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Operating Systems

Why is there no iPhone Bluetooth keyboard?

An external keyboard seems like a simple and logical accessory for those looking to do some heavy text inputting on their iPhones. But Apple's been mum on when--or if--it will support external keyboards.

I got an e-mail over the weekend from a reader who read my earlier post, "Does the iPhone need a real keyboard?"

Ed writes:

What I would like to see is a portable keyboard for the iPhone and iPod Touch. This would be very helpful in meetings and/or traveling.

For what's essentially a minicomputer, a compact external keyboard would seem like a simple and logical accessory and would be especially appealing to those who haven't mastered--or aren't comfortable--typing on the iPhone's virtual keyboard, as good as it is. Travel-friendly, fold-up keyboards are available for the old Palm Pilots and Treos, but a quick search on Google reveals precious little on iPhone keyboards.

The $100 BTKeyMini is still in limbo. MacAlly

Way back in January 2008, Macworld wrote up some notes from the now-defunct Macworld Expo under the headline, "A Bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone?" The article referenced the small MacAlly BTKeyMini Bluetooth keyboard ($100). At the time, MacAlly reps claimed that when the BTKeyMini arrived in March of 2008, it would be compatible with the iPhone. But alas, Apple has never provided Bluetooth keyboard drivers for the iPhone and the BTKeyMini has never shipped. A note on the Web site AValive, which sells the BTKeyMini, says:

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. THE iPhone 3.0 UPDATE DOES NOT SUPPORT THIS PRODUCT.

Of course, the lack of Apple support hasn't stopped hackers from getting Bluetooth keyboards to work with the iPhone. Back in January of this year, Ars Technica had a report on the Bluetooth keyboard hacking efforts of iPhone expert Ralf Ackermann. And more recently, in March of this year, a couple engineers at Perceptive Development managed to connect an infrared keyboard to an iPhone using a 1,200-baud modem via the headphone port. iPhone Central called it, "One of the most unnecessarily complicated hacks in iPhone history." Ars Technica described it as "clever," partially because it didn't require a jailbroken iPhone.

So, there you have it, Ed. Yes, it would be nice if there was an external keyboard option for the iPhone--wireless or wired--but it looks like you're going to have to wait for Apple to decide it's ready to supply the drivers for it. (Some have suggested that by enabling external keyboards Apple would be admitting that its virtual keyboard is less than perfect, but that seems too silly and vain to be true.)

Personally, I'm at a loss as to why Apple wouldn't serve up a compact, Apple-branded $50 Bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone. I think there's enough demand out there for this type of accessory that Apple could sell hundreds of thousands of them. In fact, it wouldn't shock me if it sold more iPhone Bluetooth keyboards than Apple TV units.

Am I wrong?

As always, feel free to comment.

Additional reading: Does the iPhone need a real keyboard?

Video extra: Perceptive Development's iPhone keyboard hack