By Mike Riley on Tue, 03/05/2013
iPad users have a number of wireless keyboards to choose from to help alleviate the constraints of the iPad's touchscreen keyboard. But the Touchfire Screen-Top Keyboard for iPad ($49.95) is the only product I know of designed as an on-screen keyboard overlay to accelerate typing speed.
Touchfire has combined the idea of a silicon rubber-based overlay with the outline spacing of the iPad’s on-screen keyboard. It gives typists the physical sensation of typing on a membrane-style physical keyboard. The spongy spacers that slightly raise the top surface of the overlay from the screen make it possible to gently rest your fingers in the home position — keys ASDF for the left hand and ;LKJ for the right — without triggering the on-screen keyboard input. The physical boundaries of each overlay key gives a more predictable sensation of where to type.
The Touchfire stays in place via the magnets built into the iPad. These magnets were originally intended for Apple's magnetic Smart Covers. However, it also can work with first generation iPads, which lack the magnets (see this video to learn how to do this).
The big question is: how well does the Touchfire keyboard work? Placing the overlay takes a bit of practice to align it properly over each key. Rather than instantly snapping into the perfect position, I had to shift it, pull it, and nudge the silicon rubber keys to match the on-screen keyboard.
But once the overlay was in place, my key entry was faster and less error-prone compared to the bare on-screen keyboard. I wouldn't say it was significantly faster, but my level of confidence in my typing was liberating, without having to make a conscious effort to track the positioning of my fingers.
That said, the Touchfire Screen-Top iPad Keyboard, like other iPad accessories, is yet another item to carry around (although it can be tucked away inside an Apple Smart Cover, as well as within its own plastic carrying case). And because it's made of silicon rubber, I noticed it does tend to attract grime and oil from dirty fingers. Fortunately, you can rinse it with water to clean such build up.
The biggest criticism I have against the product is its price. I empathize with the initial overhead that goes into manufacturing a product like this. The company needs to recoup research and development expenses, plus manufacturing lines for short product runs are more expensive. But nearly $50 for a piece of formed silicon seems overpriced. If it were twenty dollars less, I might be more inclined to recommend it to a larger audience.
But at its current retail, Touchfire has priced itself above a number of good Bluetooth keyboards that offer the full touch-typing experience. Granted, these wireless keyboards are bulkier and don't have the geek factor that Touchfire's overlay approach takes, but I have a hard time justifying the premium price for the product's unique approach.
Overall, Touchfire's Screen-Top Keyboard for iPad is an interesting niche product. It might appeal to a certain market of touch typists who prefer more predictable, physical contact with keys, but who don't want the hassle of carrying around and powering a Bluetooth wireless keyboard. It's an expensive item — one that will hopefully drop in price with successive iterations. I'd also like to see the next version slightly thicker so the overlay more quickly and accurately locks into place over the on-screen keys. As for this first generation release, I do tip my hat to Touchfire for thinking outside the box and coming up with a unique approach to solving the tactile limitations of the iPad’s on-screen keyboard.
- Innovative approach;
- Speeds typing;
- Snaps into Apple Smart Cover for easy transportation.
- Hard to position;
- Collects debri easily.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars