Technologizer

TouchFire: The iPad’s Keyboard Gets Physical

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TouchFire

Last November, I wrote about TouchFire, a Kickstarter-funded gizmo that aimed to make iPad input comfier, faster and more accurate by letting you type on a clear piece of silicone rubber with cushioned “keys” that sit on top of the iPad’s on-screen ones. At the time, it was supposed to ship in December, but a series of unexpected design and manufacturing challenges–chronicled by its creators on Kickstarter–delayed its release.

TouchFire is finally ready. It’s $49.99, works with all three generations of iPad and is now for sale. The company provided me with one for review.

The keyboard has undergone some refinements since I tried it last year, but the basic notion is unchanged. It’s still a svelte, flexible sheet of soft keys with a magnetic spine that clings to the Smart Cover magnets embedded in the iPad 2 and new iPad, allowing you to position the sheet accurately over the iPad’s landscape-orientation keyboard in a jiffy. Once there, it clings in place until you choose to remove it.

If you’re a touch typist, TouchFire lets your fingers find their proper places on the home row more easily. And if (like me) you’ve got a typing style that’s self-taught and idiosyncratic, it still feels like you’re pressing keys–albeit rather rubbery ones–with a bit of travel rather than thunking your fingertips against an unyielding sheet of glass.

When you’re not typing, you can fold the keyboard back out of the way in about half a second; it’ll sit on the edge of the tablet until you need it again. It comes with two small magnets which you can stick to the inside of a Smart Cover or other iPad tablet to secure it, letting you carry a keyboard that adds nearly no bulk or weight to your iPad setup. (You also get a plastic case.)

TouchFire has at least one direct competitor, iKeyboard, which starts with a similar concept but implements it in stiffer plastic rather than TouchFire’s squishy silicone. (I haven’t tried it.) But people are also going to compare it to Bluetooth iPad keyboards such as Logitech’s Ultrathin. It really doesn’t have that much in common with them, though. It’s far more portable and doesn’t require charging, but it provides a rough approximation of traditional typing feel rather than the real thing, and doesn’t address the fact that the iPad’s on-screen keyboard eats up so much space that you can’t see much of your document.

The bottom line: If you want a conventional external keyboard for your iPad…well, I think you’ll still want one. But if they’re more keyboard than you need, and the iPad’s on-screen one isn’t enough to make you a happy typist, TouchFire might be right for you. It’s certainly an ingenious idea. I’m glad its makers waited to release it until they worked out the kinks–and I’m curious what the thousands of Kickstarter backers who waited so long for the units they pre-ordered think now that they’re getting their hands on them.

8 comments
Davidthomsan
Davidthomsan

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John Samuels
John Samuels like.author.displayName 1 Like

I also was a Kickstarter backer and received two Toucfire keyboards earlier this week. I've been debating about getting a BT keyboard/case but now feel that isn't necessary for my use. I dont like the idea of having to take my iPad in and out of a case for reading v. using a keyboard. This works for me.

OlivierP
OlivierP

Hi, I backed the project on Kickstarter and finally received my touchfire keyboard last week. Since then it's on my iPad, or on the smart cover, but I can't type without it anymore. Getting used to it took just a few minutes. Good job!

Taxpyer
Taxpyer

Ridiculous.  Rabid Apple fanboys say the iPad does not need a keyboard.  Apple has made the best and greatest touchscreen keyboard ever.  People say they can tough type 60 wpm on the touch screen.  They scoff at the Microsoft Surface that has an optional keyboard.  They laugh at the any need at all for a keyboard.  Just another waste of $50. 

billfrench
billfrench

I am an early backer and to quote myself - "It’s a superb blend of medical-grade silicone and the magical tablet. At first, it felt a little awkward, but as the words grew into sentences, and sentences to paragraphs, there was a point where it seemed not only natural, but environmentally ideal."

The initial awkwardness is no different than the feeling you first had when typing on a naked iPad. The advantage with TouchFire, though, is a breakthrough advantage for situations such as typing notes in a meeting without constantly looking down.

http://ipadcto.com/2012/07/11/...

miguelmarcos
miguelmarcos

I backed it on Kickstarter. It took me a few minutes to get used to it, probably around 5-10 minutes. It's a stupendous solution to carry anywhere because of its light weight. I opted not to keep it attached to my Smart Cover, instead just pulling it out whenever I need to write more extensively.

I don't type as fast as on a standard keyboard but it's far faster and far, far more accurate than the soft keyboard. It justifies itself in this sense. The soft keyboard is the single most frustrating part of the iPad.

It's also nice and comfortable to be able to quickly flip the keyboard towards oneself and get it out of the way whever I need to access the bottom part of the screen more actively with my fingers. Good stuff and worth it.

It's important for international users to note that this thing is designed for US/UK soft keyboards. The Spanish layout, for example, is just too different to work well. Nothing to complain about, it's just not possible to come up with a workable physical solution. It's a marketing opp for the company, however.

John Heaney
John Heaney

My Touchfire keyboard arrived on Monday and proved itself to be an amazingly simple invention that addresses the single biggest drawback of using the iPad as a production device: reliable touch-typing. It positions itself perfectly over the on-screen keyboard and delivers realistic and reliable tactile feedback that lets me rapidly type on the iPad keyboard. Although I have a Bluetooth keyboard, it's never convenient to pull it out, position it and use it. The Touchfire attaches to my smart cover and just flips down whenever I want to respond to an email or write on-screen. It's ingenious, it's the model of simplicity and incredibly useful. 

Rochelle Broder-Singer
Rochelle Broder-Singer

I'm a Touchfire backer who's been waiting anxiously and finally got my Touchfire this week. It's great! It really does speed up my typing — I'm a touch typist myself. And I make far fewer mistakes. I had a constant problem with not hitting the space bar, but the Touchfire completely eliminates that. I don't know yet about speed, but comfort is certainly higher. 

I have an external, portable Bluetooth keyboard that works with my iPad, but I think I've used it three times in the 18 or so months I've had the iPad. I've already used the Touchfire more times.