Now that iOS 8 is here, it brings heaps of third-party keyboards that offer features that Apple's built-in keyboard doesn't. From better predictive text to cloud syncing and swipe-to-type, there are several to choose from, including some names you'll recognise. Let's take a look at the best of the best.
iOS 8 brings iOS users something that's been a long time coming -- the ability to replace the built-in keyboard with a new one from a third-party developer. Our friends over at GIzmodo recently looked at a few great keyboard options for iOS 8 users, but since then even more have hit the scene. We tested all of the ones below, and here are the best ones we think are worth trying out.
How to Install and Enable Third-Party Keyboards in iOS 8
First, you have to know how to install a new keyboard in iOS. Once you've downloaded the keyboard app from the iTunes App Store, you have to enable it:
- Tap "Settings" from the home screen.
- Tap General on the left side, then scroll down and tap "Keyboard".
- Tap "Keyboards", then "Add New Keyboard".
- You should see any new keyboards you've installed under "Third Party Keyboards". Tap the one you want to use.
- You'll get dropped back at the Keyboards settings. Tap the one you want to use again, then toggle Full Access on. You'll be warned that third party keyboards -- especially predictive ones -- can see everything you type. This is normal.
- Your preferred keyboard should now be in the list along with any other active keyboards. You may have to remove the others to get your preferred keyboard to appear instead of the default Apple keyboard
It's that last step that a lot of people forget, and that forces them to have to cycle between keyboards to get to the one they want to use. Don't worry -- removing a keyboard from the list there doesn't delete it -- you can always get back to it from the Third Party Keyboards menu, or from the app you installed.
SwiftKey is our favourite keyboard for Android, and for good reason. It learns from your typing habits and the apps you use to improve its own predictive text over time. Ideally, with enough use, SwiftKey will complete entire sentences for you without you having to type much at all. SwiftKey Flow, the gesture, swipe-to-type engine that's hugely popular on Android, also appears in the iOS version (although not on the iPad, sadly), and the keyboard can be customised with a dark or light theme. SwiftKey Cloud, the service's cloud-enabled, Google-or-Facebook-connected storage service is in there too, which allows the app to save what it's learnt about you so you don't have to start training the app from scratch on other devices.
The iOS 8 version is already out. While it doesn't bring all of the features that make the Android version great, it's a great start at bringing a whole new typing experience to iOS devices that up until now has only been available on Android. Plus, unlike many other competitors, it's completely free. You can download it here.
Swype was the original swipe-to-type keyboard and made waves when it launched on Android by offering users a whole new way of typing. The service grew, made partnerships with Android manufacturers to be their stock keyboard, was bought by Nuance, and now Swype is available for iOS. Of course, it wouldn't be Swype without its signature gesture typing, and it works well on the iPhone and iPad. Swype for iOS also features a personal dictionary that you can load up with custom words that you frequently say, and you can tell it to automatically learn those words.
Swype for iOS 8 also features predictive text. It lets you long-press on the word or keyboard to trigger either next word prediction or word corrections, so you always say what you mean to say. It's even themable. It's missing emoji though, so if you're into that Swype will leave you disappointed. If you're interested, it will set you back $1.29 in the iTunes App Store. You can download it here.
Minuum is another Android keyboard that was quick to launch for iOS as soon as the door was open. As its name implies, Minuum aims to keep your keyboard as small and unobtrusive as possible. Sure, you can blow the keyboard up to standard size and use it that way -- and indeed it's easiest to use that way -- but its real beauty is in the two-line, super-minimal version that takes up next to no space at the bottom of your screen. It takes a little time to get used to, but it's fast and easy to use once you're familiar with it. Its predictive text engine is good enough to correct fat-finger errors. Like other keyboards, it learns from you as you type and gives you a custom dictionary you can add words to.
Minuum also features "power gestures", so you can swipe up to bring up the full keyboard, swipe down for the minimal view, swipe left to delete the previous word, and swipe right to add a space -- which is especially nice. Of all of the keyboards here, it's probably the one that takes the traditional typing model and transforms it the most while keeping it familiar and easy to use. In our tests, it worked well. It only supports English right now though, which is a dealbreaker for polyglots. It will set you back $2.49 in the iTunes App Store, and you can download it here.
When Fleksy demoed its alternative keyboard on iOS a while ago, we were impressed with its attention to speed and accuracy combined with its simple, minimal look. The keyboard boasts its intelligent prediction, which makes typing extremely fast. It's so fast that you can type a word completely wrong -- we mean every single letter in the word incorrectly -- and Fleksy will still know what you mean. It's also one of your favourites for Android, and this week it moved from standalone app to full iOS keyboard alternative. The company boasts that its predictive text is so good that even someone visually impaired could use it, and they hold the guiness world record for fastest touch screen text message.
For those who like customising, the keyboard can be coloured and themed, shrunk so you can see more of the screen, or enlarged to be easier to see. You have a lot of options. In our testing, it was fast and its engine was just as accurate on iOS as it has been under Android, so if predictive text is more important than gesture typing to you, Fleksy is worth a look. It will set you back $1.29 in the iTunes App Store, and you can download it here.
TouchPal is another alternative keyboard that made an appearance on iOS in the form of a standalone app that let you type quickly and then auto-paste your text into other apps with quick-share buttons. Now it's a proper iOS keyboard on its own, one that offers a gesture-typing engine that many people prefer over the big names above. Emoji fans will like it -- the keyboard packs hundreds of emjoi that you can switch to just by long-pressing the enter key on the keyboard when it's up. It also adds a few useful features, including the ability to swipe up for numbers, down for symbols, and left to delete words or backspace.
In our testing, TouchPal was a respectable contender, with a few nice themes to customise your keyboard with. It was a little odd not having the ability to swipe-to-type through entire words and sentences like you can on Android. When you do finish typing a word, you'll have to press space to actually commit it to the line and start the next one, which was a little off-putting. It's completely free and available now. You can grab it from the iTunes App Store here.
While most other keyboards focus on gesture typing or predictive text, Stack takes a completely different approach. Instead of bringing up a traditional QWERTY keyboard, Stack uses handwriting recognition so you can draw the letters and spell out the words you want to say on your iPhone or iPad's screen. If you've ever used Chrome for iOS and stumbled on Google's handwriting feature built-in there, you'll be familiar with Stack's approach. The bottom portion of your screen is a drawing area when it's enabled, and the keyboard is fast enough that you can quickly draw letters on top of each other to spell out words without having to wait for the keyboard to recognise each letter after you've drawn it. In our tests it was speedy enough, but this kind of keyboard will likely appeal to people using a tablet stylus with their iPad, or someone who just doesn't like keyboards and prefers to draw.
Perhaps more interestingly though, Stack works well with other apps and paves the way for note-taking apps and tools that actually work with styluses. While the keyboard itself may be of limited use to anyone who's already comfortable and familiar with traditional typing methods, expect to see its technology in note-taking apps soon -- or try it with your favourite. You may be surprised. Stack is free in the iTunes App Store, and available to download here.
These are just a few of the keyboards available for iOS 8 right now. Keep an eye out for other, scammier ones, with names like "Swipe Keyboard" and whatnot that will charge you money for a keyboards that's probably a poor ripoff of what's already available though. There will probably be a flood of them now that the door is open. Upside though is that there are a ton more third-party keyboards on the way from other developers with great Android versions that we've heard about. Ginger, the folks behind previously mentioned Ginger Page have one coming later this month that will help keep your grammar and spelling in line, for example.
As for now though, we gave each of these a whirl, and if they pique your interest, you should give them a try too. They're all better than the default Apple keyboard, at the very least.