Like my friend Federico Viticci at MacStories, the iPad has been my primary computer for a while. I’ve been using an iPad as a “laptop” since 2012. While I share Federico’s enthusiasm for iOS, we differ in preferring the iPad in one key way: accessibility. The iPad is a more accessible computer than an (admittedly great) Mac for two reasons. In my experience, interacting with an iPad is easier because I touch the screen with my finger instead of chasing an arrow around the screen with a mouse. What’s more, the tablet form factor allows me to get as close to it as I need to see, something that’s practically—and ergonomically—difficult with a traditional laptop. Especially for me, this is a crucial differentiator.
As I’ve used the iPad as my “laptop” over the years, I’ve consequently used numerous types of keyboards meant for the iPad. Some have been attachable, like Apple’s Smart Keyboard. Others have been detachable, like Incase’s discontinued Origami Workstation. I’ve even written many articles with the iPad’s virtual keyboard, which I actually quite enjoy.
The latest installment in this adventure involves Studio Neat’s Canopy. It’s very much a reincarnated version of the aforementioned Origami Workstation. It’s a case for Apple’s Magic Keyboard that morphs into a typing stand for iPad. I’ve been using one since Christmas, and am impressed by it. As usual for Studio Neat products, the Canopy’s build quality is exquisite. And as someone who’s used the Smart Keyboard and who loves the new MacBook Pro’s keyboard, it’s been interesting to see how the Magic Keyboard compares to them.
From an accessibility perspective, I’m torn as to which product I prefer. There are pros and cons to each setup. What I’ve discovered is there is more to this accessibility story than simply the feel of the keys as I mash on them. Rather, what matters are the keys and the convenience/portability factor. As someone with physical motor delays, it’s been fascinating to consider an all-in-one product like the Smart Keyboard versus a standalone product like the Canopy.
Playing Your Position
Before delving into the merits of the Canopy specifically, it’s important to clarify what I mean when I say the Smart Keyboard is an “all-in-one” product. The Smart Keyboard is a keyboard, of course, but it’s also a cover for the iPad. What this means is you carry a single unit: The Smart Keyboard attaches itself to the iPad, so it’s effectively in a “laptop” position. This is the key advantage it has over the Canopy.
It’s more convenient, sure, but this advantage is important for accessibility too. Because the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard are “together,” it’s essentially a single entity. My physical strength is limited due to my (albeit mild) cerebral palsy, so anything I can do to reduce weight and bulkiness—even minimally—is good. By contrast, the Canopy’s “two piece” approach (iPad and keyboard are separate) is more cumbersome because each product is its own thing. By definition, this means more bulk and more I have to carry. Granted, the difference isn’t that much, but it’s there. I do notice.
You may think, “Well, this is semantics. You can detach the Smart Keyboard, and it’d be its own thing too.” That’s true, but for the purpose of carrying the iPad and using itas a writing machine, the implication it be attached while traveling is an important distinction. Hence, when I go to a coffee shop to work, I’d like to carry as little as possible in my backpack. This is where form factor really matters. In this context, then, the Canopy falls a bit short.
The Canopy’s Capabilities
Form factor aside, using the Canopy (really, the Magic Keyboard) has some accessibility advantages of its own over the Smart Keyboard.
Chief among them is the Caps Lock indicator light. There have been so many instances when using the Smart Keyboard that I’ll type something like THIS because Caps Lock is on. It drives me nuts. I incessantly curse the fact that there’s no indicator light on the Smart Keyboard. In terms of accessibility, the light is a great visual cue that Caps lock is on. The Magic Keyboard has such a light, and I love it. In my testing, I’ve not once forgotten whether it’s on because I can see the little green light. Best of all, I don’t have any typos.
Another advantage of the Canopy is the keys. I’m on record as saying I’m a huge fan of the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro, and the Magic Keyboard’s keys are great as well. They aren’t quite as good as the MacBook Pro’s, but it’s a close approximation. Why this matters for accessibility is, because I’m not a touch typist, I hunt-and-peck to type and the feel of the keys matter. The partial paralysis on the right side of my body makes it hard to fully reach the keys, so I’m acutely aware of how they feel under my fingers and how long it takes me to move across the keyboard. While I’m accustomed to the Smart Keyboard, the Magic Keyboard feels better to me. It feels like a “normal” keyboard, and it reminds me of the one on the MacBook Pro. Based on keys alone, I have preferred the Magic Keyboard.
While not accessibility-related, I really appreciate how the Canopy is device agnostic. It’ll work with any size iPad and even the iPhone. This means I could theoretically use it ad infinitum. It’s nice because it means the Canopy is extremely versatile, which speaks to how well-designed the product is.
A Tale of Two Keyboards
I wrote at the outset about how torn I am between which keyboard setup I prefer. What I’ve done is grab whichever keyboard I’m in the mood for at the moment. As I said, there are pros and cons to each setup, and I can’t decide which tradeoff is more important. I realize this is a terrible, wishy-washy conclusion, but I feel compelled to punt here.
Regarding the Smart Keyboard, I’m keen to see what Apple will do for the second edition. Rumor has it Apple will release new iPads in the spring, so if true, I’ll be excited to try out a revised Smart Keyboard. Perhaps some of the changes (Caps Lock light, please!) will push me to make the Smart Keyboard my iPad keyboard of choice. But we’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, I can unequivocally state the Canopy is a terrific product. If you like Apple’s Magic Keyboard, it’s a no-brainer purchase. If you’re like me and have certain accessibility needs, then you might want an all-in-one solution like Apple’s Smart Keyboard. Or, you can just not make a firm decision and use both.