Uncover iOS’ hidden speed-typing
The productivity-boosting tricks concealed under your keyboard
You might think that to get any serious typing done on an iPhone or iPad you need to use an external keyboard. 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 tips and tricks Apple has baked into the on-screen keyboard, everything from a tweet to the next great novel is well within your fingertips.
You can set up several keyboards in iOS, for example 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.)
Image A: 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 “fries,” say, and the last option in the predictive bar is the fries emoji. Tap it to replace the word with the emoji. (Even this is localized; if you type “chips” in the UK English keyboard, you get the same emoji.)
You might be used to tapping “123” to switch to the layout with numbers, but if
you only need to type a single character from this keyboard, 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, you also see secondary characters on the keys (when using optimized apps); just flick down on the key to type them.
Image B: Hold a finger on a key to see alternate characters, and voilà – you can type “voilà!” You can also hold the $ sign, to get other currency symbols, or on the period when entering a web address in Safari to see other domains, such as .org.
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 awkward and prone to error around the edges of the screen, and there is a better way on iPad, and iPhones with 3D Touch (available on iPhone 6s or later).
On an iPad, you can slide two fingers around the keyboard to move the caret. Once you’ve moved it, lift your two fingers, set them down again, wait a beat, then move; you’ll then be selecting text. On an iPhone with 3D Touch, press on the keyboard with one finger to switch to this mode, then slide your finger around.
On iPhones 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 practise you can also double-press to select the whole sentence at once, or triple-press to select the whole paragraph.
Image C: You can combine the twofinger and 3D Touch shortcuts with dragging. Let’s say you have a threesentence paragraph and want to copy only the first two sentences; press firmly to start moving the caret, position it anywhere over the first sentence, doublepress 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.
Ca pitals and special characters
Let’s go back to something easier: switching to capital letters. This can be as simple as tapping Shift to switch only the very next character you type to uppercase, or double-tapping 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 capitalized without the need to dismiss the caps keyboard afterwards. iOS will try to be helpful in capitalizing new sentences, but if you don’t like this, you can turn off Auto‑Capitalization in Settings > General > Keyboard. Here there’s also a toggle for the period shortcut, which enables you to double-tap the space bar to get a period, a space, and the next letter capitalized.
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 on the key, flick upwards from the key to type the second character more quickly. (Settings > General > Keyboards > Enable Key Flicks must be switched on.) In iOS’ Accessibility settings are helpful options to alter the sensitivity of the keyboard and 3D Touch.
Keyb oard size and position
There are a couple of things you can do to change the size and position of the keyboard.
Image D: 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 the keyboard’s vertical position by dragging the icon at its bottom right. Drag all the way to the bottom to return to a single, large keyboard.
Image E: 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. To do this, tap the large arrow next to the keyboard.
Speed up your typing
iOS provides some very helpful ways to 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 autocorrections. 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 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 Apple Menu > System Prefs Keyboard > Text on a Mac. Whichever device you do this on, your text replacements will sync to other devices signed in to the same iCloud account.
Say your words
Image F: 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, it’s highly accurate — and usually much faster than typing. You can even dictate punctuation and issue “commands,” such as “period” and “new line.”
Splitting the keyboard makes typing easier when holding your iPad, at least on smaller models.