Apple said to be planning new iPad Pro keyboard with built-in trackpad

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iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard
Apple wants to make iPad Pro an even better laptop replacement.
Photo: Apple

Apple plans to deliver a brand-new iPad Pro keyboard with a built-in trackpad, according to a new report.

The accessory is will take advantage of mouse compatibility in iPadOS, and is aimed at making iPad Pro a better laptop alternative. Foxconn, Apple’s largest manufacturing partner, is said to be preparing for mass-production ahead of a launch later this year.

“The company will likely release the accessory alongside the next version of the iPad Pro expected later this year,” reads a report from The Information, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Apple already sells the Smart Keyboard, which magnetically snaps onto certain iPad models and provides users with the physical keys necessary for lengthy typing sessions. But iPad’s software has come a long way since the Smart Keyboard’s introduction, and now supports mice, too.

Apple plans new iPad keyboard with trackpad

Mouse support, which made its debut with iPadOS last fall, could pave the way for a brand-new iPad keyboard with a built-in trackpad. It is believed Apple has been exploring an accessory like this, and prototyping different designs, for several years.

At least one of those prototypes features capacitive keys to “mimic the response of mechanical keys but with sensors.” However, the final product will reportedly be a lot like today’s Smart Keyboard Folio — and made from similar materials.

There are no details on what kind of layout the device might have, but it’s likely to look much like a MacBook’s keyboard and trackpad setup. That makes the most sense; laptop users switching to iPad will already be familiar with it, and why change a winning formula?

This could be big for mouse users

If Apple is indeed working on a new iPad keyboard with built-in trackpad, which we can’t confirm, it suggests the company plans to significantly improve mouse support in a future iPadOS release. Mouse support on iPad is basic for now, and hidden away inside the device’s accessibility settings.

Apple previously stated mouse support was designed specifically for iPhone and iPad owners who cannot easily use touch. So it mimics a fingertip, with a laughably large cursor that’s not always accurate, and it lacks traditional mouse features, like mouseover support or a true right-click.

That would have to change if Apple wants to sell us on an official trackpad for iPad.

The move would also indicate that Apple is prepared to relax its desire to draw a clear and definitive line between laptops and tablets. Although the company does position iPad as a laptop replacement, it has always kept both devices largely separate, with few overlapping features.

Blurring that line, and allowing iPad owners to enjoy some of the features they’ve long been using on laptops, might help convince more consumers that an iPad is all they really need. It would also help iPad better compete with 2-in-1 devices like the Surface, which can be both laptop and tablet.

Bad news for Brydge

Some may not be so pleased with this news. Third-party accessory-makers already working on iPad keyboards with built-in trackpads, such as Brydge, will be disappointed to hear they could face new competition from Apple itself.

Of course, Apple will also have to consider how this move might eat into MacBook sales. The better iPad becomes at being a real laptop alternative, the more it is likely to convince consumers they no longer need to spend $1,000+ on a traditional Mac.