The keyboard you see here is something called an Alphasmart Dana – a somewhat niche tech product, but one much loved by a small band of users (myself included). Some professional writers love it for its weeks-long battery life, instant-on, auto-save, and durable shell.
The Dana (and its siblings, the Neo and Neo 2) is little more than a keyboard with some memory and a small screen. You type on it, and it remembers what you’ve typed. When you return to your computer, you can plug in the Alphasmart and tell it to re-type everything into a document. It does this job admirably.
It also works as a standard USB keyboard, and is lovely to type on. That’s why physicist Alan Ramsey – who writes a lot, and has written up his thoughts on the iPad as a writing machine – tried hooking the Alphasmart to an iPad.
And for a while, it worked. Until the iOS 4 update restricted the power draw permitted to external devices, bringing the hack to an end. Alan tried workarounds: connecting the two required some somewhat kludgy plugging of things into other things, and sometimes a power socket to keep some of the intervening things working; but as Alan points out, it requires the carrying of a lot of tech junk to make it work.
Still, I like this unlikely marriage of old and new, and Alan’s determination to make it all work, no matter how impractical the result might be.
Remind me, what was it people were saying about the iPad being a device purely for media consumption?