Discover iOS’s hidden speed typing tools
THE PRODUCTIVITY-BOOSTING TRICKS CONCEALED UNDER YOUR KEYBOARD.
YOU MIGHT THINK that you need to use an external keyboard to get any serious typing done on an iPhone or iPad. While it’s true that you can do that — over Bluetooth, using a Smart Keyboard or using Apple’s Lightning to USB adapter — if you learn the little tips and tricks Apple has baked into the on-screen keyboard, everything from a tweet to the next great novel is well within the reach of your fingertips. Let’s get typing!
We’ll start with something fundamental. Most people will only really use one keyboard for typing, but you can set up several. One main use for this is for typing in different languages; adding other keyboards in ‘Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards’ doesn’t just change the layout of the keys to match conventions in that country (AZERTY rather than QWERTY in France, for example), or even the input method entirely, but it changes the autocorrect dictionary, too. (Here’s a really hidden feature: you can override the keyboard layout change — to retain the benefits of the autocorrect change without the confusion of letters moving around — by tapping the name of the keyboard you’ve added in this list.)
If you do type in more than one language, therefore, and have been cursing autocorrect for mangling your words, here’s the solution, and it even works for different versions of English; handy if you sometimes need to ‘humor’ our ‘neighbors’ in America without causing ‘offense’. To switch between the keyboards you add (in the order you set them in ‘Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards’), tap the globe icon at the bottom left of the keyboard. If you only have one main keyboard installed, this will instead be a smiley face, as it toggles to the emoji keyboard.
EMOJI AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS
So long as you have the Predictive bar turned on, though, it can act like emoji search, and you don’t even have to switch to that keyboard; type “chips”, say, and the option in the predictive bar is the French fries emoji. Tap it to replace the word with the emoji. (This will work for the UK keyboard, too, although not the US English version, since ‘chips’ are crisps in over there! Watch out when ordering takeaway, from personal experience...)
You might be used to tapping ‘123’ to switch to the numbers, but if you only need to type a single character from this keyboard, it can be more efficient just to drag your finger from the ‘123’ to the desired number key — the keyboard will temporarily switch layout in between — then release to get back to the usual keyboard.
If you’re on any iPad except the 12.9-inch (and only then when using optimised apps),
you also see secondary characters on the keys; just flick down on the key to type them. Hold a finger on a key to see alternate characters, and voilà — you can type “voilà”! It works for less well-known things, too; hold on the $ sign, for example, and you get other currency symbols, or on the fullstop when entering a web address in Safari to see other domains, such as .com.au, .com and more.
MOVE THE INSERTION POINT
The traditional way to move the insertion point, or caret, around on iOS is to hold a finger on the text you were writing, and then use the magnifying glass pop-up to get it into the right place. That’s a little fiddly and prone to error around the edges of the screen, and there is a better way on iPad, and iPhones with 3D Touch — the pressure-sensitive display technology that was introduced on the iPhone 6s.
On an iPad, you can just slide two fingers around the keyboard to move the caret, and on an iPhone with 3D Touch, just press firmly on the keyboard with one finger to switch to this mode, then slide your finger around. Once you’ve moved the caret to where you want it on iPad, lift your two fingers, set them down again, wait a beat, then move; you’ll then be selecting text.
On iPhones equipped with 3D Touch, you have extra options for text selection, though they take some trial and error to learn. Once you’ve pressed firmly on the screen to move the caret, you can reposition the caret over a word and then press even harder to select just that word. That bit’s easy enough, but with practice, you can also double-press to select the whole sentence at once, or triple-press to select the whole paragraph.
MOST PEOPLE WILL ONLY REALLY USE ONE KEYBOARD FOR TYPING, BUT YOU CAN SET UP SEVERAL.
You can combine the two-finger and 3D Touch shortcuts with dragging. Let’s say you have a three-sentence paragraph and want to copy only the first two sentences; press firmly to start moving the caret, position it anywhere over the first sentence, double-press to select that sentence, then drag to the second, which will be selected in its entirety — though the paragraph’s final sentence will be left out.
In either scenario, you can grab the little handles that appear at each end of your selected text to fine-tune what you’re picking up, if necessary, and you can also tap either of these handles to bring up the options bar, with cut, copy, paste and other options, if they aren’t already visible.
CAPITALS AND SPECIAL CHARACTERS
Let’s go back to something easier: switching to capital letters. This can be as simple as tapping the Shift key to switch only the very next character you type to uppercase, or doubletapping it to turn on Caps Lock. Note that you can use the same slide technique we mentioned for the ‘123’ keyboard switch; slide from the Shift key to a letter and it will be capitalised without the need to dismiss the caps keyboard afterwards. iOS will try to be helpful in capitalising new sentences, but if you don’t like this, you can turn off Auto‑Capitalisation in ‘Settings > General > Keyboard’. Here, you’ll also see a toggle for the fullstop shortcut; in case you aren’t familiar, that enables you to double-tap
the space bar to get a full stop, a space and the next letter capitalised.
We mentioned holding a finger on some keys to get accented forms and alternative characters. On some iPads running iOS 11, keys may display a second character. Rather than using Shift or holding the key, flick upwards from the key to type the second character more quickly. (‘Settings > General > Keyboards > Enable Key Flicks’ must be switched on.)
KEYBOARD SIZE & POSITION
There are a couple of things you can do to change the size and position of the keyboard. On an iPad, either drag the left and right of the keyboard apart with your fingers, or hold a finger on the keyboard icon (bottom right) and tap Split in the menu that appears; this separates the keyboard at the sides of the screen so it’s easier to type with your thumbs when holding your iPad. Adjust their vertical position by dragging the icon at its bottom right. Drag all the way to the bottom to return to a single, large keyboard. On an iPhone running iOS 11, except for the 5s and SE, you can make the keyboard easier to use one-handed by holding on the emoji/globe icon (bottom left) and choosing to shunt the keyboard over to the left or right side of the screen. The keys become narrower, like on pre-iPhone 6 devices, but are easier to reach with your thumb.
Don’t feel this has to be a permanent decision; it makes sense to toggle it when you’re trying to type while walking, say, even moving from right to left as you swap hands, but then switching back to the full-width keyboard once you get where you’re going; tap the large arrow next to the keyboard.
SPEED UP YOUR TYPING
As well as all this, iOS provides some very helpful ways to actually speed up what you type. Text replacement is a great one, with three common applications. First, to replace clusters of characters with short phrases (such as typing “omw” being replaced with ‘On my way!’), and even ‘correcting’ weird iOS auto-corrections. Second, to type characters that would otherwise require laborious searching/copying/pasting — to have “cprt” become ©, say.
The third major use is to type phrases or longer passages of text that you write often. For example, you might type “reply7” and have iOS replace that with a couple of paragraphs of text that are your standard response to a question you’re frequently asked by email. Or if you often search Apple Support articles in Safari, set up a shortcut to replace “#spt” with ‘site:support.apple.com’ so that you only get Google search results from that part of Apple’s site. Set up text replacements in ‘Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement’ on iOS, or in ‘ > System Preferences Keyboard > Text’ on a Mac. Whichever device you do this on, your text replacements will sync to your other Macs and iOS devices signed in to the same iCloud account.
USE YOUR WORDS
Finally, don’t forget about dictation, which you’ll find at the bottom of ‘Settings > General > Keyboards’. It works for English even when your device is offline, and though you might feel weird doing it in a shared office or classroom, these days, it’s highly accurate — and usually much faster than typing, if you can think and talk in complete sentences. You can even dictate punctuation and issue ‘commands’, such as “fullstop” and “new line”.
In iOS’s Accessibility settings are helpful options to alter the sensitivity of the keyboard and 3D Touch.