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?