(Click on the thumbnail image to see a larger picture.)The new keyboard is very easy to use. Anyone who owns a recent Macintosh will understand, as the iPad keyboard is essentially the same keyboard as ships with all the new iMacs. That is, the keys are the same although the electronics have been changed. The top row of keys are used as Function Keys on the iMac while the labels on the iPad keyboard have been changed to iPad-specific functions on the new keyboard. The new "function key replacements" include such things as increase screen brightness, decrease screen brightness, play (typically used with audio or video playback), increase volume, decrease volume, lock, and more.
Like the iMac, the iPad keyboard has all the normal navigation keys: backspace, forward space, up one line, down one line, (and when used with the Apple Command key) page up, and page down. However, the differences between the two keyboards are also significant. The iMac keyboard is a wireless Bluetooth device that requires no cables or connections to the Macintosh. It is also battery powered. In contrast, the iPad keyboard is permanently attached to a docking station. The iPad drops into the docking station and is held at about a 60-degree angle so that it is easy to read the screen and to type at the same time. The iPad can only be used in portrait mode when used with the external keyboard, there is no capability to use it in landscape mode. The iPad keyboard is powered by the iPad's internal, rechargeable battery.
Of course, there is no mouse. You use your own finger as the mouse, the same as using the iPad without a keyboard.
The back of the docking station has a connector for the iPad's connecting and charging cable, as well as an earphone jack for plugging in external earphones or speakers. I can envision the iPad being used as a replacement for a desktop or laptop computer for many people who do not need the extra functionality of a dedicated computer.
The user can also connect the docking station to a TV or video projector using a compatible cable such as the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter or the Apple Component or Composite AV Cable. You can watch videos, although at lower resolution than normal, by playing back the videos on this tiny device and watching on a television set or larger monitor.
This keyboard/docking station combination will be especially useful for non-techies who appreciate the ease of use of the iPad. Use it at home for surfing the web, reading and writing email messages, listening to music, or watching video. Then you simply grab the iPad, pull up, and detach it from the docking station to take it with you as a portable device.
I must say that I am impressed by the small size of the keyboard and iPad combination. The keyboard itself is about 11 inches wide while the iPad itself (when in the vertical position) is seven-and-a-half inches wide. This combination will fit in a very tiny space, such as found in many college dorm rooms.
In my opinion, the iPad external keyboard converts the device into a real computer. I suspect I will use the new external keyboard often. If I am going out for just a few hours or an overnight trip, I will probably leave the keyboard behind as I won't have much use for it. However, on longer trips, I will probably toss the keyboard into my carry-on bag. The keyboard and attached docking station only add a few ounces to the luggage although it is a bit oddly shaped and does not fold. I'll be careful when packing it, probably cushioning the keyboard/docking station with socks and underwear.
On the downside, I find that moving the iPad from its carrying case to the keyboard and back again is awkward, even a bit frustrating. The iPad doesn't fit into the keyboard/docking station when inside the carrying case. You must remove the iPad from the case before inserting it into the keyboard/docking station.
Actually, there's nothing wrong with the keyboard; the problem is the carrying case. The case is shaped like a book's covers and the iPad slides in and out. "Slide" might be the wrong word. The case is made of a rubberized material and the iPad doesn't slide in and out easily. The iPad "sticks" to the carrying case and sliding it in or out takes some effort. This isn't a "show stopper" problem. I'll still use both the carrying case and the keyboard/docking station as needed, but I am prepared to tussle with it a bit.
Even with this minor drawback, I like the keyboard/docking station and plan to use it often. After using the new keyboard for a few minutes, I paid for and downloaded Pages, the $9.95 word processing application for the iPad. I can now use this one-pound slate computer as a real writing tool.
If you are thinking of purchasing an iPad, I'd suggest that pay the extra money for the external keyboard. I suspect you'll be glad you did. As I said before, "In my opinion, the iPad external keyboard converts the device into a real computer."
That last sentence was copied-and-pasted using the keyboard's Command-C and Command-V keys.
The iPad keyboard/docking station sells for $69 and is available directly from Apple at as well as from Apple retail stores, although I suspect the stores will have a difficult time keeping it in stock.