Using an iPad instead of a netbook or notebook computer can lighten the amount of computing gear you need when you're on the go. If you prefer the feel of real keys under your fingers or face a typing task with long stretches of text, you can add an external keyboard to your iPad if and when you need it. Between the range of options you can access for the iPad's on-screen virtual keyboard and the ways you can incorporate external peripherals as input devices, you can extend your iPad's functionality as a computer replacement.

On-Screen Flexibility

You can customize the on-screen keyboard that iOS displays so it suits your changing needs. If you type text in more than one language, the General section of the Settings screen includes Keyboard options you can use to incorporate a virtual keyboard that includes the proper keys for each language's accented characters and punctuation, as well as adapting it to languages that read from right to left and those that use non-alphabetic writing systems. You can slide the keyboard around the screen to place it where it's most comfortable to use and even split it along its horizontal axis into two segments you can move independently.

Bluetooth Keyboards

Apple and other companies offer Bluetooth keyboards you can pair with your iPad to provide a physical input device. Some iPad covers include built-in keyboards. To use an external input device wirelessly with your iPad, power up the accessory and then turn on Bluetooth in the iPad's Settings screen and select your input device from the Devices list. With a Bluetooth connection, you can use your keyboard up to 30 feet away from the iPad itself. These peripherals extend the range of keyboard shortcuts you can use to control iPad features and functions. To pair the keyboard with another device or simply stop using it, access its listing in the Bluetooth section of the Settings screen, and then tap the "i" indicator and choose "Forget This Device."

Lightning-to-USB Adapter

To connect your iPad to a computer, you can plug the tablet's USB cable into both devices. The Lightning connector attaches to your iPad and the USB connector to a USB port on your system. This connection serves to charge and sync your tablet. To leverage the Lightning connector for other purposes, including the attachment of external USB keyboards, you need a Lightning-to-USB adapter, an optional accessory that plugs into the Lightning port and provides a USB port. Provided that the keyboard you choose can receive enough power through the connection to support its operations, you can use this method as an alternative to Bluetooth.

Power Considerations

Bluetooth devices run on batteries -- some replaceable, some rechargeable. If you leave a Bluetooth keyboard active when you don't need it, it drains its batteries unnecessarily. Because connecting a keyboard directly to your iPad relies on the tablet's battery to support accessory operation, you may see your iPad's internal battery power drop faster with external devices plugged in. Use your iPad's on-screen keyboard when you don't need the full-travel physical keys and other features that an external input device provides.