Launch Apps With A Keyboard in iOS 9.3

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I’ve never had a keyboard attached as often as the Smart Keyboard has been on this iPad Pro. iOS 9.3 beta 4 came out four days ago, and even this incremental beta has new changes over iOS 9.3 b3. I can now CMD + Tab between applications and have the text cursor follow me to the new active app, even in Split View mode. I’m also seeing little bug fixes for iMessage displaying properly as the keyboard is dismissed during Split View. 

What all this means is that iOS is just feeling more reliable, and I’m feeling more and more confident about working and writing on the iPad Pro. As I spend more time on this gigantic slab of glass, I’m settling into a new habit for launching apps.

Once we received folders way back in iOS 4, I took to the feature and never looked back. Previous to that, I had at least three home screens full of apps, and arranging them by dragging them all between pages was incredibly tedious. iOS hasn’t actually ever changed the way you move apps around, but folders have made it possible to stick to just one or two homescreens, which has helped a lot. I now group like apps in categories like “Utilities”, “Social”, “Imagery”, “Games”, and “Entertainment”.

However, folders were really just a band-aid solution, because they don’t scale well with the growing number of apps that I rely upon on. iOS 9 increased the number of apps displayed on a folder page to 16, but even so, I find my Utilities folder that it has two pages of its own. I can see which apps are on the first page of a folder from the main view on the home screen, but there’s no way to preview which apps are in the other pages.

This means that I still need to tap around quite a lot to find a folder, open it up, move to the correct page, and launch the app I was looking for. So I’m changing my habits. I group things into folders to help me minimize my home screen pages to two, and to keep those screens looking clean. I don’t really fuss over how many pages are in a particular folder any more, but I do try to keep the most-used apps on the folder’s first page.

I’ll still end up launching apps with a tap if they’re on my I first home screen, but for everything else (especially apps within folders), I stick almost exclusively to Spotlight. iOS 9.3 now allows me to summon Spotlight with CMD + Space, type a few characters of an app name, and then press Enter to launch it. If the result I wanted isn’t the first on the list, I can use the arrow keys to move around and select it.

Previous versions of iOS OS got me as fast as the search result list, but required me to reach up and tap on an app to launch it. This little change — which I’ve been clamoring for for years — has really helped make the iPad a more efficient computing experience for me.

Siri Suggestions are proving useful because they correctly show the apps I’d use at a particular time of day, but they don’t feel very practical to access, since I have to erase my current Spotlight Search and re-launch it. Siri’s Top Hits still seem a little buggy. They’re supposed to adjust to my search behaviour over time. For example, FaceTime used to be the first hit when I typed “fac” into Spotlight, but it can learn over time that the top result should really be Facebook. However, I’ve noticed it can sometimes just forget, and head right back to FaceTime as the default.

If you’re a heavy keyboard user on iOS 9, I think Spotlight is very much worth a revisit when iOS 9.3 is released. Full-fledged Spotlight keyboard support has really improved the experience of navigating an iPad, and I’m grateful for any features that help me keep my hands on the keys for longer. They’re just faster there.

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