Beginner’s Guide to Switch Interfaces for iPad
Gone are the days of old when we toiled in front of the desktop computer with our switch interface and cords dangling about. Just kidding, I still use all that stuff. But we have so many options these days! Today I am talking about a few of the switch interfaces (the thing you need to connect a switch to a device) specifically for iPad. There are generally two kinds of interfaces, direct connect (through the charging port) and Bluetooth. Here are some of my favorites!
Make a Direct Connection
The Tapio by Orin works by connecting to a lightning cable plugged directly into the charging port on the iPad. The obvious benefit of this is that you have a direct wired connection and don’t have to worry about your Bluetooth switch not pairing when you desperately need it to. Other benefits include
- No battery to charge, powered by the tablet itself
- Fast connection/response
- Can be used with iOS, android, mac, windows, Chromebook, Linux computers, and speech generating devices with a USB port
- Works with sip/puff or left/right switch with a single stereo switch
- It is possible to use two separate switches with different functions as long as you have the right adapter
Some downsides include
- Wired vs. a wireless connection you’d get with a Bluetooth interface
- You have to have the special adapter to use two separate switches
- You have to use a paperclip to make setting adjustments
Other Options to Connect Directly
Another direct connect interface that I haven’t personally used but am going to mention is the Hook+ switch interface from Ablenet. This one is a little pricier than the Tapio ($185). One benefit is that it allows for use of UP TO 4 SWITCHES! Also, when you have two switches plugged into the first and second jacks, iOS apparently automatically configures them as a “mover” switch and a selection or “get” switch. Something important to remember is that apps that use keystrokes (ex. apps with built in scanning like Boardmaker) are not compatible. But some of those apps don’t work with Tapio either (from my experience and spending an hour on the phone with Boardmaker technical support).
**The Hook+ interface ONLY works when using the switch control settings under Accessibility in iOS. If you are using a communication app or other app with it’s own switch control setting you need to use one of the Bluetooth switches I am getting ready to show you. Tapio says that it works with apps that use keystrokes and you have the ability to adjust the settings on the interface using a paperclip…but my experience was that it did not work with the app I use most frequently, Boardmaker Student Center (the student companion app for Boardmaker Online).
Free Yourself Up with Wireless
The first wireless switch interface I want to mention in the BLUE2 by Ablenet. This is my personal favorite of ALL the interfaces I have tried. Unlike the first two interfaces I’ve shown you, the BLUE2 is itself a switch (well, actually 2 switches). You can then connect whatever more adaptable switches you want to use directly in using the 3.5 mm inputs (the headphone jack connected to most switches you can buy). This is helpful when you’re doing switch training and need to provide assistance to get back to something or off a page your student went to accidentally you can do it from the interface switch without touching the switch(es) your student is using.
This is a bluetooth switch so even though you will connect your switches to the interface (pictured here) using the standard audio cable(s), the connection to the actual tablet will be wireless. This can be very convenient in a lot of ways. I personally find it very nice to be able to place the tablet on a tray, table, etc. and then move it as needed without having to watch for the cord like you would with the Tapio or Hook+. In order to use two switches, you simply plug one into S1 jack and the other into S2 (note, you will have to go in iOS settings and add both switches but this is done easily in this video). Check out a couple examples using the BLUE2!
Another Bluetooth Interface You Could Consider
BLUE2 isn’t the only wireless interface and, while there are others, I’m going to take time to mention one more . The APPlicator by InclusiveTLC has some nice functions. For one, you can connect up to four switches at a time. Their website also says it also works with the Surface Pro and Android tablets. It allows for 24 functions and a neat feature with this interface is the “Quick Media” option to play/pause, skip back/forward and timed play in music playlists.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t claim to know anything about how this work with Android or Microsoft products as our district uses iPads but I want to make sure everyone knows it is an option.
When in doubt…go bluetooth
Although a direct connect interface gives you the ability to bypass any bluetooth connection issues, I’ve never been unable to eventually get a bluetooth interface to connect. Now, if this is going to be a no go for your classroom (maybe you have classroom aides that hate dealing with tech issues), just go with a direct connector. Just remember that you’re probably not going to be able to use them with app specific switch settings. This automatically prevents you from using certain apps like ProLoQuo and Boardmaker Online. If you know you’re going to use something like that, go ahead and do bluetooth.
Feel free to leave any comments or questions! If you know a specific app you want to you, leave it in the comment and I will try to help you figure out the best interface to use!
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