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By Jason Snell

Brydge introduces iPad keyboard with trackpad

Brydge, the maker of my favorite iPad keyboard, announced on Thursday that it’s opening orders for the Brydge Pro+, a new iPad keyboard that includes an integrated trackpad. The Brydge Pro+ will cost $200 for the 11-inch iPad Pro model, and $230 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro model, and the company says it will start shipping in February.

Though Brydge has made a similar product for Surface tablets for a while now, it was only able to bring it to the iPad with the addition of a cursor mode in the accessibility settings of iPadOS 13.

I had a chance to use a prototype of the Brydge Pro+ last summer, and while in many ways it’s the iPad accessory I’ve been dreaming of for some time, it’s still quite limited by iPadOS 13. While the iPad has a real cursor now if you turn on Assistive Touch, it’s really just a virtual finger. (It kills me that external pointing devices can’t control the text editing cursor that’s been a part of iOS for years now.) And while that’s quite a lot better than nothing, when you use a trackpad in a laptop configuration it’s hard not to hold it to the high standards of the trackpads on Apple’s MacBooks. By those standards, it’s rough.

Brydge acknowledges these issues by saying that “Assistive Touch is still in its infancy” but that “as accessibility features evolve and improve, the user experience will become more intuitive and unique to iPad.” The first statement is true—but the second statement requires a leap of faith. Apple could absolutely improve cursor support in future versions of iPadOS, and I hope that it does. But it could also consider this a solved accessibility feature and never update it again.

I don’t recommend that anyone ever invest in hardware in the hope that it’ll eventually get better when software updates roll out. For Brydge Pro+ to be a good buy, you’ll need to be comfortable with how it works on iPadOS 13 today. I only used a prototype last summer, so I’ll have to see how the final product feels before getting a sense of just how usable Brydge has made the product.

Among the issues Brydge has had to deal with is that iPadOS doesn’t actually support trackpads, it supports mice. So Brydge’s trackpad has to translate trackpad touches into mouse movements and send those to the device. The result is a nifty piece of engineering, but one that doesn’t offer the rich, smooth feel of a MacBook trackpad.

Since Brydge went to the trouble of engineering a trackpad to work with an iPad, it’s also announced the Brydge iPadOS Trackpad, a standalone trackpad designed to work with iPads, which will be shipping during the second quarter of this year.

If you’re someone who has experimented with iPadOS pointing devices or found yourself wishing that you could drive an iPad interface without taking your hands off the keyboard, the Brydge Pro+ could be the solution. If my experience last year is any indication of how the final product will feel, though, you may feel frustrated to have a real trackpad yoked to an operating system that’s not capable of taking full advantage of it.

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