Writing with the iPhone and a wireless keyboard


While I was evaluating the purchase of an Air 11 to run Scrivener, I also discovered that you can pair a wireless keyboard to the iPhone. That’s really portable! The phone is always with me, and when needed, the keyboard is an easy fit to any small bag (or even some winter jacket’s pocket…)

Has anybody tried to write in the wild with this setup? Are fonts too small, or they are just fine? And, I guess the best text editor to syncronize with Scrivener is WriteRoom, but I’m very curious about the various available choices.


I have been writing daily for a year using the iPhone and the Apple Wireless Keyboard. I use CarbonFin Outliner and WriteRoom and PlainText and SimpleNote, depending on what I’m syncing with.

It is a great setup if you are making things up out of thin air, or copying from a book. If you need to refer to anything else on your iPhone, it’s a pain!

Also, I suggest you find an old plastic cassette case. It makes the perfect stand for the iPhone while typing, and costs almost nothing!

This is less a work solution than a practical life one, but when I’m texting back and forth and it requires a little detail – giving directions, for example, or choosing a restaurant for dinner – I always pair my iPhone with my Apple iPad dock keyboard. The dock keyboard + iPhone is also a good solution for cramped airplanes – great way to knock out a couple of emails, or to get an idea down quickly.

I seem to recall that the apple BT keyboard only works with iPhone 4. True? I have a 3G.

If the size of the keyboard is an issue, there are collapsible Bluetooth keyboards made for smartphones and Palms you can find for around $80. The negative is that, because they fold together, they’re a bit wobbly used in your lap. They work much better flat on a table. The Bluetooth standard really is a standard. I’ve got one for Palms that synchs without problem with my MacBook.

There are also coat-pocket-sized mini Bluetooth keyboards available from about $20 and up. You can’t touch type with them, but they work well enough held in your hands like a Blackberry. They’re sold on eBay and Meritline just offered one (via Dealmac) for $20.99:

meritline.com/mini-bluetooth … e=dealnews

Meritline offers free shipping, but since it’s coming from China and probably ships space available by air freight, it can take two weeks or more to come. Be patient.

Also, all the keyboards I’ve seen come marked for Windows keys. Given the popularity of Macs, iPhones and iPads, I expected to see Mac keys by now. That Meritline one I mentioned above does say that it has “special keys” for an iPad, but it isn’t clear what that means. Their website does show a video of it being used with an iPad.

For those who’ve not used an iPhone with a Bluetooth keyboard, you might be happy to know that iOS is smart enough not to clutter the screen with a touch keyboard when a Bluetooth keyboard is being used. That typically doubles the tiny screen size and makes using an iPhone in landscape much more practical.

The Apple keyboard plus stand for the iPad also works with the iPhone and even my Bluetooth-keyboard-hostile 2-gen iPod touch. (Boo Apple for that!) Even the sound and screen brightness keys work. But it’s heavy and clumsy to carry around.

Apple really should make a mini-Bluetooth keyboard for their iDevices, but I suspect their design purists would reject the idea as violating the ‘true nature’ of a touch device or something.

–Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien

The issue isn’t the Apple BT keyboard but any BT keyboard. BT keyboards of all sorts work fine with the 3GS and the last two generations of iPod touches as well as the iPad.

I’ve got a iPhone 3G and a 2-gen iPod touch and I’m quite ticked off Apple hasn’t taken the time to write Bluetooth keyboard drivers for either of them. The hardware is there. If your iPhone 3G is jailbroke and has the Cyndia app installed, you can download BTstack keyboard and use a 3G with a Bluetooth keyboard inside some apps, including WriteRoom. Reports are that it is quite reliable, but I don’t need the feature enough to try it myself.

–Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien

My cynical side suspects that it’s not that apple hasn’t had time to write a driver but wants to give us yet another reason to buy a new iPhone. Gonna take more than that to get me to upgrade. Thanks for the info.

I think it is more the firmware/chipset used in the 3G that is the problem. If I remember correctly the 3G chipset is only able to recognized specific HW ID types (part of BT spec),

But I might be mistaken.

Will the iPhone and iPad work with the apple wireless trackpad, or do you have to use the touchscreen?

If you’ve got an iPhone 4, you might want to look into this nifty, attachable keyboard:


There are also videos here:

youtube.com/watch?v=kK3hE53Q … re=related

youtube.com/watch?v=sYBWBMhL … re=related

Quite pretty and thinner than I had thought. Note too that it allows you to tilt up the screen. Nice!

It has a number of pluses:

  • Compact, and slides out from under the iPhone like many smartphone keyboards. Joined to an iPhone, it should easily slip into a shirt or coat pocket. It also serves as a protective case.

  • Designed for the iPhone, unlike the cheap mini Bluetooth keyboards sold on eBay.

  • At $69 the price is less than that for comparable keypads for Palms and similar devices and almost identical to what Apple charges for their (much larger but still compact) keyboard. Since it also serves as a protective case, the real price is $49 or less.

  • In normal operation, it lets you view text on the entire screen in landscape (meaning no on-screen keyboard taking up space). But you can easily activate the on-screen keyboard to get to keys that aren’t available on the physical keyboard.

  • With the exception of special iPhone keys, it’s a stock Bluetooth keyboard, so it’ll also work with iPads, 4th gen iPod touches and even MacBooks. You just can’t physically mate the two.

The description on their website understates its clever feature set. Not only can you turn on keyboard lighting for writing in dark environments, it has two smart modes that extend the life of the keyboard battery by allowing turning off the lighting and the Bluetooth keyboard after a period of non-use. That means no worrying about the battery running down because you pocketed it with everything on. There’s a FAQ with more details here:


The bad news is that there’s no version for the iPhone 3GS. I emailed them suggesting that a 3GS version would only require a slightly different package for the same electronics and would tap a large market. We’ll see if they develop one after the February release of this model. Since I just picked up a used 3GS, I’ll be waiting with particular interest.

Michael W. Perry, Chesterton on War and Peace

…and it works like a charm. Sadly, they aren’t manufacturing these anymore. I purchased mine five or so years ago to use with a Dell Axim. Then I got an iPhone 3GS, and put it in the drawer (because when the 3GS first came out, the full bluetooth stack wasn’t yet implemented).

In the last major IOS update, however, it has been implemented, and the keyboard works great!

Highly recommended.

I’ve been tempted to do a blog post with a video showing off my work-flow. If anyone’s interested, let me know, and I’ll motivate.

Scrivener + SugarSync + iPhone + Docs2Go = The world’s most portable, fully functional word processor for writers.

UPDATE: I now use SimpleNote in place of Docs2Go, which also eliminates SugarSync from the workflow (although it still backs up the text version of my notes to the cloud, because they get re-created in a separate directory by Notational Velocity’s auto-sync with SimpleNote).

I’ve also switched to a completely markdown based approach to formatting, even when I write inside of Scrivener. So far, I’m loving it.

In fact, I’ve noticed that I’m better able to focus while writing on my iPhone, because the small screen is less well suited for surfing hacker news and scanning my RSS feeds.

Plus, writing my novel is the only “work” I do on the iPhone, so it’s a useful context switch to help my ADHD addled brain click into “writer mode.” When I’m on my MacBook Pro and connected to an external display, I’m usually in “day job mode” designing and coding websites, which tends to not put me in a prose-centric state of mind.

Lastly, the portability of being able to walk around with my entire novel and a capable word processor in my pockets–no bag required–is really nice. I live near the beach in LA, so this really makes it easier to just get out of the house.

I know I’d be interested. Like the old saying, “I like work so much, I can watch it for hours,” observing someone else describe their workflow is a good excuse not to work.

Yesterday, I paired my 3GS with an Apple and a foldable Palm Bluetooth keyboard and found I liked the experience. For writing that doesn’t require research or looking up information, an iPhone screen in landscape with an external keyboard works quite well and it’d be nice not to have to lug a laptop around.

I also found I liked Apple’s keyboard better. That’s partly because its feel and layout is identical to my other keyboards, but it also does more via keystrokes. A Google search will turn up quite a few standard Mac commands that allow you to navigate, select, copy and paste text on iPhones. With my clumsy fingers, keyboard controls often work a lot better than touch screen ones.

The Palm was designed for Palms and is a bit too stiff (keystrokes) and flexible (the folding board itself) for my tastes. The layout is a bit weird, and I couldn’t make it do as much as the Apple keyboard does. I also wondered if I wanted to confound my mind with using two keyboard designs that are so different. That said, I can slip a collapsed Palm keyboard into a coat pocket and it has a handy, tilt-up holder that’s just right for an iPhone. The Apple keyboard requires a bag and something else to tilt it up.

When that Nuu mini-keyboard for the iPhone 4 described above comes out, I’ll definitely be looking for one to try out. It’s small and designed to be friendly with iPhones. The only real issues will be whether I can adapt to thumb-typing and if they’ll come out with a 3GS or a freestanding version. The latter perhaps with an tilt-up holder that can hold any iPhone (even one in a case) without becoming a case itself, would be best. I’d rather have a keyboard that’s a take-with-me option rather than one that’s semi-permanently attached. Then I could leave it home except when needed.

–Mike Perry

Nokia once made a Bluetooth keyboard, the SU-8W (yeah Nokia really has a way with names). It’s no longer officially for sale anywhere and I think it’s too expensive now when it occasionally shows up in the wild, so I’m not recommending it as a first-time purchase. However, I can vouch for it being compatible with the 3GS/4 and the iPad, so if you see a used one somewhere at a good price you can feel safe knowing it will work.

As for usability, meh–I find all these small/compact keyboards (including on netbooks) have quirks that you have to get used to. The Nokia SU-8W’s real problem is that to save lots of space, Nokia merged the number row with the top QWERTY row, so to type numbers or certain punctuation marks you have to press a function key. I’ve been able to overlook it because I already had the keyboard from my Nokia days, but it absolutely slows down my writing. (I tend to spell out numbers a lot now, just to save time.)

The best thing about it, however, is its size: 132 x 87 x 19 mm when closed, and 262 x 87 x 13 mm when open.

Final quirk: it seems to prefer being synced with only one device at a time, so if I want to use it on my 3GS I have to delete the iPad pairing, and sometimes even take out the batteries from the keyboard, then start over to pair with with the phone.

So… not perfect by any means, but tiny and reliable if you can live with certain quirks. And yeah I do a ton of my writing these days on the portable iOS devices using this keyboard, so the bt keyboard workflow definitely works for me.

OWC is currently selling the Apple keyboard dock (list $69) for $28.


It’ll turn an iPad (in portrait mode) into a quasi laptop by letting you type on the standard Apple keyboard rather than touch the screen. The base is weighed and sticks out, so it isn’t too portable, but it would be fine around the house or office.

At an Apple store, a salesman also demonstrated to me that it worked quite well with the iPod touch 2-gen I had at that time. It may or may not work with other iPod touches and iPhones, depending on how well it fits into a base designed for the 1-gen iPad. You might check out what you have before you buy. Also, used with an iPod touch, the special loudness and screen brightness keys work.

They also have the compact aluminum Apple Bluetooth keyboard for $50.


That’ll work fine with recent iPhones and iPod touches. These units come without the fancy packaging and may have minor cosmetic blemishes. My hunch is that these units come from lots Apple rejected for some reason but allows to be sold on the grey market. They are guaranteed to work.

There are also numerous other Apple products at decent discounts including the larger aluminum keyboard, MacBook power supplies, the Magic trackpad, iPad cases, and earphones with the special Apple remote. You can find a complete list at:


Look through the entire, two-page list before making up your mind. Some items have multiple prices depending on their condition.

–Michael W. Perry, editor of Untangling Tolkien