I hope Apple will allow the use of third party keyboards

Published: June 9, 2013

WWDC 2013 begins tomorrow, which is exciting considering that we have every reason to expect that Apple will release iOS 7 (presumably making it the first huge revamp to iOS since its debut in 2007). While we know to expect a “flat” and “simple” redesign of iOS 7, hopefully the revamp will include other improvements to the platform that users have expressed interest in. One of the areas that I think needs attention specifically is the standard keyboard in iOS.

I like the keyboard well enough - it is clean cut and, in my opinion, well-spaced enough for [my] fingers to hit the keys comfortably. However, the main issue with it is that it’s really all you have to choose from without jailbreaking. Even if you do jailbreak, your options are severely limited.

There's a big market for keyboards right now. As the physical QWERTY keyboard seems to be phasing out, developers have been hard at work to enhance the way we use virtual keyboards. We’ve got Swype, Swiftkey, Minuum, and many more that offer a more productive way of typing on a physical keyboard using the Android platform - but due to Apple's own decision, the allowance of third party keyboard apps isn't anything that you'll be seeing from iOS in its current state.

When I purchased my iPhone 4S I knew that I would be giving up a good amount of initial freedom that I had with my Android device. No more widgets, no more theme changing, no more ROMs - I couldn't even change my ringtone without purchasing one from iTunes. One thing I didn't really think about, and something didn't really bother me until a few months ago, was that I was also giving up Swype.

When I first discovered Swype on my Samsung Vibrant I was amazed; confused, but amazed. What is this foul wizardry of the utmost form? How is it that I can simply trace the path of a word in a general area and it automatically knows what I’m trying to say? I don’t know who came up with the idea, but whoever did is a genius in my book. I was suddenly able to type tenfold what I was able to type before (and I am a pretty speedy typist!) Also, it was kind of fun. I started a good relationship with Swype that day.

Of course there were times where Swype would get the answer completely wrong, but honestly it’s nothing compared to how many blunders I’ve had due to autocorrect – and more often than not I would be pressing in the letters exactly as a I meant to (I have yet to experience a time where autocorrect actually uses “ducking” correctly in a sentence). While autocorrect has saved me once or twice, it doesn’t make up for the damage it’s caused within my time frame of using it. I’ve since turned autocorrect off and simply encounter typos every once in a while – and it was at this point that I really started to miss Swype.

I’m going to stop your thought process right here, because I know what you’re thinking: “Why don’t you just go get an Android then?” There are a lot of things I don’t like about iOS, but there are also a lot of things I do like about the platform that has kept me here for so long. Aside from my inability to keep my e-mail uncluttered, I’ve found that when it comes to organization I’ve had a much better experience on iOS than I have on Android or even BlackBerry. I prefer iOS for a clean, organized interface that doesn't get me too distracted (especially when dealing with work) as I would spend hours customizing my Android. I feel that organization and productivity go hand-in-hand – and I believe that, if nothing else, an improved keyboard could really benefit the usefulness of the iPhone. Give users some choices. Autocorrect was good for a while, but better options have come out since then and personally I think a lot of people would like to have the option of a Swype-like keyboard without having to go through the jailbreak process.

I know that widgets, themes, and many other customization options will probably never see the light of day in an iPhone. Those hopes and dreams have been crushed long ago – customization is just not iOS’s strong point. But I feel that an improved keyboard that enables more productivity would only ever gain popular opinions from the iOS community (given that it’s a keyboard that actually works). I’m kind of hoping that we see an option like this for iOS, if not this week, then sometime in the near future.  

Readers, what are your thoughts on the iOS keyboard? Do you like it the way it is, or do you think Apple should go for something different?

Image via Pinglio

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