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how to use your computer keyboard as a bluetooth ios device

13 Jan 2014

2014-01-13 00:09:16 -0600

So I figured out how to wire up my mechanical keyboard to my ipad and now I'm a much happier camper.

Yesterday, I spent a bunch of time looking for my USB adapter for the ipad and never did find it, but today I found something better: 1keyboard.

Basically, I was looking for something that could use my computer's keyboard to transmit a bluetooth signal to my ipad.

Here's where I find this to be a better solution than USB: * my USB keyboard might not even work over the ipad's camera connection kit. I couldn't test this of course, since I still can't find the dongle. * I can remap my keys to whatever I want. This means I get to keep my caps lock -> ctrl key remapping. * I don't have to find space on my tiny desk to have two different keyboards. * no expensive USB dongle to lose.

There were several options I found (1keyboard, ikeyboard, and type2phone) that advertise this functionality. Frankly, 1keyboard won out because it was "free".

Basically, 1keyboard has a pretty limited trial version for free. They give you X amount of typing per day for free. They don't actually tell you how much this will get you, but you can click on the menubar item at any time to see how far along you are.

And once you hit that limit, you're out for the day. But more on that later.

So really 1keyboard is instead a $7 app (it's currently $7 to unlock the pro version). $7 is an okay price based on the competition.

For $7, you get unlimited devices (you're only allowed to use 1 at a time for free) and then unlimited typing.

So basically, 1keyboard gives you a free trial that's just long enough to figure out if it works with your device. Unless you're me.

I was very hesitant to even give 1keyboard a try without knowing how long I'd actually be able to use it, so frankly, one of the very first things I did was to figure out how to reset the trial.

So, I can speak fairly confidently about how much typing that free trial gives you.

For programming, I hit the limit at about 20 minutes.

For continuous typing like how I'm writing this entry right now, I can hit the limit in about 1.5 - 2 minutes.

I would've bought the software already if I weren't paranoid about it becoming abandonware. Like what appears to have happened to ikeyboard ($10). It hasn't been updated since March of 2012 and the first reviews shown on the itunes summary page are unhappy reviews.

Currently, I'm trying out the legacy version of 1keyboard to see how it compares. The website itself calls the legacy version "buggy", so far it seems to be okay.

1keyboard vs 1keyboard legacy:

The two versions handle switching devices somewhat differently. At this point, I can't speak to what the workflow is like to switch devices on the mac app store version, but I can speak to how it works on the legacy version.

First, you can configure a global shortcut that toggles between your desktop and whichever device you last used. This is presumably the same exact way that things would work with the new version if you had multiple devices configured. You can also configure specific shortcuts per device. Again, this is apparently exactly how the new version works.

The love it or hate it: the two versions handle one huge part quite differently. On the new version, clicking on something on your computer will deactivate 1keyboard. On the legacy version, you have to explicitly disconnect 1keyboard.

Why you might love the legacy version: you now can do anything you want with the mouse on your desktop while still keeping the ios bluetooth connection active. Compare that to the new version where any change in app focus is going to drop the bluetooth connection. Granted, it's not all that much of a delay to reconnect (like 2 seconds?), but it makes things like changing the track on something like Spotify more annoying because of that extra delay.

There's also the benefit on legacy that doing things like cmd+space don't kill the bluetooth keyboard and bring up spotlight.

Personally, I think I prefer the legacy app's behaviour especially given the caveat of accidentally killing the keyboard by doing things like cmd+space.

Perhaps the reason it doesn't work that way on the app store is sandboxing limitations or something of the sort. If that's not the case though, I would love to see a preference added so that user's could decide which behaviour they want.

Here's an annoying thing about both versions: you can't really use your main screen to watch movies or do anything fullscreen while you use 1keyboard. Here's why, at best you have the 1keyboard overlay on your screen the whole time you're typing (no doubt designed to remind you that "hey, your computer keyboard is currently 'busy'"). At worse, with apps like quicktime player and the new version of 1keyboard, it's impossible, because apparently going fullscreen in Quicktime steals the focus, and since the new 1keyboard requires focus for it to stay active, you're basically screwed.

I have to say though that overall I'm pretty impressed.

I do have one concern though, I'd probably prefer the legacy version. But my concern is right there in the name "legacy". I'm greatly concerned that the legacy version will probably not be updated going forward. Now, of course, if the app works now, then that's fine, but what happens when ios 8 comes out and inevitably breaks some functionality? I'd feel far more comfortable buying something that is going to continue to be supported for the foreseeable future.

Another vote for the legacy version is something I haven't tried it yet (and it would actually be impossible with the trial of the new version), but it appears that the legacy version has support for pairing with other computers, possibly to share the keyboard and mouse with those machines. Though I don't have a use for that at the moment, that could come in super handy if I ever get a desk big enough to have more than one screen at a time (the ipad is off to the side and barely fits on my current desk). And again, that's something that looks to be better in the legacy version (which could of course be another app store sandbox limitation).

I can't really speak to the new version (since the trial limitation was too small to use it for enough of an extended period), but despite the "buggy" warning on the developer's page for the legacy version, it's been rock solid for me. Even more bizarre is that it seems to be even more reliable than the actual bluetooth keyboard that I bought to use with the ipad. Specifically, sometimes that keyboard will hiccup, lag a bit, and then dump in an extra character once it catches up. I haven't experienced that with this, though to be fair, I'm also disconnecting and connecting it much more frequently which is maybe clearing out the cobwebs or some other non-technical nonsense.

At this point, I'm still undecided about how much work (writing/programming), I'm going to do on the ipad, but the 1keyboard tool definitely has me seriously considering doing more ipad work. And actually enjoying it even.