Ever since the iPad first launched, users have been begging for a physical keyboard. It's one of the few differences that keeps Apple's killer tablet from replacing laptops, but for whatever reason, the company just never saw fit to include such a functionality in their tablets.
Until now, that is.
Announced at Apple's iPhone event earlier today, the latest versions of Apple's tablet, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, will launch with built-in support for physical keyboards. It's surprisingly simple, too: instead of actually plugging the keyboard into the side of the tablet (as many transforming laptops do these days), Apple's new "Smart Keyboard" simply connects to a few pins on the iPad's side. Basically, instead of having to plug the keyboard in and hope nothing happens to the pins, all the Smart Keyboard and the iPad have to do is touch.
The keyboard also works like a case on its own – it's something similar to Microsoft's Surface tablets. Even better is that the connector pins power the keyboard, meaning you'll never have to worry about extra power cables. Whether or not this has any effect on the battery life is still up in the air, but it's easy to assume that any drain the Smart Keyboard has on the battery will be negligible.
As for the keyboard itself, it's made of a "woven fabric," which allows for more flexibility. There's a good chance that keys made of fabric will take some time to get used to, but it's a decent trade-off for having something so portable.
Of course, that's not the only major peripheral announced alongside the new iPad Pro. For the first time ever, Apple will be releasing its very own Pencil stylus. The new stylus will be built from the ground up for use on the new iPad Pro. Several major apps are also being reworked, such as Microsoft Office, for use with the pen – expect to scribble all over your Word documents this fall.
The pen itself doesn't seem all that revolutionary. While it's clear that the Pencil won't be your run-of-the-mill stylus, it doesn't look much more complicated than any of Wacom's Cintiq pens. It's Apple, so people will definitely buy it, but it's still too early to know if the Pencil really does anything to set itself apart from other high-end tablet pens.
Either way, the new Smart Keyboard is huge news for anyone who's been trying to ditch their old laptop in favor of something simpler, but didn't want to throw away the keyboard itself. The Pencil probably won't make quite as big a splash, but as with all niche Apple products, it's almost guaranteed to find its own demographic.
So, when will users finally get their hands on the new Smart Keyboard and Pencil? As it turns out, the wait won't be all that long: both will launch this November, with the Smart Keyboard launching at $169 and the Pencil debuting at $99.
For all the other news from today's press conference, just head on over to our Apple event coverage hub!