Why I Want Apple's New Touch ID Keyboard

It’s all about the fingerprint reader

Key Takeaways

  • Apple now sells the M1 iMac’s keyboard separately.
  • The Touch ID button only works with M1 Macs.
  • Other than Touch ID, this is pretty much a regular Magic Keyboard.
An Apple keyboard

Ryan Snaadt / Unsplash

Those cool, colorful iMac keyboards with Touch ID? They’re now available to anyone to use with any computer, as long as you’re happy with silver. 

Ever since I got used to using the iPad Pro with a keyboard, its Face ID unlock spoiled me. Switching back to the Mac, where you have to type a password repeatedly to unlock the computer, authorize logins, and so on, is a step backward. And while the Unlock With Apple Watch feature is great, it’s not reliable enough to just set and forget.

So when the M1 iMacs showed up, with their fancy Touch ID keyboards, I thought to myself, I have to have one of those for my Mac mini. And now, I can.

"I’m pretty fussy about keyboards, but happily, I do like Apple’s latest Magic Keyboards."

M1 Only

While these Bluetooth keyboards will work with any computer or iPad, the Touch ID authentication only works with M1 Macs. That means the new iMac, the M1 MacBooks Air and Pro, and the Mac mini. I have a Mac mini, which has no built-in biometric authentication, so I ordered the version with the number block as soon as Apple announced them on Tuesday. 

Let’s talk about Touch ID for a moment. We all know it from older iPhones, which had a fingerprint reader in the home button.

Touch ID works precisely the same way on the Mac. You set it up by letting the Mac scan your fingertip(s), and from then on, you can use your finger to unlock the Mac, make purchases in the App Store, use Apple Pay, and even unlock third-party apps like 1Password.

You still have to use your password to log in and to authenticate from time to time, but because you don’t have to type that password so often, it can be longer and more secure. 

The pairing process is unusual. Because your Mac will rely on this Bluetooth keyboard for a very important authentication operation, you have to pair the secure enclave in the Mac (which is only available in the M1 Macs) with the public-key authentication block in the keyboard.

Touch ID Keyboard from Apple.

Apple

This is done by double-pressing the Mac’s power button to confirm that you intend to pair the keyboard. In principle, it’s just like double-pressing the iPhone’s side button to initiate an Apple Pay transaction.

And Touch ID has one significant advantage over Face ID—you can enroll more than one person just by scanning their finger. This means that you can give a significant other access to a computer or keep a family machine secure. 

The Keyboard

The convenience of fingerprint unlock would be pointless without a good keyboard. Currently I rotate between a clicky Filco Majestouch with Cherry Blue switches and a Logitech K811 backlit Bluetooth keyboard. I also use the Magic Keyboard case with an iPad.

I’m pretty fussy about keyboards, but happily, I do like Apple’s latest Magic Keyboards. The iPad version feels great, and I have used the one on a friend’s M1 MacBook Air enough to know that it feels very similar. This Touch ID version uses the same mechanism.

The Magic Keyboard sounds a little hollow, but feels dead solid in use. I also appreciate the small but positive amount of key travel, which I find more comfortable.

Touch ID Keyboard from Apple.

Using an Apple keyboard with a Mac also confers a few added conveniences. In addition to the Touch ID button, there are keys for Do Not Disturb, Dictation, and Spotlight and all the usual media and brightness keys. This keyboard also has Apple’s new Globe modifier key, but it’s over in the number block. Speaking of which, I use my trackpad on the left, so the number block doesn’t get in the way. 

Other neat features are the Lightning port, which lets you charge the keyboard with an iPhone cable. Also, you can plug the cable into a USB port on the Mac, and you can use it as a regular wired keyboard. I do wonder if the Touch ID still works in this mode. I shall find out when it arrives. 

Downsides? The only one I can think of is the lack of backlit keys. But with white keys and black lettering, I never need lights. Well, there’s another big downside. This thing costs $179. Then again, if you write for a living, it’s worth it.

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