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As much as we’re big fans of Apple’s Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro, we have to admit that it’s not without its limitations, even if the benefits generally outweigh the things that it’s lacking. While reasonable people may disagree about how serious some of the Magic Keyboard’s deficiencies are, the lack of a dedicated row of function keys is one omission that’s missed by pretty much everybody.
Sure, you can argue that function keys are an anachronism from a bygone era, especially on a device like the iPad, which unlike Macs and PCs, generally makes no use of the traditional F-keys at all, but the special keys that most other keyboards have long offered for controlling things like brightness, volume, and media playback have always been a welcome addition for those who might want to quickly make adjustments without having to lift their fingers and interrupt their workflow to poke around the touchscreen interface instead.
Of course, the Magic Keyboard has no room for an extra row of keys, and as many users have observed, even using the top row of number keys often results in fingers hitting the bottom edge of the iPad due to the way it overhangs. So Apple bringing back dedicated keys is clearly something that’s not going to happen anytime soon, but the good news is that the company may be adding some useful workarounds in the form of universal keyboard shortcuts.
New code references found by 9to5Mac in the first iPadOS 13.5.5 beta released this week reveal new multi-key shortcuts that could be used to replicate some of the functions previously assigned to dedicated keys.
At this point, it’s unclear exactly what the shortcuts will be or how they will work, as 9to5Mac has been unable to actually activate any of them, so the code likely isn’t quite finished yet. Presumably, however, this would involve CMD, CTRL, or OPT key combos that could do things like adjust screen brightness, volume, and even the keyboard backlight, all of which currently require trips of varying depth into the iPadOS user interface to adjust.
It’s also not clear if these will be customizable, although the fact that they would need to be universal shortcuts that work across multiple apps might make this a bit more challenging. iPadOS 13.4 introduced the ability to remap a few of the modifier keys, allowing different functions to be assigned to the Caps Lock, Control, Option, Command, and Globe Keys, including remapping those to different functions, disabling them entirely, or turning one of them into an Escape key (a function that’s otherwise accessed by hitting CMD+period).
Apple could add the ability to map other controls to these modifier keys, letting you for example turn Caps Lock into a mute or play/pause key, for instance, but since most of the functions that would need to be mapped using two keys — adjusting brightness or volume up and down, for example — this would be considerably less practical for most users (although arguably the option would be nice to have).
Defining them as more straightforward modifier key sequences would be simpler, but again Apple would be faced with the challenge of not stomping on any key combos used by other apps, especially since unlike macOS, iPadOS doesn’t (yet) offer any way to remap shortcut keys in third-party apps — you get whatever the developers choose to define them as.
To be clear, modifier keys on other Bluetooth keyboards continue to work fine with the iPad Pro; even Apple’s Mac Magic Keyboard maps the brightness, volume, and media control keys to iPadOS, which includes a visual interface similar to macOS to display when changes are being made.
Whether we’ll see these shortcuts in the final version of iOS 13.5.5 is anybody’s guess at this point, since Apple likely still has some aspects of the implementation to sort out, but this at least gives us hope that the company is working on it.
[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]