Smaller keyboards offer flexibility and a reduced footprint, but there’s a catch. The tiny, closely spaced keys require more accuracy, so consider the ramifications before taking the plunge.
Compact iPad and Mac keyboards are growing in popularity, judging by an ever-growing number of offerings, ads, Reddit threads and social media activity. Compact keyboards—those forgoing the traditional 10-key numeric keypad and sporting smaller or more closely spaced keys—require less desktop space and significantly ease portability. In the case of Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air, the integrated and backlit keyboard also doubles as a protective cover.
New Mac and iPad keyboards almost always boast Bluetooth connectivity, which eliminates the corresponding cable and helps tidy a desktop or workspace. New keyboards increasingly feature backlighting, too, which assists identifying keys in low-light environments. With so many people continuing to work from home, these features are important considerations.
There are many choices, and designs are always improving. Recognizing that interaction with the tablet, laptop or desktop is highly impacted by the typing experience, Apple and third-party engineers have refined their keyboards’ tactile feedback and features. Today’s keyboards are, consequently, better than ever.
Apple, of course, is fond of its scissor mechanism, such as that found on the aftermarket iPad Magic Keyboard, shown in Figure A. With just a millimeter of required travel before a keystroke registers, the light action enables quick typing.
Some compact models include mechanical keys that generate audible feedback each time a key is pressed, thereby confirming a key’s been struck. I learned to type using such keyboards, including IBM’s venerated Model M, which sometimes sells now for staggering amounts on auction sites.
I can’t go back. So the frustration I encountered converting to a compact, mechanical and backlit keyboard caught me by surprise.
Personal standard-size favorites, such as Apple’s Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, Das Keyboard’s Model S Professional For Mac (with its perfect Cherry MX blue-switch “clicky” keys) and Logitech’s MX Keys for Mac, are proven accessories worthy of purchase even when your organization won’t reimburse you for the expense. These keyboards are all full-size Mac-specific models complete with numeric keypads and keys spaced such that my typing is fast and accurate. The only drawback is two of those models—the Apple and Das Keyboard—don’t have a backlight. And, they require more space—a commodity not always in great supply when working from alternative locations—and they aren’t easily stuffed in a backpack for mobile use, such as is true for Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad. These full-size models are too unwieldy for regular transport between offices, a common occurrence for many professionals working post-pandemic hybrid schedules.
When I became aware of the number of Mac-specific alternatives, I was intrigued. New models increasingly tout wireless connectivity and “RGB” lighting, meaning individual keys are backlit using red-green-blue LEDs that can be set to a variety of colors. A number of these alternatives are also compact, so individual keys approximate full-size brethren and are sometimes more closely spaced than on a standard keyboard.
Popular models from Keychron and Vissles offer keys as small as 60% of standard size. Numerous choices are available. Keychron offers a variety of compact, wireless, backlit and Mac-specific keyboards, including models with keys 60%, 65%, 75%, 80% and even 96%, shown in Figure B, of standard size. Vissles, meanwhile, offers a compact V84 wireless and backlit Mac option that encourages super-swift typing. But a new Vissles LP85 model, shown in Figure C, ups the ante with an anodized aluminum chassis and 75% keys requiring just 1.2mm of actuation.
While I’ve found compact and light-action keyboards encourage incredibly quick typing, I’ve also learned my skills aren’t as precise as I thought. The closer-spaced and smaller keys, combined with a reduction in the amount of travel required to register a keystroke, led to a frustrating frequency of errors. I had to slow down, stop multitasking, become a little more deliberate and focus on what I was typing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, unless you’re a sterling typist possessing proper professional form—a combination I haven’t witnessed firsthand in an office since maybe the late 1980s—it’s a factor to remember when considering a new keyboard to pair with your iPad or Mac.
Regardless, compact Mac-specific keyboards are here to stay. Models like those from Apple, Keychron and Vissles make for speedy typing and portability. Just keep in mind the need you may face to become a little more focused. With so many choices now, and the many benefits of better designs, the functionality these keyboards provide more than offsets any drawbacks.