Apple planning to release iPad keyboard with a built-in trackpad

Apple planning to release iPad keyboard with a built-in trackpad

Apple is planning to release an iPad keyboard accessory later this year that will include a built-in trackpad, the latest step in its effort to position the tablet device as an alternative to laptop computers, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Apple is preparing the keyboard for mass production, and one of its main manufacturers is Foxconn Technology, the Taiwanese contractor that makes most of the world’s iPhones, the person said. The company will likely release the accessory alongside the next version of the iPad Pro expected later this year, the person added.

THE TAKEAWAY
Apple is planning to release an iPad keyboard accessory including a built-in trackpad, the latest sign of how it is making the iPad an alternative to laptop computers.

An Apple spokeswoman said the company declined to “comment on rumor and speculation.”
Apple has been gradually bringing the iPad Pro’s hardware and software features in line with those of its more traditional laptops and desktops in a bid to establish the iPad as a primary computer for consumers. Such a move, however, risks cannibalizing sales of its popular line of MacBook laptops.
In 2018, Apple released an iPad Pro featuring processors comparable in performance to those in some of its MacBooks. Apple also replaced its proprietary Lightning port with an industry-standard USB-C port, making the iPad Pro compatible with more computer accessories such as high-resolution displays and cameras.
The iPad’s evolution follows a path Microsoft blazed earlier with the surprising success of its Surface line of tablet computers, which has grown into nearly a $2 billion business.
There are signs that consumer demand for an iPad keyboard with a trackpad is growing. Some such third-party products have been released or announced in the past six months that have limited support for the iPad Pro. In January, iPad accessory maker Brydge announced it would be releasing a similar keyboard with trackpad later this year. Brydge’s product announcement came after it filed a patent-infringement lawsuit in New York against another company, OGadget, which launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for a trackpad-equipped iPad keyboard in 2019.
A second person familiar with the matter said Apple has been experimenting with trackpads for the iPad for a number of years. Some prototypes had capacitive keys, which mimic the response of mechanical keys but with sensors, though it isn’t clear whether this feature is in the planned product. Apple has previously filed and won patents for iPad keyboards that have keys with capacitive sensors and that can accept trackpad gestures.
The first person said the iPad keyboard will be made of materials similar to those in Apple’s current Smart Keyboard Folio for the iPad Pro, which makes heavy use of fabric.
One question clouding the release of the new keyboard is whether it will ship on time given the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China. Apple’s procurement managers are currently restricted from traveling to China, and suppliers such as Foxconn have faced delays returning to full production as they continue to implement virus-control measures and deal with labor shortages at their factories. Microsoft also warned that suppliers and manufacturers in China are taking longer than expected to return to normal.
Although Apple added support for pointing devices like trackpads and mice last year with the release of its latest mobile operating system, iOS 13, that support didn’t include features common to trackpads such as pinching and zooming, and it is buried within the iPad’s accessibility settings.
Apple also is working to make apps compatible across all its products, which will further blur the line between MacBooks and iPads. The company is exploring a common chip architecture for all its devices and recently rolled out new software tools that let developers make their iPad apps compatible with Mac desktops and laptops. Apple has reportedly set a target for combining iPhone, iPad and Mac apps by 2021.

Although Apple’s positioning of the iPad as an alternative to laptops might further eat into sales of its MacBooks, Apple CEO Tim Cook has often said that the company embraces that risk. “Our base philosophy is to never fear cannibalization,” Cook said in 2013 in reference to the iPad hurting sales of its desktop computers. “If we do, somebody else will just cannibalize it, and so we never fear it.”