Since iOS 8 landed on our devices in fall 2014, we’ve seen an abundance of third-party keyboards make their way onto the App Store in order to advantage of the new APIs and customizability options.
There are now bunch of innovative ways to personalize your iOS keyboard experience — many adding useful features, others customizable layouts, and some just changing the way it looks.
With Clips & Phrases, from developer Masato Shinmachi, the clue to its functionality is in its name — it’s a keyboard app that gives you quick access to copied items on the clipboard and saved phrases you use regularly.
To set up Clips & Phrases, you must enable the keyboard in the Settings app. Just like most other third-party keyboards, you’ll have to go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Clips & Phrases and toggle Allow Full Access.
Your main interaction with Clips & Phrases will be the keyboard component (the app itself has a crucial function, but I’ll get to that shortly). Whenever you see a text entry field, you’ll now be able to switch between the stock iOS keyboard and Clips & Phrases using the globe icon in the bottom corner.
Along the bottom of the Clips & Phrases keyboard you’ll see 7 buttons: the globe icon, clipboard tab, phrases tab, space bar, backspace key, return key and minimize keyboard key. The last few are self-explanatory, bu you'll want to learn about the clipboard and phrases tabs.
The clipboard tab shows you a scrollable list of your clipboard history. Any text you’ve copied will be there and you can tap an item to quickly add it to the text entry field. This feature is super useful — rather being limited to pasting the last copied item as iOS dictates, you can copy a number of things and have access to any of them with a tap. There's seemingly no limit to the number of copied items it can present to you; the list just goes on. Swipe across an item in the list from right to left and you’ll see a cross to remove it from the list or a plus sign to add it to your saved phrases.
Speaking of phrases, its eponymous tab features another scrollable list, this time of pre-determined saved expressions. In the Clips & Phrases app itself you can set your own custom phrases to appear in this list or add the via the aforementioned clipboard tab. I found it useful to add things that you find yourself typing out in full regularly — your address, email, quick replies, etc. iOS has this feature by default which involves you creating keyboard shortcuts (like "omw" for "On my way!” or “sshrugg" for "¯\_(ツ)_/¯") but this requires you remembering all of your own shortcuts and relying on iOS to implement them every time. With Clips & Phrases, being able to quickly see a list of your saved phrases, enter one with a tap, and switch back to the regular keyboard in a few seconds is really neat.
And That’s all Clips & Phrases does — there are no letter keys to type with, just the basic keys outlined above (you switch back to the stock iOS keyboard if you want to manually type) — but it completes its function well.
On the negative side, Clips & Phrases' UI, particularly when adding phrases within the app itself, does leave a lot to be desired. It’s certainly not the most vibrant environment. The keyboard itself looks rather dull, too. But in its functionality it excels and really counts for a lot in the third-party keyboard department.
There’s no real learning curve with Clips & Phrases. There’s an in-app tutorial that explains the basics and, once set up, it just works. Allowing it full access is a little fiddly in the Settings app, but that's a flaw with iOS's implementation of third-party keyboards over anything else (besides, it's the power users that will be installing their own custom keyboards, so I'm sure they can handle it).
Overall, Clips & Phrases is a useful little tool for your app library and could prove to be a real time saver when copying text between apps or quickly replying to someone. It could do with a visual refresh, but the underlying functionality is certainly there. You can check out Clips & Phrases for yourself on the App Store. It is available to download for iPhone and iPad for $0.99.