You Can Finally Buy Apple’s New Magic Keyboard with Touch ID (But There’s One Big Problem)

Apple Magic Keyboard with Touch ID closeup Credit: Jay Wennington / Unsplash
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When Apple unveiled its colourful new M1-powered 24-inch iMac earlier this year, the company also surprised us with an external Magic Keyboard with a Touch ID sensor.

Although MacBook owners have been able to take advantage of Touch ID authentication since 2016, this is because the fingerprint sensor is built right into the MacBook, and can therefore be hardwired to the other components such as the Secure Enclave and Apple’s T2 security chip.

However, even though Apple added the T2 chip to its Mac mini in 2018, and then finally to the 27-inch iMac last year, it didn’t work with any kind of fingerprint sensor. Presumably, Apple decided that if a Touch ID sensor was going to be present on its desktop Macs, it needed to be on the keyboard, and it clearly hadn’t yet worked out the technology for a fingerprint sensor that wasn’t hardwired into the system.

Of course, Apple finally addressed this with the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. It’s also probably not a coincidence that this didn’t arrive until the first M1 iMac.

There’s a good chance that there’s some challenge here that Apple couldn’t easily overcome with an Intel CPU, but was obviously easy to add in building its own SoC from the ground up.

Unfortunately, the only problem with the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID when it was first released is that Apple wasn’t selling it separately — you had to buy one of the new 24-inch iMacs to get your hands on it.

Apple never stated whether it would eventually sell the new Magic Keyboard on its own, but it did hint at the possibility in its Platform Security Guide when it revealed that it was compatible with more than just the iMac. In fact, Apple acknowledged that you could even use the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID with a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro that already includes a built-in Touch ID sensor — great news for those MacBook users who prefer to use an external monitor and keyboard at their desk.

Now, it looks like MacBook and Mac mini users can make that a reality, since Apple is now selling the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID individually.

To be clear, it doesn’t come cheap, as you’ll pay $149 for the standard keyboard, and $179 for the expanded version that includes a numeric keypad. Apple also still sells the original Touch ID-less versions of both those keyboards for $99 and $129 respectively, so you’re basically paying a $50 premium for Touch ID.

Apple has also refreshed the standard Magic Keyboard models, so the entire lineup now includes the new woven USB-C to Lightning cables for connecting and charging, whether you spring for the Touch ID sensor or not.

It’s also worth noting that although Apple makes the Magic Keyboard in several colours to match the various 24-inch iMac models, the standalone version is only available in the usual silver and white finish. If you want to get your hands on one of the more colourful versions, you’ll still need to buy an appropriately colour-matched 24-inch iMac to go with it.

Will Apple’s New Touch ID Keyboard Work with My Intel MacBook?

Unfortunately, if you’re one of the many Mac users who have been hoping for an external Touch ID sensor for years, there’s going to be a bit of bad news here: Apple’s Magic Keyboard with Touch ID only works with Apple Silicon Macs.

Of course, that should be pretty obvious from the full title of the product on Apple’s website: “Magic Keyboard with Touch ID for Mac models with Apple silicon,” but that’s a mouthful, and we’re not certain that it will be listed that way when it shows up at other retailers.

At this point, that’s any of the current MacBook Air models, the lower-end MacBook Pro, and the Apple Silicon Mac mini — basically, all the new Macs released last fall. It’s also compatible with the new 24-inch iMac, of course, so if you regretted not springing for the better keyboard in the first place, you can now add it on separately — as long as you’re willing to settle for the standard silver/white look.

Specifically, Apple lists compatibility with the following Mac models:

  • MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020)
  • iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021)
  • Mac mini (M1, 2020)

It’s obviously a safe bet that it will work on all future Apple Silicon Macs as well, whether that next chip is the M1X, M2, or whatever else it happens to be. Apple simply says the requirements are a “Mac with Apple silicon using macOS 11.4 or later.”

Note that even though Apple’s latest 2021 iPad Pro uses the M1 chip, the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID is NOT compatible with the iPad Pro. It’s unclear whether this is a hardware limitation, or simply a lack of support in iPadOS.

After all, even with Apple’s latest M1 Macs, you’ll need at least macOS 11.4 or later to pair up the Touch ID sensor. That’s the version that the new 24-inch iMac shipped with, of course, but users of older M1 Macs will need to upgrade, if they haven’t already. Presumably, iPadOS would need to include similar features at the software level.

Note that you’ll still be able to use the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID with Intel Macs, or even other computers, since it works just like a Bluetooth keyboard in every other way. Only the Touch ID sensor requires an Apple Silicon Mac. While it’s obviously not worth springing for the more expensive keyboard if you’re not going to use the Touch ID sensor at all, this does mean that you can still pair up the keyboard for use with older Macs or even your Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, or any other Bluetooth device.

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