Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 9

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iOS 9 keyboards

It’s been a while since I’ve written about third-party keyboards for the iPad, and that’s because the experience on iOS 8 really sucked, despite there being some really great ideas out there. I love how Fleksy lets me almost touch-type on the iPad’s screen, or how SwiftKey and Swype let me drastically reduce the number of keystrokes needed for long-form writing. Even Nintype’s really aggressive reimagining of a keyboard was interesting.

Keyboards would crash while switching between multiple iMessage chats, and it made Spotlight searches a lot tougher when no keyboard came up at all.

Apple hasn’t actually talked about third-party keyboards since they were announced at WWDC in 2014, and I think it’s because they’re just not a priority. That’s a crying shame because even though the QuickType keyboard is good, there are a number of other solutions that are better and faster for long-form typing. SwiftKey generates eerily accurate next-word predictions for me because I gave it access to some of my social networking data. I have years and years of my own software keyboard data available to Apple’s QuickType keyboard, but it still creates bizarre, laughable sentences out of its next-word predictions.

I’ve been using Swiftkey out as a main keyboard on iOS 9 on the Air 2, but Fleksy was showing similar results during a brief test.

  • SwiftKey tends to come up about 70–80% of the time now, as opposed to ~50% on iOS 8
  • switching between iMessage chats no longer crashes the keyboard
  • quick replies to banner notifications now reliably calls up SwiftKey
  • repsonding to texts from the lock screen still only brings up the QuickType keyboard
  • swiping on a lock-screen notification so that I can reply within an app (like iMessage or Hangouts) often just brings up the QuickType keyboard
  • keeping Swiftkey as the only active software keyboard on my iPad doesn’t seem to help its stability

I really wish this wasn’t the case a full year after third-party keyboards were introduced…but they’re still not ready for full-time use on iOS. Given the major push for productivity on the iPad this year — the inclusion of hardware keyboard shortcuts and a dedicated shortcuts bar for the iPad — I’m really surprised by the mediocre software keyboard performance.

I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on third-party keyboards. Has your experience improved on iOS 9, is it just SwiftKey, or have you just given up on third-party keyboards entirely?

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3 thoughts on “Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 9”

  1. I am sticking with SwiftKey despite the fact that I experience all of the problems you mention. It is just so much better than the Apple keyboard that it’s worth dealing with the impediments Apple (intentionally, in my view) is placing in the way to attempt to force us all to use its inferior product (see also Safari as locked default browser, Maps, Music, etc.).

  2. All 3rd party keyboard are bad on iOS, exactly the opposite from Android. And as Fat Al said, it appears intentional on Apple’s part. I loved swiftkey on Android, but on iOS it crashes and does not work as well. I also like to use the voice recognition feature, but apple for some reason blocks it on 3rd party keyboards.

  3. Frustrating as hell – I love swiftkey but it’s almost unusable because of how unreliably it shows up without having to relaunch the keyboard. The whole idea is to be MORE convenient, not less so. For a feature that I was SO excited to have, they’ve really (meaning Apple) screwed the pooch on it…possibly intentionally so….you know, because control.

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