Mobility

How to choose the right mobile keyboard for faster typing on your iPhone or iPad

Apple, Google, and Microsoft all make keyboards for iOS. Andy Wolber helps you choose which keyboard might be best for you.

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

On mobile devices, speed matters. Most of us will switch to a device that lets us complete a task more quickly, if we have the option. So, when we need to type lots of words, we set down the phone and reach for a larger tablet, an external keyboard, or a laptop.

However, you can learn to type faster on your iPhone or iPad, either by adjusting how you use the Apple keyboard or by installing a third-party keyboard app. The key is to be patient—it may take time to unlearn the habits formed from a lifetime of hardware keyboard use.

Apple keyboard tips

To type quickly on your iPhone or iPad with the default Apple keyboard, try these settings and techniques:

  • Turn on and trust auto-correction to fix minor errors. (Settings > General > Keyboard > Auto-Correction slide on)
  • Turn on predictive text to display words above the keyboard. When the word you want appears, tap it then type your next word. (Settings > General > Keyboard > Predictive on)
  • To type a single capital letter, tap the Shift key, then drag your finger to a letter, then lift.
  • To type a single number or punctuation mark, tap the 123 number key and drag your finger to the number or punctuation mark desired, then lift.
  • Turn on the spacebar shortcut so that when you type the last word of a sentence and you tap the spacebar twice, the keyboard will add a period after your last word and insert a single space, so you're ready to start the next sentence. (Settings > General > Keyboard > "." Shortcut)
  • Hold the device in landscape mode to type with two thumbs on your phone or two hands on your iPad. On larger devices, like the iPhone 6 and 6s Plus, you'll see additional keys.
  • Add Text Replacement terms that replace a shortcut sequence of letters with a longer phrase. For example, replace "trl" with "TechRepublic.com." (Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement > + to add a shortcut)

If you want an app to help you learn iOS typing techniques, take a look at the TabTyping - typing trainer app. There's a basic free version with a paid upgrade to unlock all the features.

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Adjust the default Apple keyboard settings to enable Auto-Correction, predictive text, and more.

Swipe to type

An alternative way to enter text is to swipe: Tap the first letter of the word, then drag your finger around the screen from letter to letter, then lift after you swipe over the last letter of the word. Often, this method is faster, since you don't have to precisely position your finger over each letter. The keyboard software figures out what word you intended to type from the letters you approached and swiped over. In case the software got it wrong, alternative word choices appear above the keyboard.

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To enter an unusual word, such as a technical term or proper name, swipe slowly over each letter. If that doesn't work, tap each letter the old-fashioned way. To enter numbers, for example, you'll typically need to tap.

Both Microsoft and Google make keyboards that offer swipe typing on iOS. In fact, Microsoft offers two keyboards that support swipe typing: SwiftKey, which Microsoft acquired in early 2016, and Word Flow. Each of the keyboards offers distinct benefits.

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SwiftKey, one of the most popular swipe-typing keyboards, was purchased by Microsoft in early 2016.

Gboard to search and insert

Google's Gboard keyboard excels at search and inserting links. Tap the Google logo, swipe type to search, then insert a result with a tap. In a document, key information about the link displays along with a goo.gl shortlink. If you share a lot of links, Gboard will save you time.

Gboard has a playful side, too: Search for images, emoji, and GIFs. Type keywords to describe the image you need and you'll see emoji or GIFs that fit the description. (And, yes, I tested to make sure that you can insert emoji and GIFs into Google Docs, although I suggest you use these sparingly in formal reports.)

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Google's Gboard embeds search-and-insert features into an iOS swipe-typing keyboard.

SwiftKey learns your words

SwiftKey learns the words you use to improve predictive typing. If you choose, you can give SwiftKey permission to access information you store in Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and Contacts. As you swipe type, words you've used before are more likely to appear. For example, when I type "Association," I don't even have to type the next several words, since SwiftKey "knows" that the next word I likely want is "for," followed by "the," followed by "Blind." I swipe-type one word, "Association" then just tap the predicted word three times in a row to complete the phrase.

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Allow SwiftKey to access the words you use to improve predictive typing.

Word Flow to type with one thumb

Word Flow delivers one-thumb typing. With a quick swipe on an arc symbol, you can transform the keyboard from a standard layout to an arc suitable for one-handed typing. Even better, you can choose whether you prefer an arc suitable for right-handed or left-handed typing.

The Word Flow arc keyboard works especially well on larger iPhones, such as the 6 Plus and 6s Plus, since it brings the entire keyboard within reach of a single thumb. In the arc arrangement, the number of predicted words displayed reduces from three to two, due to space constraints. Combined with Apple's "reachability" feature—a quick double-tap of your thumb on the home button, which brings the top of the screen down into the reach of your thumb—Word Flow makes these larger phones usable with one hand.

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Word Flow's arc keyboard mode makes one-handed typing possible and works well, especially on larger iPhones.

Configuration challenge

The setup process for all of these third-party keyboards takes a bit of configuration. First, you find and install the keyboard app from the App Store. Next, you need to add the keyboard in Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > "Add New Keyboard...," then select the keyboard to add.

For full functionality, you'll need to provide the keyboard "Full Access" to your information in Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > then the name of your keyboard (e.g., Word Flow) > and slide the setting to Full Access. Finally, return to your home screen and tap the keyboard app, just as you would to open any app, to adjust your keyboard app settings.

SEE: Third-party keyboards make a splash in iOS 8, despite security risks (TechRepublic)

Faster?

My tap-typing speed on mobile devices tends to be about 60% of my typing speed with a physical keyboard. Swipe typing improves my speed considerably. But, my bigger problem is my habit of typing a few words, deleting them, then typing some more. What I really need is an app that will help me think more clearly. I'm not sure there's an app for that—yet.

What's your type?

How do you type on your mobile device? If you use a third-party keyboard, which one do you prefer? Tell us in the comments.

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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