Hands-on With the Touchfire Keyboard Overlay

In November 2011 I interviewed Steve Isaac, co-creator of the Touchfire screen-top keyboard. While Isaac and his partner Brad Melmon didn’t quite manage to deliver the Touchfire in January 2012, as they’d promised their Kickstarter supporters, I was still delighted to learn that this project was finally a reality, and I was eager to test one for myself. To get a feel for the Touchfire I spent several days using the screen-top keyboard in a variety of situations.

Designed to work with Apple’s Smart Cover, the Touchfire comes in a traveling case, and includes adhesive clips that hold the keyboard overlay away from the screen when the user folds up the Smart Cover.

I installed the clips to the inside of my Smart Cover very easily, and can attest that I hardly notice them when I am using the iPad without the Touchfire. While the Touchfire can be rolled out of site, I would recommend returning it to the case when it isn’t in use, simply to keep it clean.

While users can clean the Touchfire with water or a bit of dish soap, it’s made out of a very flexible and sticky silicone, and I thought it best just to preserve mine by taking it out of the case only when I was going to type.

Popping the Touchfire out of the case and on to the iPad was also easy, and the device fits well over the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard.

Using the Touchfire’s keyboard took a little getting used to, but — drumroll, please — it was possible to touch type with it.

I used the company’s typing tutor, and while it was a little awkward to call up the touchscreen keyboard in Safari initially, I found the tutorial very helpful.

The tutorial includes a few tips most iPad users already know (double tap the space bar at the end of a sentence to insert a period, double tap the shift key to caps lock etc.) It did include one shortcut, about holding down the comma to type a single quote and the period to type a double quote that was new to me.

Next, the tutorial runs the typist through a somewhat vexing tour of just how irritating (*%&@##!) it is to type symbols on an iPad keyboard since these keys are found on the touchscreen’s third pane and there are no shortcuts. Finally, the tutorial points out that the Touchfire has split the return key into two keys, which allows users with larger hands to spread out a little bit on the otherwise cramped keyboard.

Ultimately the most important lesson I learned from the tutorial was that the Touchfire gets easier to use with practice.

Order the Touchfire from the company’s website for $49.99

What I liked: The Touchfire is a complete product. There is nothing that I would change about it. It’s compatible with all three iPad generations. Isaac and Melmon have thought of everything.  Ultimately, however, screen-top keyboards will never be as comfortable or speedy as typing on a standard keyboard.

What I didn’t like: When I rolled the Touchfire up with the Smart Cover, the keyboard overlay had a tendency to gap in the center. While this gap didn’t interfere with closing the Smart Cover, smoothing out the gap made the process of moving the Touchfire out of the way less fluid than intended.

To buy or not to buy: The Touchfire is everything an iPad typist wants in a screen-top keyboard. Those who want to purchase the device should compare the Touchfire, which is easy to install and carry, with a Bluetooth keyboard. While standard keyboards are bulkier and more expensive, they remain the gold standard, superior even to the best screen-top keyboard.

  • Product Name: Touchfire
  • Manufacturer: Steve Isaac and Bradley Melmon
  • Price: $39.99
  • Score:

About Emily: Emily is a freelance writer who loves discovering new apps whenever she can pry the iPad away from her children or husband. You can contact her via Twitter: @whatwentwrite