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Can you use the iPhone with an external keyboard? What external keyboard options are available?
As of June 21, 2010 -- starting with the release of iOS 4 (and subsequent versions of the iOS) -- the quick answer to this question simply is "yes" for all iPhone and iPod touch models capable of completely supporting this version of the operating system. Both Apple and third-party Bluetooth keyboards and Apple's own keyboard dock (originally released for the iPad) are supported. iPhone and iPod touch models that do not fully support or do not support iOS 4 at all cannot use an external keyboard without hacks.
For earlier third-party efforts and hacks to use an external keyboard on an iPhone or iPod touch, you may find the following information interesting as well.
A comfortable, familiar computer keyboard for use with iPhone. This first-of-its-kind battery-powered peripheral transforms the handheld device from a touch-screen mobile phone into an ultra-portable computer. iTYPE features a standard QWERTY keyboard layout with full-sized keys and the complete functionality of a desktop keyboard.
Essentially, it's a notebook-style keyboard with a nicely integrated "dock" for the iPhone. Unfortunately, as Engadget discovered in hands-on evaluation, it only allowed you to type in a companion "iType" application. Anything that you typed in the iType application had to be copied and pasted into another application.
Photo Credit: Ion Audio LLC
Oddly, mere days after its introduction, the iTYPE quietly disappeared without a trace.
The iTYPE, however, was far from the first third-party effort to use an external keyboard with an iPhone.
On February 5, 2007, with the initial publication of the iPhone Q&A, EveryiPhone.com reported:
Although no official information is available, it could be possible either for Apple or a third-party accessory manufacturer to create a keyboard for the iPhone either using the USB-based "dock connector" port or wirelessly via Bluetooth 2.0 (although the iPhone currently does not support peripherals via Bluetooth). Of course, for a third-party manufacturer to develop a keyboard it likely would require Apple's approval and cooperation.
A simple folding keyboard -- as have been available for other handhelds for years -- could be created for the iPhone, which might be of particular interest for those who appreciate tactile feedback.
Additionally, a "virtual laser keyboard" (shown at left) theoretically could be developed as well. Photo Credit: I-Tech
On March 17, 2009, Apple previewed version 3.0 of the iPhone OS and the company planned to provide the previously mentioned approval and cooperation for accessories via a new "External Accessory" framework. This framework made it possible for hardware accessories to communicate with the iPhone via the 30-pin dock connector or Bluetooth.
Amazingly, as first spotted by the TUAW blog on March 24, 2009, some very clever hardware experts from Perceptive Development Labs "developed a hardware and software solution that allows infrared keyboards to be used for typing on the iPhone" even without Apple's framework using version 2.0 of the iPhone OS.
This video shows the details:
Very impressive. Although with the release of iOS 4, hacking or jailbreaking is no longer required, at least for iPhone and iPod touch models capable of fully supporting the version of the operating system, these earlier efforts nevertheless are impressive as well.