It is totally INSANE that you cannot use an external keyboard on an iPhone

By Ross Dawson on March 25, 2009 | Permalink

I love my iPhone. But it has some deep flaws. OK, so cut-and-paste will be available with the 3.0 operating system – that’s good. The lack of a video camera is annoying and strange – rumors are that the next iPhone released in the northern summer will have video capabilities.

But the thing that really gets me is that you cannot use an external keyboard on the iPhone. Unlike the other issues, there is no way you can argue this is a technical problem. Apple has deliberately crippled the Bluetooth functionality so external keyboards can’t be used.

The whole point of a smartphone is that it can be your central hub when you’re on the move, increasingly obviating the need to carry a laptop around. If the iPhone had an external keyboard, I could use it for a large proportion of my needs when I’m on the move or travelling, including email, working on documents, blogging and more. For now I have a choice of carrying a laptop, or taking a Palm and external keyboard with me in addition to the iPhone, just so I can write.

I write a lot – books, blogs, ideas, email, and more – and I am a fast typist. Sure a screen or pull out keyboard can allow me to Twitter or do brief emails, but I cannot write a draft book chapter or even a blog post on it.
Many have tried to launch iPhone keyboards. The most promising avenue for a while was the BTKeyMini keyboard to be launched by AVAlive. The site now says:

Please Note: The BTKEY Mini for the Apple iPhone will not ship until Apple updates the iPhone to accept bluetooth input. No date has been given as of yet.

Last November someone showed how they could hack the iPhone to create an external keyboard. The iPhone blog commented:

Dying for an external keyboard on your iPhone? Well, you’re in luck! This proof of concept shows that if you’re an electrical engineering genius — or more likely a teenager — you can hack together one of your very own!

In February Ralf Ackerman showed he could set up an external keyboard, but it required a jailbroken phone. TUAW feels, like most people, that they shouldn’t have to endanger their investment by breaking what they have bought:

Of course, I’d love to use a wireless keyboard with my iPhone. Since I won’t be jailbreaking, here’s hoping Apple (or someone else) will make this available to scaredy cats like me.

Now today PerceptDev has designed a hack to use an external keyboard that requires just $20 in electronic components – they’ve sent the circuit board files off to the manufacturer. Great – maybe this will hit retail stores within the next year if Apple doesn’t block it.

This issue is absolutely something that will make me throw my iPhone in the rubbish bin and buy a phone that will enable me to truly do mobile work, as soon as Android phones are good enough. No fear there of being cut off from useful accessories on the whim of the manufacturer.

Back in my 2002 book Living Networks I wrote about how the development of better interfaces between man and machine were critical to the network coming to life, and those that follow my work will know that I am continually focusing on the interfaces with technology that make our lives richer.

I have no idea what Apple is thinking in not allowing external keyboards – there is no rational explanation. They have crippled the phone – and their users – rather than enabling them. This is insane corporate behaviour, both in terms of Apple’s own interests, and the progress of mobile work, which I would presume they would like to see grow. I am sure I am not the only person who is immensely frustrated by this, and may turn away from Apple because of it.

C’mon Apple – snap out of it and please realize what an intensely dumb approach you’re taking here.

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