How to Connect a Wired Keyboard to Your iPad

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While Microsoft makes a big deal about their Surface line of tablets and how their snap-on keyboard makes them different, there are a couple of problems with this line of advertising.  First, the Microsoft Surface doesn't actually come with the keyboard.  You have to purchase it separately for $129.  And second, the iPad has supported keyboards since its release.  Not only does it support a full range of wireless Bluetooth keyboards, it also supports using any USB keyboard.


So how do you get a USB keyboard to work with a device that doesn't have a USB port?   

The dirty little secret here is that the iPad kinda-of sort-of does have a USB port.  The Lightning connector port used to charge the iPad is also used to communicate with other devices like your PC or laptop.   In order to work with cameras that often use a form of USB to connect to computers, Apple put out the Camera Connection Kit, which turned the original 30-pin connector into a USB port.  And when Apple jumped from the old 30-pin connector to the thinner Lightning connector, they changed the name of the Camera Connection Kit to the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.  And while it includes the word "Camera", the adapter essentially turns the Lightning port into a USB port.

Sounds cool, huh? Unfortunately, there's a catch...

In order to be useful, a USB port needs two things.  It needs a device like a wired keyboard or a Flash drive to plug into it and the host device needs to actually support that device.

 In this case, that host device is the iPad.  And, unfortunately, you can't use this trick to plug in a Flash drive or an external hard drive because the iPad simply doesn't support those type of devices.  

But it does support keyboards.  It already supported wireless keyboards, and whether by design or not, this support transfers to wired keyboards.


So how do you get it all working?  First, plug your Lightning to USB Camera Adapter into your iPad and then simply plug your wired keyboard into the adapter.   You should be able to go into an app like Notes and begin typing away into a new note.   If not, try connecting it in reverse order by first connecting the wired keyboard to the USB Camera Adapter and then connecting the adapter to the iPad.   

This trick may not work with every single wired keyboard, but it has worked with every keyboard I've tested.  And the cool thing is that you can actually get a larger keyboard than many Bluetooth keyboards and still save on price.

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What other USB devices can be connected to the iPad?

Wired keyboards aren't the only devices you can get working in this manner.  The iPad also supports sending MIDI signals through the Lightning connector, so you can hook up a wide assortment of MIDI instruments.  MIDI is the protocol used for musical devices like keyboards and electronic drum sets to communicate with computers.  The USB Camera Adapter makes it possible to connect a music keyboard that supports USB MIDI and control apps like Garage Band on the iPad, which essentially turns your iPad into a music workstation.

 More on hooking up a MIDI controller to the iPad.

The USB adapter can also be used to plug into an ethernet port, but this can get a little tricky.  You will actually need to plug the iPad into a powered USB host with multiple ports and then plug an Ethernet-to-USB adapter into an available port on that same host.   The iPad isn't really designed to receive network communications through its Lightning adapter, so this trick can get a little finicky, but it does work.

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