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January 29, 2010

Demo: Touch keyboard on the iPad

Posted: 09:10 AM ET

After Apple unveiled the iPad on Wednesday in San Francisco, I squeezed into a crowded room of journalists to demo the lightweight computer that looks rather like a stretched-out iPhone.

My No. 1 goal: Try the keyboard.

The full-size, touch-screen keyboard on the iPad could make or break the device.

The iPad doesn't come with a hardware keyboard, like the one you probably have on your laptop or home PC. Neither does the iPhone, and it's worth noting that many people type on that device with relative ease. But, if, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs says, the iPad can be a device for reading and creating documents, spreadsheets and office presentations - if it aims to replace the laptop and netbook - then it has to be easy to type on.

The problem: It's not, at least not at first.

In a demo at Apple's invite-only event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs tapped away on the iPad keyboard using all of his fingers. He said typing on the device is "a dream." I found typing on the iPad to be rather cumbersome. Hardware keyboards are tactile. Your fingers can feel where they're supposed to be.

But if you're not looking at the iPad screen, then there's no way to know what you're typing until you see the errors popping up in your documents. I found myself choosing finger-strokes with anxious care, which slowed me down considerably - more than the iPhone keyboard does.

I chatted with some other tech reporters to see what they thought. Jacqui Cheng, associate editor at Ars Technica, said she had some similar issues and overall described typing on the iPad as "very frustrating." She's an adept iPhone typist, but said the iPad screen is too large to let users type with their thumbs, as many do on the much-smaller iPhone.

Other people said they found the keyboard on the iPad to be unexpectedly comfortable. It is large enough for average-sized hands when the 9.7-inch device is turned horizontally, which is rather unique. "I think it's amazing," Stephen Hutcheon, of the Sydney Morning Herald, said of the device in general. "It just sits really nicely in your hand. It's just a very intuitive feel."

The typing issues may work themselves out over time as people become more comfortable typing in this new way. And, according to one product rep, Apple will offer a $69 hardware keyboard that plugs into the iPad. (When Jobs announced the hardware keyboard at the press event, the man sitting next to me, a business-dressed market analyst, literally screamed with joy).

Still, the iPad is definitely a product you'll want to touch before buying.

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Filed under: Apple • iPad

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