Fun without wires

Using a Bluetooth Keyboard on the iPhone 3GS

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In case you didn’t know, portable bluetooth keyboards have been available for a variety of PDAs for a long time. Like, a really long time. The iPhone, for some reason, has always had a crippled implementation of Bluetooth which meant that it didn’t support the profiles necessary for an external keyboard. That changed recently thanks to the work of some enterprising hackers, armed with jailbroken iPhones and a desire to type with more than their thumbs.

I can confirm that I’ve installed the BTStack Keyboard driver (via Cydia) and am able to use my Apple Wireless Keyboard on my jailbroken iPhone 3GS, and it rocks. Here are some observations:

  • Full version (not the demo) works in all applications. You launch the app, connect to the keyboard, then go back to your Home Screen and go to another app. From there, pretty much anything that brings up a keyboard panel should also be accessible via your external keyboard.
  • After installation, I had to connect my keyboard, then restart my iPhone once to get things to run smoothly.
  • If your keyboard is also paired with a laptop or some other device, make sure you either unpair it from there, or turn Bluetooth off (or get out of range) before trying to pair with your iPhone, otherwise they’ll conflict with each other.
  • Modifier keys don’t work yet (so you can’t hold Shift and use an arrow to make a selection for example)
  • Copy/Paste not supported via Apple-C/Apple-V, which would be nice 🙂
  • There is no pause or lag between hitting a key and the letter appearing. It’s really slick.
  • Auto-correct on the iPhone seems overly aggressive when using the keyboard and gets kind of annoying. I’d like to see the developer perhaps suppress it somehow while input is being received from the keyboard?
  • Not being able to navigate around on the iPhone from the keyboard makes it feel a little weird, but it’s definitely workable. It would be awesome if there could be some rudimentary support for Tab to jump between controls, and perhaps something like Apple-Esc to jump to the home screen.
  • It seems that the keyboard disconnects automatically after 15 minutes. I thought this was only supposed to happen once the iPhone was off, but it seems to happen while you’re still using it as well. I believe this is a battery-conservation measure.
  • Speaking of which, using a keyboard doesn’t seem to drain the battery any moreso than just having the iPhone actively turned on.

In general, I love this. Totally worth the $5. I tried it out by drafting an entire post within the WordPress.org iPhone app, and it worked really nicely.

Written by Beau Lebens

January 5th, 2010 at 11:22 am

Posted in Bluetooth

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