Apple’s “Magic” keyboard may be inhabited by some unkind sorcery

My desk has been more cluttered than usual the past couple of weeks, and I couldn’t blame that only on my inability to toss receipts and scan business cards. Instead, I have too often had a proprietary cable snaking its way from my computer to my keyboard–as in, my allegedly wireless keyboard.

An Apple Magic Keyboard showing a Lightning cable left just apart from its Lightning port.

I’m not unfamiliar with getting lied to by promises of Bluetooth wireless just working, but having this $179 Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad drop a connection to this Mac mini is more annoying than the average Bluetooth fail. It’s not just the lack of a proper error message from macOS when this happens; it’s that my only reliable fix for this is to fish out the proprietary USB-C-to-Lightning cable that came with the keyboard and use that to plug the peripheral into the computer.

(That’s also what I do every time the keyboard battery runs down.)

My cranky Mastodon post Thursday about the latest outbreak of this problem–a bizarre breakdown in which the keyboard transmitted no keystrokes to the Mac even as macOS reported that the keyboard remained connected–led to some commiseration with longtime Mac writer Dan Moren. He replied that “I got so tired of this I just now leave the Magic Keyboard wired to the mini.”

I’ve done that for a stretch a few times, but that sticks me with another problem: This cable stretches about 40 inches, which means I have to plug it into the back of the mini and then drape it across the top of the desk to reach the keyboard shelf.

Apple does, of course, sell a version of this cable twice as long that would let me run the cable around the back of the desk and underneath it to that shelf. But Apple charges $29 for this luxury, 2-meter cable, which reminds me that this not-so-magic keyboard should have a USB-C port instead of an Apple-exclusive port that no longer has a functional reason to exist.

And yet using any third-party keyboard is a total nonstarter, because then I’d lose Touch ID fingerprint authentication and would have to type one password or another every time I unlock the computer or 1Password. That would be worse, not that this realization makes me feel like less of a chump for dealing with Apple’s dysfunctionality.

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An almost Lightning-free gadget existence

Upgrading from my iPad mini 5 to an iPad mini 6 almost two weeks ago hasn’t made a huge difference in my tablet usage aside from my needing to remap Touch ID fingerprint unlocking from a large button below the screen to a power button at the top right. But it’s already yielded a huge improvement every time I need to charge the thing: I don’t need to find a Lightning cable.

Lightning and USB-C cables meet above the Apple logo on the back of an iPad mini 6

Because this tablet has a USB-C port instead, I can plug it into the same cables that I’d use to charge my phone, my previous phone and my old and any new laptop. Not having to worry about proprietary charging accessories is a welcome, if overdue luxury in my history of Apple gadget ownership, and it’s enough to outweigh the mini 6 omitting a headphone jack.

(I do have a pair of Bluetooth headphones–after interviewing¬†Nothing¬†co-founder Akis Evangelidis at Web Summit in 2021, he gave me a pair of that company’s Ear (1) earbuds. I still need to buy a USB-C headphone-jack adapter if I’m going to use any other headphones I own, especially the Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones I’ve grown to appreciate on long flights.)

Unfortunately, I can’t get away from Lightning when I’m at my desk at home: The Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad on which I’m typing this post has a Lightning connector for recharging (and for working around the occasional Bluetooth dropout). I can’t think of any engineering reason to have this $179 wireless peripheral charge via Lightning instead of USB-C, but Apple can’t seem to let this connector go.

And then there’s the mouse next to the keyboard–which is not Apple’s $79 Magic Mouse. Instead, I am still using the AA battery-powered wireless mouse that came with the iMac I bought in 2009. This rodent continues to function fine at steering a cursor around a screen–notwithstanding the times, more often than with the keyboard, when the Bluetooth connection drops because reasons. And when the mouse runs out of a charge, it takes me well under a minute to pop the two spent AAs out of the thing and replace them with two charged AAs from the charger next to my desk.

Apple’s current, not-so-magic mouse, meanwhile, must be set aside while it charges because its port is on the bottom–an idiotic configuration that the design geniuses in Cupertino have stuck with since 2015. And that charging port requires a Lightning cable, again for no discernible reason besides “Apple said so.” So while I had no big hang-up over spending $550 and change on a tablet with 256 GB of storage (on sale for $100 off), I just don’t want to spend even a small fraction of that to underwrite Apple’s Lightning fetish.