the tablet and slide the unit into a notch near the top of the keyboard. The iPad then stands at an angle for easy reading and enables adequate typing and file management. Remember, the keyboard must be turned on and synched with the iPad before it will work. But managing the linking is not hard -- just about any savvy iPad user can do it.
- The built-in keyboard can improve data entry for some tasks.
Once the keyboard and iPad are connected, the unit provides a surprisingly satisfactory typing experience. The keyboard is close to what you get on a large netbook. And typing and key action is solid. With a bit of practice, you will certainly see a gain over the touch keyboard of the iPad.
Why You Might Not Like It:
- Keeping the unit upright can be a struggle.
The tyPad works perfectly well, as long as you are on a level surface and have enough space to type. But once quarters get cramped, say, on a fold-down airplane tray, it gets easy to knock the iPad out of the support slot and collapse the contraption. I found that in any sort of tight setting, I could not use the system.
- Average typists will miss a full-size keyboard.
The tyPad is a tolerable keyboard for an iPad, but that does not mean it is a good keyboard. The keys are small and some features, like the directional and function keys, are a chore to use. Many times I found I had to touch the screen to get the functions I wanted, which obviates the need for the keyboard. If you have excellent typing skills, you'll probably be fine. But for the rest of us, getting clean copy from the tyPad is a challenge.
- It is one more thing to turn on and off and keep charged.
But the biggest issue with the tyPad is the unit may be that it needs power. Battery life in general is excellent, but you still must remember to charge it and your iPad. Let's face it, remembering to do this can be a pain. The company claims 55 hours of continuous use. My unit ran down after a week of normal use between charges.
What to Do
An add-on keyboard is a must for many small businesses. It turns an iPad into a legitimate work tool. And the tyPad offers features to make it worth considering. Just be sure to give the unit a through test type before you buy. And realize that you will not be able to type in constrained spaces. And you must charge the thing.
But overall, if you don't mind the limits of the keyboard and do not need high-powered software that requires a full-on notebook, bringing the tyPad into your pad may be a smart business move.
- Related: Tomorrow's Small-Business Tech Tools