Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 8

I’ve been experimenting with two third-party keyboards on iOS 8: Swiftkey and Swype. I want to share my thoughts.

If you’re an Android user, you’ve had access to third-party keyboards for years. I know this. I’m not under any illusion that alternative keyboards are a sudden revolution. I’ve wanted to try Swype for a long time, and I’m glad that Apple has finally opened up the platform to allow third-party keyboards.

Swype is a great keyboard and it works incredibly well. I have not experienced a single mistake while using it. It is actually rather astounding. I applaud the work that the developers have put into Swype. The only downside for me is that I can’t use it easily with one hand. I have to hold my phone in one hand, and swipe they keys with the other. I don’t consider that to be a limitation, but the result is that I find myself rarely using it.

Swiftkey is my favorite of the third-party keyboard offerings. The best element is the upper and lowercase display of the keyboard letters, based on what mode I am in. That alone solves one of my biggest annoyances with Apple’s keyboard. On the Apple keyboard, the letters are displayed as uppercase all the time, so I often get confused if I am typing in caps or not. Swiftkey is also highly accurate with my two-thumb style of typing. The black display is an interesting look. It would be cool if they had an option for different colors, but that isn’t important.

Both of the aforementioned keyboards are solid, and are great in their own right. However, I don’t care for the somewhat clumsy way that iOS implements them. I have to go way out of my way to access another keyboard, each time, on the fly. Apple seems to want to inconvenience you into using their keyboard.

I want to be able to set a single keyboard as the default in the operating system settings. Without being able to do that, I end up with Apple’s keyboard time and time again. The standard Apple keyboard pops up the majority of the time.

A clear example of this annoying behavior is when I write a quick reply to a text notification. In iOS 8, a reply window appears immediately in front of whatever I am doing, without having to launch the Messages app. When the keyboard appears for that reply window, it is always the Apple keyboard. At least, this has been my experience.

The OS doesn’t seem to have any logical memory retention of my last keyboard selection. Sometimes when I am texting with someone using Swiftkey, for instance, it will remember that when I return to write that person again later. However, if I begin texting someone else, it reverts back to the Apple keyboard, for seemingly no reason, despite the fact that I am using the same Messages app to compose text that I’d used with the other person.

It is my understanding that when you are entering a password, Apple forces you to use their keyboard. I don’t see that as a problem, as they are attempting to protect users from their password entry being captured by the third-party keyboard developers. Sure, that’s a little paranoid on their part, but I can understand why they designed it that way.

If you like to use Emojis in your messages, you will find the extra keyboards to be very annoying. I like to swap between text and Emojis when I message my friends. Having four keyboards on the system makes that very difficult. If I am using Swiftkey, I have to tap the keyboard globe three or four times to get to the Emojis, then tap the globe another three or four times to get back to the keyboard I was using. Even more annoying, each keyboard doesn’t have the globe key in the exact same place. All of that unnecessary tapping just to insert a smiley face in a text message gets old fast.

Having done my experiments with Swype and Swiftkey, I’ve decided to disable them for the time being and continue to use the Apple keyboard, with a side of Emojis. I don’t have problem with the Apple keyboard, beyond the uppercase letter display that I mentioned earlier. The addition of predictive text in iOS 8 is a welcomed feature that I find to be very useful.

The alternative keyboards are great, but I find it to be too much work to constantly toggle between them. If the Apple keyboard is going to appear more than 50% of the time anyway, I don’t see a compelling reason to fight against the operating system to try to use another one.