Apple's new iOS 8 update adds a ton of productivity-boosting features for business users. That includes the ability to install a third-party keyboard on your iPhone or iPad in place of Apple's default touch screen keyboard, for the first time. Apple's keyboard isn't bad; it offers an attractive layout and pretty good typo correction. But there are still good reasons to think about switching.
Other keyboards offer great features that Apple's lacks, including the ability to use "swipe" typing, better predictive software, and quicker access to numbers and special characters. With the right third-party keyboard installed, you can type more quickly and accurately on your iOS 8 device. But before we get to a list of my favorite iOS 8 keyboards, there are a few details to clear up.
iOS 8 keyboard restrictions
Apple is finally letting users replace the default keyboard in iOS 8, but third-party keyboards are still subject to some pretty tough restrictions — presumably to encourage users to stick with Apple's own keyboard. Here are the limitations Apple has placed on third-party keyboards.
- No voice dictation for typing.
- Some secure text fields within iOS apps only allow input from Apple's default keyboard.
- Third-party keyboards must stretch across the horizontal width of the screen on iOS (even if the Android version lets you adjust the width of the on-screen keyboard.)
How to install a keyboard
You'll also need to know how to install a third-party keyboard before you can use one. Here's how to do it.
- Go to the App Store, search for a keyboard and download it.
- Go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Keyboards>Add New Keyboard
- Select your new keyboard from the Third Party Keyboards list
You can generally switch between installed keyboards while typing by tapping the globe icon at the bottom-left corner of the screen. Some keyboards hide that option in a different spot, though. For example, Swype hides it behind the app logo, and Fleksy hides it behind the number key toggle button.
Top 5 keyboards for iOS 8
Now, let's get to the keyboards.
Swype — $0.99
Swype, the original swipe-typing keyboard, offers iOS 8 users a quicker way to type. If you've never used swipe typing, here's how it works. When you want to type a word, just slide your finger over each letter in sequence, without lifting your finger. When you finish the word, simply lift your finger to let the keyboard software analyze the path of your stroke and guess which word you wanted. If it sounds complicated, give it a try — it's accurate and easy to use, and a whole lot faster than standard touch screen typing — especially when you're typing with one hand. After a few minutes of practice, you'll be swiping out messages faster than you thought was possible on a tiny smartphone screen. Swype is also pretty good at picking up on what you've typed before, then making accurate predictions as you start to type a new message.
SwiftKey — Free
SwiftKey is a lot like Swype, with a bigger emphasis on predictive typing. As you type, it quickly picks up on your writing style, as well as commonly used words and phrases. The next time you start to type, it predicts what you're trying to say and offers up suggestions in a line above the keyboard, letting you pound out complex messages in a hurry. For example, SwiftKey picks up on street addresses and email signoffs that you've used in the past. It can even learn complete sentences, letting you duplicate them later in just a few seconds. Prediction aside, SwiftKey is also notable for having extremely accurate correction software that can correct typos as you go. And like Swype, it also lets you use swipe typing for fast and easy one-handed typing.
Fleksy — $0.99
Fleksy sets itself apart with swipe-based gestures that can help you type faster. There are two big ones: Swipe left for backspace, and swipe right to put a space between words. Other handy gestures include the ability to activate the shift key by flicking up from the bottom left corner of the screen, or dragging left from the bottom right corner to bring up the symbols panel. When you type a word, you can also cycle through Fleksy's text suggestions by swiping up and down. In practice, it's faster and more accurate than poking tiny keys on your keyboard. The downside is the potential for fatigue: The constant swiping for every space can get a bit tiring if you do a lot of mobile typing, though you can also choose to use the standard spacebar button. Gestures aside, Fleksy also has extremely accurate autocorrect capabilities.
Minuum — $0.99
Minuum is unlike any other mobile keyboard out there. The first thing you'll notice about it is that all 26 letters of the alphabet are compressed down into the space of a single line on other keyboards. That lets it take up far less screen space than most other keyboards, giving you more space to work. Typing is based on text prediction; just tap in the general vicinity of the letters you want, and let Minuum handle the rest. It works a lot like the autocorrect feature of other keyboards, so you won't like Minuum if you're not too keen on letting your keyboard guess what you're trying to type. The supercompressed layout is still based on the familiar QWERTY arrangement, so touch typists should have little trouble adapting. Swiping to the right lets you input a space, while swiping to the left performs a backspace. Overall, Minuum offers an unorthodox typing experience, but if you're desperate to free up digital real estate on your iPhone, it's worth a look.
KuaiBoard - $1.99
KuaiBoard isn't a keyboard for daily use, but it can make monotonous tasks a breeze. Specifically, it was designed to help you fill out lengthy online forms in a hurry. You start by filling in some common text such as names, billing information and other personal information. Later, you can enter that text into a form with just a few quick taps. You can also import your contact information to make names, street addresses and email information instantly accessible. You can even save your email signature, including your name, business and contact information, then use KuaiBoard to quickly append it to the end of your emails. And it's fairly easy to switch to KuaiBoard when you have to fill out a form, then switch back to another keyboard when you're finished. Most won't find much use for it, but it could help business users save time and energy.