What if you could get all the benefits of a BlackBerry-style keyboard without giving up your iPhone?
That's the premise of a new accessory called the Typo iPhone Keyboard Case, a $99 product backed by the ubiquitous "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest. The Typo snaps onto the back of an iPhone 5 or 5s, putting those familiar black keys just below the touchscreen.
As a longtime BlackBerry user who switched to the iPhone in October, I may be the perfect customer for Typo's product. Though I've adapted to iPhone life, I still miss my BlackBerry keyboard — especially when typing long passwords. (Inevitably I enter one character wrong and have to reenter the whole thing.) Now I can have the best of both worlds.
Sort of. I've been testing the Typo keyboard for a few days and find it to be a fairly elegant product, though it has some significant drawbacks. It also faces a lawsuit from BlackBerry, which alleges that the Seacrest-backed startup copied the Canadian smartphone maker's designs. Typo Products, which is launching the accessory at this week's 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show, said that it will vigorously fight BlackBerry's claims.
One thing is certain: The product is a conversation starter. Since I first slid my iPhone 5s into the Typo case, I began getting comments.
"Steve Jobs would be spinning in his grave if he saw that."
"What you've done is against nature."
One colleague compared the Typo-clad iPhone to a liger — a cross between a lion and a tiger popularized by the nerd-favorite flick "Napoleon Dynamite."
It's true that the Typo disrupts the simplicity of the iPhone. It also extends the device's length by almost an inch, making it a bit more snug when you put it in your pocket. (The case doubles as a bumper, providing some protection for your phone.)
The keyboard connects to the iPhone via a Bluetooth connection, and that part worked well. I didn't sense any latency while typing, and the keys are nicely laid out. I felt like I was tapping away on my old BlackBerry again.
On the downside, the keypad covers up the iPhone's home button. To get to the home screen, you have to click one of the Typo keys at the lower-right corner of the device.
That's not too big of an inconvenience, unless you have a 5s model and use the fingerprint scanner. Without access to the Touch ID sensor, you have to enter a password each time you want to unlock your phone. That might make the Typo more attractive to someone with a regular iPhone 5, which lacks Touch ID. (The case also completely obscures my iPhone's gold plating, making it harder to impress people with my bling.)
I found that the placement of the Typo's home button would trigger the Siri voice assistant when the phone was in my pocket — something that happens when the button is pressed for a few seconds. I'd occasionally hear Siri's voice from my pocket saying, "Sorry, I didn't get that." (She may have been passive-aggressively objecting to me destroying Apple's design aesthetics.)
Another shortcoming: You have to charge the Typo battery separately from the iPhone. The keyboard's battery is designed to last seven to 14 days, but it means remembering to occasionally plug it in to its own USB cable.
That said, I could see myself using the Typo. It definitely improved my typing precision and gave me something to discuss with strangers on the elevator.
My biggest gripe may actually be the name.
As a professional editor, I hate typos. If I so much as put the wrong "it's/its" in a tweet, I want to commit self-immolation. So Typo seems like the worst thing they could have called this product. I guess it's a bit of cheeky reverse psychology, but the name may turn off the very people who would be most excited about it.