Top 6 iPad Hardware Accessories for Mobile Computing

As of this month, the list of iPad accessories is fairly short. That's because the iPad has only been out in the wild since April 3rd. And Apple didn't give most third-party developers advance access to the tablet, which means many of them are still scrambling to build and test accessories.


The variety of iPad accessories is bound to grow exponentially over the next few months. In the meantime, here are six iPad add-ons -- two tied for second ranking --that enterprise users should consider.


1. Apple Wireless Keyboard; $69

The iPad's on-screen keyboard works perfectly well for tapping out terse e-mail replies and such. But if you plan to work for, say, longer than 15 minutes at a time on the iPad, you need an external keyboard.


Despite a few minor limitations, the Apple Wireless Keyboard, which connects to the iPad via Bluetooth, is the best option for most enterprise users. Here's why.


It's light and compact. Though it's a standard-sized keyboard, the Wireless Keyboard is ultra-slim and compact and weighs just 11.4 ounces. By comparison, the Apple iPad Keyboard Dock ($69), which combines an iPad dock with a keyboard, is fairly clunky and weighs about 1.3 pounds.


Portrait or landscape. Unlike the iPad Keyboard Dock, which only lets you use the iPad in portrait mode, you can position the iPad in portrait or landscape modes when using it with the Wireless Keyboard.


No case removal required. You don't have to remove the iPad from a protective case when using the Wireless Keyboard, as you must do in order to attach the iPad to the iPad Keyboard Dock.


But here's the big downside of the Wireless Keyboard for travelers: You probably won't be allowed to use it in flight. The FAA has approved Bluetooth for use in flight by the FAA, according to a spokesperson for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. Even so, many airlines ban the use of Bluetooth devices in the air. So if you plan to travel with an iPad and the Wireless Keyboard, plan to use just the iPad's on-screen keyboard during the flight.


By the way, the iPad Keyboard Dock has its advantages. It offers several iPad-specific keys the Wireless Keyboard lacks, such as keys for returning to the home screen, using Spotlight search, and starting and ending Picture Frame mode. The iPad Keyboard Dock also enables you to recharge the iPad while in use, which the Wireless Keyboard doesn't do.


Bottom line: If you primarily need an external iPad keyboard for the office or home, the iPad Keyboard Dock might serve your needs. But if you plan on traveling often with an external keyboard, the Wireless Keyboard is the more practical choice, despite the in-flight Bluetooth ban.


2. Tie: Apple iPad Case ($39) and iPad Ultimate SleeveCase ($54-$59)

The Apple iPad Case is a black, soft microfiber case that protects the iPad from scratches. And it folds in back to create a wedge-like stand for the iPad, giving you a better vantage point for hands-free viewing or for typing.


Downsides: The case shows wear and tear surprisingly quickly. It fits the iPad so tightly, it's a wee bit challenging to remove. And there's no place to store a screen-cleaning cloth-which is pretty much a necessity, given how quickly the screen collects fingerprints.


The iPad Ultimate SleeveCase from San Francisco-based Waterfield is a classy alternative to Apple's iPad Case. Though it doesn't function as a stand, the Ultimate SleeveCase is a stylish, protective case that includes an outside pocket that can hold a cleaning cloth, earbuds, and such.


The case is available in several styles, and you can add optional shoulder straps ($9 or $19, plus $5 for 'd-rings' to attach the straps) and a 'piggyback' pouch ($25 or $27) to store additional items, such as a cell phone.


If you can't decide between these two cases, not to worry: You don't have to. Waterfield sells the iPad Exo SleeveCase ($49-$53). It's the same as the Ultimate SleeveCase except that it's large enough to fit the iPad when it's inside the Apple iPad Case.


3. Staples BookLift Copy Holder; $12

This is probably the most unglamorous iPad accessory you can buy. In fact, it's not even an official iPad accessory. It's a black, plastic bookstand/copy holder. But it folds flat for travel, allows you to choose between eight different viewing angles, and it's only twelve bucks. I can't help but wonder how easily the plastic parts might snap off, however.


I also like the BookGem Book Holder ($15 from Amazon), which, when folded, slips into a shirt pocket. It can support iPads, Kindles, and books. This is the ideal option for frequent travelers who need an iPad stand.


4. Tom Bihn Ristretto for iPad/Netbooks; $110

Tom Bihn, a Seattle company, makes all sorts of stylish, well-built, thoughtfully designed bags. The Ristretto is a vertical messenger bag with an asymmetrical front flap. An interior padded compartment accommodates an iPad, Kindle, or netbook.


Some of the color choices are not to my liking (wasabi, anyone?), and at $110, it's expensive. But if you're jonesin' for a compact bag for toting your iPad and a few other essentials, and you want to score style points, give the Ristretto a try.


5. Apple iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter; $29

The iPad lacks its own video-out port. So if you plan to give a Keynote or a slide show presentation from the tablet, you'll need this cable to connect to the VGA port of a projector or computer monitor.


You can also project YouTube videos from your iPad onto an external VGA-compatible display. But when it comes to projecting videos purchased through iTunes, you're limited to TV episodes in standard definition or your own video files. Because of High-Bandwidth Digital Content (HDCP) encryption, movies in standard and high-def and TV episodes in high def purchased through iTunes won't display on an external monitor connected via the analog VGA adapter. (HDCP requires a native HDMI or DVI-D connection.)


Here's how a support page on Apple.com about the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter explains it: "iTunes Store movies (SD and HD) and TV shows (HD) require an HDCP digital connection. If you attempt to play this content using the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, an alert will appear to let you know that an HDCP-compatible device is required. To view iTunes Store content, sync the SD version of the TV show or use the Apple Component AV cable to play the HD version at 480p."


In addition, you can't project Netflix, Google Maps, and most other iPad app screens to a VGA-compatible monitor using the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter cable.


Bottom line: Buy the cable if you need to deliver Keynote and slide show presentations from the iPad. Just don't expect to use it for too much beyond that.


James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 90s. He's the author of the Traveler 2.0 blog.



iPad, mobile device, mobile computing, iPad hardware, iPad accessories