The Apple iPad Pro, a phantom tablet in the works for years now, just took another step closer to becoming reality. Developers poking around the beta code for iOS 9 have discovered a hidden keyboard that would work perfectly on a big-screen tablet.
The scoop comes from Steven Troughton Smith, who recently demonstrated how to hack native apps onto the Apple Watch. Smith routed out a hidden version of the iOS 9 keyboard that scales up to bigger screen sizes and higher resolutions. The iPad Air 2, which is Apple's current top-of-the-line model, has a 9.7-inch screen with 2048 x 1536 pixels. Smith didn't indicate just how large the hidden keyboard can scale, nor to how many pixels. The fact that it can scale up at all, however, is noteworthy.
In addition to the size, the hidden keyboard earns a number of new buttons and a new row across the top. For example, Tab and Cap Lock keys now appear along the left side of the keyboard, and there's a dedicated row above the letters for select characters. The characters correspond to those typically reached by pressing the shift key on a hardware keyboard.
The second page of the keyboard has been changed, too. Notably, it offers a wider array of symbols, such as angle brackets, ellipses, currencies, and so on.
Inexplicably, the main keyboard screen of this alternate input tool does not add period and comma buttons, nor is the top row reserved for numbers. Rearranging the keyboard so these basic punctuation tools are more accessible could have reduced the frequency with which people will need to cycle through the keyboard screens. Sigh.
The one major benefit of the expanded keyboard is that it negates the need for a third keyboard page. In iOS 8 as it is today, there are three total keyboard screens to account for all the most-used symbols and characters. Putting all the characters onto just two screens will help save a modicum of time for those who find themselves typing lengthy missives on the iPad.
Apple would not include such changes in iOS 9 if did it not expect the platform to run eventually on larger, higher-resolution devices. Assuming the new keyboard is meant for the unannounced iPad Pro is not a big leap in reasoning.
The iPad Pro has been rumored for the better part of a year. It is expected to stretch the display from the iPad Air 2's 9.7-inch screen to 11.7 or 12.9 inches. There's no word on what sort of resolution the larger screen might offer. Some had expected the tablet to reach the market during the first quarter, but the Wall Street Journal suggested the fall is when it is most likely to arrive.
The hardware is complete and ready for manufacture. That's the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how best to scale the current crop of native and third-party apps for the larger screen.
Apple has typically introduced new UI features alongside larger screen sizes.
For example, the iPhone 6 Plus gained the ability to function in landscape orientation. When held sideways, select apps (think iMessage and email) expand to show more controls and tools. Applying updates to iOS 9-based apps, like the new keyboard for the iPad Pro, is taking some time.