Government // Mobile & Wireless
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1/7/2010
08:11 PM
Jake Widman
Jake Widman
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iPhone Gets A Full-Size Keyboard

ION, best known for its line of USB turntables, has announced a physical desktop keyboard for the iPhone. Does it point the way to the kind of peripheral that could make an Apple tablet a real business computer?

ION, best known for its line of USB turntables, has announced a physical desktop keyboard for the iPhone. Does it point the way to the kind of peripheral that could make an Apple tablet a real business computer?ION Audio took the occasion of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to show off its new iType keyboard for the iPhone. The iType looks like a standard QWERTY keyboard with full-size keys, with extra space above the function keys. In that extra space is a socket for an iPhone, and docking the iPhone into the socket lets you use the iType in place of the virtual keyboard in the phone. The iType "transforms the handheld device from a touch-screen mobile phone into an ultra-portable computer," according to ION. And it has its own power supply, so it won't drain the iPhone's battery.

iTYPE_media

Image courtesy of ION audio.

That's pretty nifty in itself. But think about the potential for such a device in conjunction with the larger tablet- or slate-style computer that, according to the rumors that will not die, Apple is preparing to announce toward the end of this month. In a column about the potential for Apple to create the "first post-netbook computing platform," I wrote in September that "To appeal to business people and be more than a novelty, the 'iTablet' will need features the iPhone and iPod Touch don't have, such as support for peripherals like keyboard and monitor."

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Imagine something like a combination of the iType and a laptop docking station -- an iType with a couple of USB ports, for example. Rather than a flat depression, maybe it has a dock that supports the tablet at an angle, so it's easier to use as a monitor. Once you have your iSlate set up that way, you don't want to have to keep touching the screen to control the cursor; well, the BTstack project has produced a video showing Apple's Bluetooth Magic Mouse working as a pointing device with an iPhone.

I believe an Apple slate in the form of an overgrown iPod Touch could find its place as a portable media player or as the front end to a Mac-based home media center. (Think touchscreen universal remote on steroids.) But while a bare slate might appeal for some business uses, a slate that docks to become a workable desktop computer would be orders of magnitude more useful. The iType may be a curiosity now, but in another year it may just look prescient.

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