Goodbye to Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the best iPad Pro accessory

Goodbye to Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the best iPad Pro accessory

I had a sneaking suspicion this was going to happen. All the rumors about the new iPad Pro — its shift to an OLED display, the more premium Magic Keyboard — had me convinced that Apple was going to quietly move on from the quirky, very not luxurious Smart Keyboard Folio that became my preferred carry for the 2018 iPad Pro and, later, the M1 iPad Pro.

Sure enough, the Smart Keyboard Folio isn’t compatible with the OLED iPad Pros. The 11-inch version can still be used with the sixth-generation iPad Air, but that’s all. So if you’re set on Apple’s very best tablet, it’s not an option anymore. And with no alternative quite like it anywhere in sight, I’m bummed.

Before I get to the praise, let’s touch on the negatives. The Smart Keyboard Folio has no trackpad, so unless you pair a mouse with your iPad, the only way to navigate around is by touching the screen. That’s not ideal over long durations, but the product’s whole purpose, at least to me, has always felt like a keyboard tailored for short bursts of productivity. Fire off an email? Absolutely. Post a blog? Yep, I’ve written plenty of posts on The Verge using it. If you ever wanted to work on a novel, the Magic Keyboard was always there waiting in the wings as a step-up option for the real serious stuff.

My other critique of the SKF is one that Apple still hasn’t fully rectified with the new starts-at-$300 Magic Keyboard. The palm rest and keyboard deck are now aluminum, which is objectively an improvement. But on the outside, Apple’s still using the same old material that picks up smudges like no other and tends to age terribly. I’ve long hoped they’d switch to fabric like Logitech or just come up with something (anything) better, but nope.

The lightweight Smart Keyboard Folio was there for typing when I needed it, but it never felt like a chore to lug around.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

And then there’s the price: the Smart Keyboard Folio for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro ran around $200 — pretty ludicrous when you consider how basic it was. It had no backlit keys. There were only two angles to pick from when using the iPad upright. It didn’t offer a spare USB-C port or any extra connectivity. It was literally just a folio case with a weird keyboard on the inside.

But you know what made up for all of that? Versatility and a lightweight design that even the newer and lighter Magic Keyboard still can’t match. In practice, it just worked exceptionally well. The fabric-covered keyboard felt damn near invincible. Sure, the keys barely had any travel, and I wouldn’t exactly describe the typing experience as “comfortable.” But the Smart Keyboard Folio was a keyboard when I needed it to be — I could write Verge articles using the thing from anywhere if there was breaking news — and it could just fold behind the screen when I was reading The New York Times, browsing the web, or retouching photos using an Apple Pencil with the tablet in my lap. Feeling my fingers against the keys in that flipped-back orientation was a little odd at first, but I got used to it in no time.

With the Magic Keyboard, you’ve got to fully detach the iPad Pro whenever you want to do some reading or use the device in a way where all you really need is the screen. Some people will prefer that, but the Smart Keyboard Folio was thin enough that you never really had to make a choice; you could always just leave it on no matter what you were doing.

They made the new iPad Pro thinner than ever but… got rid of this super thin keyboard? Someone make it make sense.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Then there was the fact that the folio keyboard was so damn light. It kept the iPad Pro feeling like an iPad in my bag. That has never, ever been the case with a Magic Keyboard attached. When it goes on, you’ve entered MacBook weight territory. I’m not saying there’s any problem with that, but with the Smart Keyboard Folio, there was something special about toting around such a powerful combo that always stayed so airy on my back.

At best, Apple is being somewhat stubborn in assuming that every iPad Pro buyer wants the tablet to feel like a laptop (and be a similar weight to one) whenever a keyboard is attached, which is what the Magic Keyboard gets you. If you want to view it with more pessimism, the company is intentionally doing away with what was a compelling, more affordable accessory — one that was easy to take anywhere — in hopes that more people will cave and fork over $300 for the only first-party keyboard that’s available for the new Pro.

Now, it falls to other companies to replicate the Smart Keyboard Folio — assuming any of them even decide to bother. For now, Logitech is just churning out a refreshed version of its Combo Touch, which has more of a Surface Pro vibe than anything else. It’s nothing like the folio, so I’m not optimistic that anyone will step in to fill the void.

You really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, I suppose.

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