Apple surprised the entire tech community when they announced the release of third-party keyboards for iOS 8 at WWDC '14. While it's not a new idea for smartphones, it is a new idea for iOS users, as this type of extensibility hasn't yet been seen on these devices. When iOS 8 was first released, there were several extensions, including keyboard extensions that were released, but none were particularly good.
Now that the apps have had a few months to mature, there are a few keyboard apps that have stood out, as they can both enhance your productivity or add additional functionality to your device. Here are three of the best keyboard apps for iOS 8 to date.
There are a few keyboards that let you swipe your finger across the screen to spell out a word instead of hunting and pecking for the letters. Swype is my favorite keyboard in this category, though, and for a few reasons: First, the keyboard doesn't require Full Access or network access in order to use it (with Full Access enabled, the keyboard can have network access). Plus, there are several themes that you can choose between.
While this app is a paid application, it's well worth the $0.99 (USD) price tag. It's a Universal app and will work with both the iPhone and iPad. Download it from the iTunes App Store, and then perform the following steps:
- Go to Settings | General | Keyboard | Keyboards | Add New Keyboard
- From the "add new keyboard" view, tap on Swype to add it to your keyboard list
Note: If you enable Full Access on the Swype keyboard, you'll get access to additional features and better word recognitions. However, if you're security conscious and don't wish to have your keyboard letter presses sent to a server without your approval, the keyboard will still function properly without enabling this feature.
If you still wish to enable Full Access, tap on the Swype keyboard in the Keyboards listing, and enable the option for "Allow Full Access."
To use the keyboard, open an application that accepts text input (such as the Notes app), and then press and hold the Globe icon in the keyboard when the default iOS 8 keyboard appears. When you do this, you'll notice a new keyboard that you can switch to: Swype. Tapping on this keyboard will switch your default iOS keyboard to the Swype keyboard for text input (Figure A).
Swipe your finger across the keyboard to the letters in order spell out a word.
If you're invested in the TextExpander world on the Mac (a utility that lets you expand short phrases and words into longer sentences), then you'll be happy to know that the TextExpander application available for iOS 8 also sports a free custom keyboard that you can install and utilize with all of your existing shortened phrases.
The TextExpander keyboard is part of the TextExpander 3 app for iOS, which can be purchased on the iTunes App Store for $4.99 (USD).
TextExpander can automatically convert your shorter phrases into longer strings of text as you type (Figure B), giving you the ability to spend less time typing and more time being productive.
Enter your short word to have it expanded into a longer phrase that it stored in TextExpander.
Let's face it, when you have a company chat room, you inevitably start sharing gifs at random times. Don't be left out — with the PopKey keyboard, you can instantly find and share popular and trending gifs with others. Using this keyboard, you can stay up-to-date on the latest trends in animated gifs.
To use this keyboard, simply download it from the iTunes App Store. It's a free app that works on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices running iOS 8.
One of the best parts about PopKey is that you can easily send animated gifs when you're in most applications, including the Messages app. Here's how (follow these instructions once you've downloaded the PopKey application):
- Open Messages, and then create a new message
- Tap inside of the text field to write a message
- Tap and hold on the globe button that appears on the default keyboard in iOS 8
- Tap the PopKey keyboard to make it the default keyboard
Next, you'll see a list of categories under the Pop tab that will let you choose the right gif that you're looking for. Once you've selected a category, you'll be presented with a list of gifs that you can chose from. Single-tap on any gif to copy it to the clipboard, and it will also begin animating the preview. Simply paste it into the text field to send it (Figure C).
Popkey lets you choose a gif then copies it to the clipboard where it can be pasted into most applications, including Messages.
If you see a gif that you wish to add to your favorites, simply double-tap it, and it will appear under your Fav tab in the keyboard.
Many other keyboards
There are many other keyboards available for iOS 8 that provide even more functionality to iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users. All keyboard apps will be added to iOS 8 the same way that these keyboards were. It's important to note, however, that if you remove the host application from your device, then the keyboard will also disappear from your device as well.
Do you have a third-party keyboard that you use on a daily basis? Let us know about it in the discussion thread below.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer, creating both iOS and OS X applications at Cocoa App (his own company), MartianCraft, and for various other clients. As a part of full disclosure, he does not write about any software that he has created or has helped to create through these outlets.
Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite technology part-time since 2007. He runs a development blog named ObjDev when he isn’t writing about consumer tech.