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Touchfire overlay adds tactile feedback to your iPad keyboard

This gimmicky Kickstarter project is now a real product. The question is, does it really make typing on an iPad more comfortable?

The Touchfire keyboard is a clear, surprisingly decent overlay for your iPad.
The Touchfire keyboard is a clear, surprisingly decent overlay for your iPad. Touchfire Inc.

Hoping to use your iPad in place of your laptop? The stumbling block has always been the keyboard: onscreen keys lack the tactile feedback afforded by the real thing, and therefore tend to trip up touch-typists (who are now woefully mislabeled).

Of course, there are any number of keyboard cases and add-ons, but those add bulk and weight to your tablet. Isn't there some way to make the iPad's own keyboard more serviceable?

That's the idea behind the Touchfire, a silicon overlay that aims to provide enough tactile response that you can live with the iPad's QWERTY. Does it succeed? Yes and no.

The Touchfire can roll up into the Smart Cover when not in use.
The Touchfire can roll up into the Smart Cover when not in use. Touchfire Inc.

Born on Kickstarter and made in the U.S., the Touchfire is not what I'd call eye-candy. Rather, it's a flimsy, sort of unappealing slice of clear rubber. Your first reaction will likely be: "I paid $50 for this?"

But dang if the thing doesn't work pretty well. It uses a clever combination of tabs and magnets to mount to the underside of the Apple Smart Cover, lifting away from the screen when you don't want it and staying put when you do. (iPad 1 owners can use it with the Apple Case, but that's a less versatile arrangement; you have to manually "install" and remove it between typing sessions.)

Of course, the proof is in the typing, and although I didn't expect much from the Touchfire's mushy "keys," it actually did improve the experience. There's not much travel when you press down on the membrane, but you do get that feeling of tactile response -- like you're typing on something more than a hard, flat surface.

Unfortunately, the Touchfire can't overcome the problems inherent in the actual iPad keyboard -- namely that you have to toggle to a whole different set of keys if you want numbers and most kinds of punctuation. For me, that interferes more with my typing productivity than the nontactile nature of the keys.

And the Touchfire itself isn't perfect. For whatever reason, the space bar isn't raised like the rest of the keys. And the overlay tends to flop around when you roll it back into the Smart Cover; it doesn't feel securely attached. Add to that its tendency to absorb dirt and dust, and the whole thing can end up looking sort of icky.

On the other hand, it comes with a small, hard-plastic carrying case, and it can be rinsed clean with water and then towel-dried.

So here's the thing: If you're already doing a lot of typing on your iPad, meaning you're accustomed to the keyboard's quirks, I think you'll really like the Touchfire. It's not much to look at, but it makes typing more pleasant -- and more accurate.

But if you're hoping this will make your iPad more like a laptop, you'll be disappointed. Look to one of the many great iPad keyboard cases instead.