The $70 Keyboard Dock is an interesting beast. The location of the iPad's dock-connector port means that you'll have to dock it in portrait mode. The keyboard has no function keys, per se, but instead the top row is populated by keys that perform certain tasks on the iPad. There's a Home key, which automatically takes you back to the home screen. Unfortunately, it's placed in the same location as the Escape key on Mac keyboards, meaning that if you reflexively hit Escape on your Mac--to cancel out of a dialog box, for example--you are going to find yourself exiting to the home screen a bit more often than you'd like. The other keys are Spotlight (which takes you to the Spotlight screen), Brightness up and down, Slideshow, Keyboard (which, confusingly, appears to slide the virtual keyboard up and down), a set of music playback controls like those on Mac keyboards, and Lock (which locks your iPad).
The keyboard dock comes with control, option, and command keys as well--and yes, they do seem to work in various iPad apps. Presumably iPad app developers can bind keyboard shortcuts to certain actions, which will mean that keyboard power-users should be able to use keyboard shortcuts to perform some tasks that they might otherwise need to reach up to the iPad screen to perform. That's good, because shifting between keyboard-typing mode and touchscreen-tapping mode is actually quite annoying. At the moment, using the iPad's interface via the keyboard felt incomplete--certain interface elements were just not accessible using the keyboard--but as the device is still two months away from shipping, Apple still has time to work out the kinks.
While at the event, we confirmed with several Apple spokespeople that Apple's Bluetooth wireless keyboard will also work with the iPad. So if you'd prefer to use some other sort of stand or dock, but still type on your iPad, you'll be able to.
We also saw--and got to handle--some iPads housed in Apple's own $40 iPad case. (It's got a big gray Apple logo on the front, in case you forget who makes it.) The case itself seemed like it was made out of vinyl with a soft-touch finish, and has cutouts to expose the various ports and buttons on the outside of the iPad. What's cool about it is that the case is designed to not only protect the iPad, but also to prop it up in various ways to make the iPad easier to watch or use. Flip the front all the way around and you've got a stand that holds the iPad upright in landscape mode, so you can watch a movie, for example, without having to hold it for extended periods of time. Or tip it over and you end up with a wedge that elevates the back to make on-screen typing a tad more ergonomic. As nice a case as it is, we'll wager that by the time the iPad ships, every iPod and iPhone accessory company you've heard of (and a hundred more you haven't) will have created alternatives, many of them cheaper. (In fact, we've already seen several press releases from companies announcing upcoming iPad accessories including cases, so stay tuned.)
So should you buy it?
Spending less than an hour with a preproduction iPad is not enough time for us to form final judgments on a product like this. What we can say is that the product looks good, its screen is bright and beautiful with an impressive viewing angle, we were impressed with the iPad-specific apps, and the addition of the keyboard to the iPhone OS mix is intriguing. We're a little unsure about holding the 1.5-pound device in our hands for extended periods of time and skeptical about the general utility of iPhone app-compatibility mode; we're also disappointed that the 4:3 screen ratio means a lot of pixels will be wasted when you're viewing widescreen video content.
Is the iPad a lust-worthy gadget? We say yes, definitely. We'd love to test drive one on our couch right now. But the product's not done yet. Once Apple has tightened all the screws, sanded off the rough edges, and sent it out into the world, we'll spend some quality time with it and come up with a better perspective on what it does well, where it falls down, and who it's for.
This story, "Hands On With the iPad" was originally published by Macworld.