Roundup: The best third-party keyboards for iOS 8

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2015
One long standing criticism of iOS has been its lack of support for third party keyboards, but with the introduction of iOS 8, developers are now allowed to build custom keyboards that can be used on both iPhone and iPad.




Once Apple announced support for third-party keyboards, popular plug-ins from Google's Android platform were quickly developed for iOS, such as Swype and Swiftkey. Initial offerings have seen their fair share of bugs, however.

Adding and managing keyboards is simply not user friendly in iOS. Many times the downloaded app does nothing and in all cases the user must go to their phone's Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard then "Allow Full Access" before they can use the newly downloaded app.




Managing multiple keyboards while typing is also cumbersome and in most cases the user loses voice-to-text capabilities found in the stock iOS version.

Still, custom keyboards offer creative ways to input text on iOS and when properly executed extend the power of existing applications.

Swype




First released on Android, Swype by Nuance allows users to input text by simply swiping their finger across the keyboard. The app intelligently determines user intention, allowing continuous swiping without having to lift a finger off the screen while entering a word.

On iOS, the Swype gesture typing works just as well. Swype makes typing with one hand easier (especially on the new, larger iPhones) and its predictive text allows you to select the next word just like the stock keyboard.

Holding a finger on the Swype gesture symbol in the bottom left corner brings up a mini-menu. From there users can select the globe to switch keyboards, bring up a convenient number pad for numerical entries, or select the gear icon to switch themes and toggle autocorrect features.

Like many other third party keyboards, users lose the ability to transcribe their voice with Siri. The microphone button is simply absent.

Swype is available for free from the iOS App Store.

Swiftkey




With quite the dramatic trailer video, Swiftkey promises to learn how a user types in order to better predict and correct text input. On the surface, Swiftkey has decent autocorrect and prediction built in, but users can also sign up for "Swiftkey Cloud" and even give Swiftkey access to a Gmail account for enhanced machine learning.

If users don't feel comfortable giving Swiftkey access to the cloud, it still offers some unique features. The keyboard can recognize multiple languages without having to switch modes, meaning users can type one sentence in English, the next in Spanish, and the app will correct both natively. Supported languages are English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German.

Swiftkey has one other feature that steals some thunder from Swype: it includes the same gesture based input. Gesture typing is not on by default, but can be enabled in the Swiftkey app settings. Once enabled, users can swipe out words just like the Swype app.

A free 28.2MB download from the iOS App Store, Swiftkey is worth a try.

Text Expander 3 + Keyboard




For those not familiar with Text Expander, it is an application available on both iOS and OS X that allows you to create text shortcuts for larger strings of text. The built in keyboards of iOS and OS X offer text shortcuts as well, but Text Expander is more powerful. For example, a web developer might want to create a shortcut to expand into the a href link in HTML. Creating a Text Expander snippet such as: "hr" will instantly become and place the cursor between the empty quotation marks.

This powerful tool is now available as an iOS keyboard. Any snippets that a user has programmed on OS X or iOS will sync via Dropbox. Then the Text Expander keyboard can be accessed in any app and typing the programmed snippets will expand text instantly. Even text repeatedly entered on a daily basis, such as email addresses or phone numbers, can be made into snippets that save time.

Text Expander 3 with iOS keyboard is available in the App Store for $4.99

One Handed Keyboard




Users who have purchased an iPhone 6 Plus may realize the difficulty of typing one-handed. One Handed Keyboard attempts to solve this problem. Once installed, switching to this app displays a two-thirds size keyboard on either the left or right side of the screen. The size closely matches the keyboard on the iPhone 5/5s and most users will be able to reach all the keys with one thumb.

Holding down the spacebar expands the keyboard to full screen width if the user chooses to type two-handed.

Using the keyboard in the smaller size makes tapping numeral and punctuation keys difficult, however, and the auto-correct is not as good as the stock iOS keyboard.

For those truly missing one-handed texting, One Handed Keyboard costs $1.99 in the App Store.

GIF Keyboard




Any significant amount of time browsing the internet will uncover an animated GIF. These usually comedic, animated images have long been used in internet "memes" but can also be fun to share with friends when an emoji just won't cut it.

With the free GIF Keyboard on iOS, users can browse various emotions or characters in the form of GIFs. Tap on a GIF to copy it, and then paste anywhere. Users can also save their favorite GIFs or view a recently used selection for quick access.

It should be noted that GIFs may not work in all apps, such as social media feeds and forum threads.

GIF Keyboard is a free download from the App Store.
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Comments

  • Reply 2 of 38
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by gimarbazat View Post



    exKey is another one in Cydia which adds an extra row

    http://appadvice.com/appnn/2014/01/cydia-tweak-add-a-useful-extra-row-to-your-ios-keyboard-with-exkey



    There's even less of a reason to jailbreak these days than ever before, IMO. I jailbroke my iPod Touch back in the day before the App Store even existed, so it was pretty cool then, and that iPod Touch (1st gen) is still jailbroken because the home button started failing, so I got SBSettings on it before it died, for a software home button...but I just haven't had a reason to jailbreak anything since. Now that iOS 8 is pretty darn open and flexible...

     

    Obviously, piracy will still be a draw for most.

     

     

    Anecdotally, I hate when idiots (this isn't directed at anyone in particular) tell people they need to jailbreak/root their phones/tablets. 99% of people have no need, nor any business doing that. It's usually the wannabe techies that insist it's necessary. Thankfully most of those people choose Android.

  • Reply 3 of 38

    :no: Seriously AppleInsider? This is news?

     

    If you are running out of ideas on what to write about, I would suggest you poll your forum to see what your audience would be interested in.

  • Reply 4 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,088member
    So where is John Dvorak's version of his uncle's keyboard? :p
  • Reply 5 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post



    So where is John Dvorak's version of his uncle's keyboard? image



    He's too busy writing a 200,000 word opus about how the AppleWatch will be a failure.

  • Reply 6 of 38

    Quote:


    Originally Posted by InteliusQ View Post

     

    :no: Seriously AppleInsider? This is news?

     

    If you are running out of ideas on what to write about, I would suggest you poll your forum to see what your audience would be interested in.


     

    I want to see an article on the recent discoveries about the A8X being a monster. Turns out it's not a six-core GX6650 GPU, it's a custom Apple designed GXA6850 twin quad cluster GPU (basically two GX6450's in tandem).

  • Reply 7 of 38
    haarhaar Posts: 536member
    i paid 99 cents for swype!... and now it is free!
  • Reply 8 of 38
    haarhaar Posts: 536member
    Quote:

    I want to see an article on the recent discoveries about the A8X being a monster. Turns out it's not a six-core GX6650 GPU, it's a custom Apple designed GXA6850 twin quad cluster GPU (basically two GX6450's in tandem).

    you ask and you shall receive... just goto anandtech and read about it... of course, you may already know about it from that article...
  • Reply 9 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by haar View Post





    you ask and you shall receive... just goto anandtech and read about it... of course, you may already know about it from that article...



    I know about that, I want a DED masterpiece declaring this to be proof the Air 2 is king. <img class=" src="http://forums-files.appleinsider.com/images/smilies//lol.gif" />

  • Reply 10 of 38
    netroxnetrox Posts: 385member
    I am surprised there's no mention of TouchPal which I find it to be easier and better than Swype. And it's free!
  • Reply 11 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 16,088member

    He's too busy writing a 200,000 word opus about how the AppleWatch will be a failure.

    ROFL
  • Reply 12 of 38
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,383member

    I feel no need for a third party keyboard but I'd love the ability to invoke an additional row (numbers) that would stay for as long as I wanted it to. I hate having to flip back and forth.

  • Reply 13 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by InteliusQ View Post

     

    :no: Seriously AppleInsider? This is news?

     

    If you are running out of ideas on what to write about, I would suggest you poll your forum to see what your audience would be interested in.




    It's not news, it's a tip, and it's labeled as such. For what it's worth, our tips are routinely some of our most popular articles. So evidently a lot of readers find these helpful.

  • Reply 14 of 38

    I'll stick to the native Apple keyboard. I'm skeptical about any third party keyboard that asks for full network access. Why do they need my location info?

  • Reply 15 of 38
    haar wrote: »
    i paid 99 cents for swype!... and now it is free!

    I fear that that's a regret that you will have to live with for the rest of your life.
  • Reply 16 of 38
    its about time we get some keyboard options.
  • Reply 17 of 38
    I have Gifkeyboard.

    Can it be used to post gifs here on AI using iOS? If so, would some bright spark please tell me how?
  • Reply 18 of 38
    Security concerns me when it comes to 3rd party keyboards. Am I being irrational?
  • Reply 19 of 38
    tommikele wrote: »
    Security concerns me when it comes to 3rd party keyboards. Am I being irrational?

    No.
  • Reply 20 of 38
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Swype's actual swiping is pretty good most of the time--I really like it.

    But the flaws drive me nuts! I went back to Apple's keyboard, because:

    - It frequently (like once every 30 seconds of use) changes a word that I TYPED CORRECTLY! It SHOWS correctly where I typed it... and then I hit the space bar and it changes! Then I backspace (which makes Apple's keyboard ignore the autosuggestion the sceond time so you can easily revert to your own entry)... but it CORRECTS IT AGAIN! Yes, the thing you actually typed is offered as one suggestion in the bar, but it is ALSO shown in the document--which, if it's going to be canceled, it should not be. Insanity. Several times I have tried to start a sentence with the word A, which appears in the doc, and then hitting space changes it to I.

    In other words, what's shown in the doc is NOT the default suggestion (seen below in orange) that will actually be accepted. And it's stubborn about changing its mind.

    - No dictation key (something Apple has to allow, I believe, not Swype's fault).

    - Non-standard globe icon behavior. So I can't one-tap toggle the different keyboards nor use the globe popup menu.

    - No option to put punctuation in the expected iOS locations. Great for Android switchers, but my habits are different.

    It really seems like a new unrefined product that has great potential--and yet, I know it's been out for ages on Android. Let's hope it improved, because when it DOES work it's great.
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