WWDC Week of Wants, Vol 3

WWDC Week of Wants, Vol 3

Today's Ramblings: Keyboards

Ever since third-party keyboards arrived with iOS8, things have pretty much been a mess. Here are some quick thoughts and wants, from my perspective.

The Bad

  • Third party keyboards don’t have access to the “Globe” button pop-over for keyboard switching. The only option is to tap and tap and tap to cycle through. This reduces the number of keyboards I want to keep active.
  • There is no dictation option in third party keyboards. I understand not allowing, say, Google to access the microphone for Google Assistant searches, but shouldn’t there be a button there for system-level dictation on all keyboards?
  • Secure fields default back to the system keyboard. I can understand this, too, from a security standpoint. Some keyboards talk to a server, and you don’t want your keystrokes transmitted back from a password field. But, can’t the system just disallow key logging from a secure input field?
  • Third party keyboards are slow. They switch slow, and are slow to appear on some screens. I’m looking at you, Spotlight.

Just having the ability to use third party keyboards is very nice. I’ve used GBoard, SwiftKey, TextExpander, Emoji++ and others. They are all great, when they work. There are a few things I’d like to see to make it even better.

Easier Installation

To install a third-party keyboard, here’s the process:

  1. Download the app from the App Store
  2. Open the app
  3. See a message in the app to go to your keyboard settings. Some keyboard apps are smart enough top put a deep-link button in there for you.
  4. Navigate to Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Keyboards -> Add new Keyboard and choose the one you want
  5. Use the keyboard and realize you need to give it Full Access.
  6. Navigate back to the keyboard settings and give it full access.

Then, if you’re not an insane person who lets your home screen run wild, you have to drag the new keyboard app’s icon into a folder somewhere.

That’s ridiculous. If a keyboard “app” is only a keyboard, and not a feature of a larger app (like TextExpander’s keyboard), there shouldn’t be a home screen icon for it. Here’s how I think it should work:

  1. Download the keyboard from the App Store
  2. See a pop-up that says “Would you like to install this keyboard?”
  3. Tapping yes takes you to the keyboard settings screen, which allows you to activate the keyboard and give it the access permissions it needs.

See how much easier that is? To delete a keyboard, just swipe to delete like an email, and tap a confirmation dialog. There’s no reason for home screen icons for most keyboard apps.

Better Switching

The current system of switching keyboards, the “Globe” icon, is problematic. First, only the stock keyboards can access the switcher pop-over to directly access a keyboard. Once you’re in a third-party keyboard, you’re stuck. All keyboards need the switcher Globe icon, so why can’t all of them access the pop-over to switch to another? As I said above, I only keep the bare minimum of keyboards (currently GBoard and the stock keyboard) because switching between them is so painful. I’d love to keep my TextExpander keyboard, my Copied keyboard, and a GIF keyboard at the ready, but that’s just more to tap through when switching.

And for the love of all that is good in this world, can Apple require a standard position for the switcher key. It jumps around, even on Apple’s keyboards.

I’ve been using Gboard for a few weeks, and it’s really nice. I’ve turned off the stock Emoji keyboard because swiping through hundreds of Emojis to find a cocktail glass is maddening. With Gboard, I tap the Emoji button and type in cocktail or martini or even glass and get the little tiny picture I want. Hell, even the GBoard auto-correct will suggest an Emoji based on just typing in a text field!

Gboard Emojis Rock!

Speaking of Auto-Correct…

Has auto-correct been getting worse, or is it just me? Time was, you could write a pretty coherent sentence using nothing but the suggested words, but now the device seems to take words I type all the time and change them into things that aren’t even words. And I’m not the only one.

More Specific Layouts

The iPhone 6 Plus is huge. Can I get a number row on my keyboard, pretty please? I even made a pretty picture to demonstrate:

Fixed It!

And while you’re “fixing” keyboard layouts, can we please have the split keyboard back on the iPad Pro? Typing on this thing while holding it is damn near impossible.