Clicks is a $139 iPhone case for people who hate touchscreen typing

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Written By Sedoso Feb

There’s an app for the keyboard promising new features, but it’s not mandatory for the keyboard to work.
Clicks Technology

I used to be a speed demon on phone keyboards. Similar to when I use a mechanical keyboard, I could type with so much ease that during their early days of text messaging, people in my household would ask me to write out their longer messages. Those days of carefree cell phone typing hit a rut when I got my first iPhone.

Now, I can’t start without first looking at my touchscreen keyboard. And I almost always make at least one typo when writing long texts, emails, or documents. That’s why I’m intrigued by the latest attempt to bring old-school physical keyboards to iPhones.

A snap-on keyboard for the iPhone

On Thursday, Clicks Technology unveiled Clicks, a keyboard available for the iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro, and iPhone 15 Pro Max that snaps to the phone like a case. But instead of adding protection, it adds a physical keyboard. Each key boasts 0.22 mm of travel, Jeff Gadway, SVP of product marketing at Clicks, told Ars via email. That seems like miles compared to the flat nature of touchscreens.

Clicks Technology has hinted at plans for releasing Clicks in additional colors beyond what's seen here.
Clicks Technology has hinted at plans for releasing Clicks in additional colors beyond what’s seen here.
Clicks Technology

The keyboard connects via the iPhone’s Lightning or USB-C port (whichever the iPhone has). It uses iOS’s support for external keyboards, leveraging the human interface devices (HID) protocol. According to Clicks’ FAQ page, the company decided to forego Bluetooth to avoid pairing complications and latency. Users are supposed to still be able to charge their phones, including with wireless chargers, with Clicks connected.

But if you’re hoping to pair a traditional-style phone keyboard with traditional wired headphones, you’re out of luck. The company’s website says Clicks Technology is “working on a solution” to allow the keyboard and wired headphones to work simultaneously, but you have to pick one or the other for now. Clicks also isn’t considered compatible with MagSafe accessories, though the makers hope to change that eventually.

One look at Clicks’ layout, and I already see appeal in there being a Tab key, which the standard integrated iPhone keyboard lacks. Further, the keyboard is also supposed to make it easier to leverage keyboard shortcuts using its Command (CMD) key. Clicks’ makers highlight shortcuts like launching search (CMD + Space), getting to the home screen (CMD + H), and scrolling through web pages with the space key. Clicks claims to support keyboard shortcuts across “many” third-party apps, according to Thursday’s announcement.

Should the keyboard prove to work well and feel good, it could be a clever way to add more screen real estate for some iPhones since users won’t have a touchscreen keyboard hogging screen space at times. However, I’m curious to see how hard it is to hold and navigate a Clicks-equipped iPhone, including going from the physical keyboard to touchscreen as needed, for longer periods.

But Clicks also impacts iPhone battery life, even though the startup claims the effect is minimal.

“When the backlight is turned off, even on a heavy use day, battery usage will typically be less than ~2 percent. If the backlight is on, usage may increase up to another ~2 percent,” Clicks’ FAQ page, which we’ll have to take with a grain of salt, reads. The keyboard’s backlight turns off automatically after 5 seconds of the keyboard not being used and can be disabled. The keyboard also has an off switch.

When asked for further information, Gadway said the keyboard uses about 4.4 mAh when on but not in use.

“The background Wh consumption when the backlight is off is approximately 0.01628 Wh. It’s important to note that Wh is dependent on the voltage the battery uses, therefore we take the average of 3.7V,” he added.

Some might also be disappointed to notice that Clicks lacks a key for emojis, which have become so prominent in today’s culture that some mechanical keyboards and mice have started including integrated emoji buttons. Clicks says the keyboard doesn’t have an emoji button because iOS external keyboards do not currently support the feature. But there are still ways for Clicks users to bring up the emoji menu, including by pressing multiple keys that the keyboard does have. 

Not a robust phone case

Critically, Clicks isn’t a robust form of iPhone protection. In fact, the keyboard’s website says it’s not a case at all.

“Clicks is not being sold or marketed as a case at this time,” the FAQ page says.

However, the device could confuse consumers who don’t thoroughly read FAQ pages and assume that since this covers the iPhone, it could serve as adequate iPhone protection. Clicks can’t work in conjunction with an iPhone case.

The keyboard's makers say they'd like Made for iPhone certification, but there's no relevant category currently.
The keyboard’s makers say they’d like Made for iPhone certification, but there’s no relevant category currently.
Clicks Technology

That said, Clicks claims the keyboard offers a similar level of portion to a silicon rubber case and will bring “a degree of added protection” against “scratches, minor bumps, and drops.” But the keyboard isn’t water-resistant because that “would require the keys to be sealed and would impact the optimal typing,” Clicks’ website says.

The keyboard’s supposed to last for “over 2,000 installations and removals,” the startup claims. There’s a one-year warranty for manufacturing defects, but the warranty doesn’t cover drop damage.

Ultimately, Clicks will force people to decide if they want ultimate protection for their expensive device or (purportedly) improved typing. Suddenly, the cost of Clicks feels higher than its $139 starting price.

Another shot at iPhone keyboards

With preorders under way, Clicks is supposed to start shipping on February 1, opening the door to a potential path for bringing tactile typing to iPhones. As it stands, those craving keys with a little height on their iPhone are left with minimal alternatives, like connecting a wireless keyboard via Bluetooth. But those keyboards are typically disproportionately large compared to an iPhone, even if some options include clever docks for propping up the phone.

Logitech's Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard has space for propping a paired iPhone.
Enlarge / Logitech’s Keys-To-Go Bluetooth keyboard has space for propping a paired iPhone.
Logitech

There are also cheap-looking cases with external iPhone keyboards and folding keyboards readily available at retailers like Amazon, but their longevity and long-term comfort are dubious at best.

Surprisingly, the most memorable attempt at bringing the joys of button pressing to the iPhone came from Ryan Seacrest. The then-American Idol host co-founded the company behind Typo, a keyboard that emulated the famous BlackBerry keyboard so well that BlackBerry won $860,000 from Typo in a patent violation lawsuit, effectively shuttering the company (despite its attempts at a less infringe-y Typo 2).

The Typo.
The Typo.
Typo

It will be interesting to see if this UK-headquartered startup founded by Michael Fisher, known as MrMobile on YouTube, and Kevin Michaluk, founder of CrackBerry.com, maintain the business long enough for products like this to catch on. The founders say they’ve tapped veterans from companies like Apple, Blackberry, and Google for Clicks.

Gadway noted that “many of the supported capabilities of iPadOS, (like keyboard shortcuts), are shared by iOS. But because there have not been external keyboards for iPhone, many of those capabilities have gone undiscovered by customers.”

In a video on Clicks’ website, Fisher points to a world where external keyboards like Clicks are more common for iPhones:

Apple sells a lot of keyboards for its iPad and that’s pushed the support for external keyboards on iOS to get better and better. That means there’s a lot of native support in the iPhone as well. … Now that Clicks is here, we hope to see even more support get added. Were aiming for the day when every button on the keyboard can be an action button like on the iPhone 15. That would turn clicks into, basically like a remote control for your life.

Following Seacrest’s footsteps, Clicks Technology will show off its iPhone keyboard at CES, which takes place in Las Vegas next week.

Listing image by Clicks Technology

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