Brydge taunts us with iPad Pro keyboard we can’t have

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An iPad trackpad?! Too bad it’s only a dream.
An iPad trackpad?! Too bad it’s only a dream.
Photo: Brydge

An accessory maker shared a picture of something many people would love: a clip-on iPad Pro keyboard with a trackpad. Sadly, Brydge’s concept device just isn’t possible because iOS doesn’t support external pointing devices.

At least, that’s true for now. But mouse/trackpad support is a often-requested feature, and there’s reason to think Apple is at least considering it.

Brydge is working on a add-on keyboard for the redesigned 2018 iPad Pro that will make this tablet look and act like a MacBook in many ways. So the company took the next step and imaged what its accessory would look like with a trackpad.

A note accompanying the image says “Feature No. 2 from the design team. We know we can do it. Pity iOS can’t.”

No iPad trackpad: an iOS limitation

Many people attach a keyboard to their iPad and use it as a notebook. When doing so, wishing for a mouse or trackpad isn’t unusual — that’s how we’re accustomed to interacting with laptops.

An iPad has a touchscreen so it doesn’t need an external pointing device, but one is more convenient when using a keyboard.

Apple knows this. Consider this recent comment from Craig Federighi, the chief of iOS development: “We really feel that the ergonomics of using a Mac are that your hands are rested on a surface, and that lifting your arm up to poke a screen is a pretty fatiguing thing to do.” Federighi is explaining why his company isn’t going to make a MacBook with a touchscreen, but replace the word “Mac” in his comment with “iPad and keyboard” and you get a compelling reason why Apple should add support for mice and trackpads to iOS.

iPad trackpad: a hope for the future?

The 2018 iPad Pro dumped the proprietary Lightning connector for an industry-standard USB-C port. This makes adding an external display to this tablet a snap. All that’s required is a USB-C hub.

But the usefulness runs into another iOS limitation: an iPad can mirror what’s showing on the built-in screen to an external one, but the second screen can’t be an additional screen. It can’t extend your work area because there’d be no way to interact with the contents of the second display. But you could if iOS gains support for mice and trackpads.

Not a small job

Adding support for mice and trackpads would not be a simple job if Apple does it correctly. That might be one of the reasons the company has avoided doing so for so long.

iOS was created from the very beginning to be controlled with gestures, many of which simply can’t be done with a mouse. Take something as basic as expanding an image with pinch-to-zoom. Or some navigational gestures require sweeping one’s finger inward from off the edge of the display. That’s completely impossible with a mouse and pointer.

It’s possible using a mouse would also require occasionally touching the display, but that seems like the sort of kludgy solution that Apple generally avoids.

Nevertheless, iPad users have been debating the pro and cons of mouse/trackpad support almost since the first iPad launched. The question isn’t likely to go away until Apple either adds the feature or announces that it’s never going to.