in iOS, Opinion

Two of the most popular paid apps within the Android ecosystem are alternative keyboards (specifically those that offer gesture typing as well as other options). This type of customisation is often mooted as one of the arguments for Android and a sign of how closed iOS and inflexible iOS is. However there has been some excitement over fleksy offering a new keyboard for iOS with some wondering if this is the start of custom keyboards on iOS (all be it one app at a time). Frankly it’s not but it does raise the question over the interest for custom keyboards.

What Have Custom Keyboards Ever Done For Us Anyway?

For a while Androids poor keyboard was a rightful blackmark against Google. However things have moved on a lot since then, the touch sensitivity of Andorid and the touch keyboard software that comes as stock is a lot better at registering finger points AND android handsets are generally larger providing larger targets for the user to hit.

When you add in the wide offering of gesture based keyboards and predictive text from third party offerings, it’s perhaps no surprise that the stock Apple keyboard has come under some criticism, and despite factors like the benefit of pressed key appearing above the finger point and the lack of haptic feedback (isn’t that annoying), the ability to easily download and install a custom keyboard is important for some users.

Where Are The Custom Keyboards On iOS?

Despite what you might hear, there are custom keyboards on iOS as fleksy has proven. The come in three forms. The first is within the app. An app can use a different keyboard to the stock option that comes with iOS. As such if an app wants it can use a different and unique keyboard. What makes fleksy more unique is it’s release of an SDK and launching as part of a handful of important and popular apps. However, it has a long way to go if it want’s to replace the iOS keyboard as your stock option.

The second is a keyboard specific app which allows you to use the keyboard in it’s own environment and then copy and paste the text into whatever app you want it in. This isn’t really a great solution unless you have a really specific need such as a science calculator.

The final option is jailbreaking your device. There are definitely reasons to jailbreak your iPhone (as there are reasons not to) and custom keyboards are one of them.

Do You Want Custom Keyboards?

This isn’t the big “keyboardgate” event that some groups are reporting it to be. There have been third party keyboards before and we haven’t suddenly entered bizzaro land where you can change every single feature on your iOS device.

Instead, it’s merely a sign that more groups are looking at putting alternative keyboards and that with the fleksy sdk they have found a way to present a new experience across several apps for the mass market. The problem is that one app offering a different keyboard experience is very disorientating, having one unified keyboard experience is generally a good thing. Until fleksy or other apps can get into nearly every app you own it isn’t going to really take off.
[Photo Credit: bcostin via Compfight cc]

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  1. LOL, keyboardgate. If you read my article I don’t think I ever mentioned or suggested that Apple will be entering “bizzaro” land. Here’s my quote: “We hope that Apple will see the benefits to giving the user some options and possibly open up the iOS code to third party keyboards system wide.”

    And you’re right about a unified keyboard experience…..Fleksy or whoever, needs to implement it system wide for it to be unified and symmetrical. Something even Apple has failed to do in iOS7. I hate being inside an application that is not optimized for the new keyboard and I am stuck using iOS6 keyboard aesthetics. Yes I do use iPhone.

    I appreciate the link to my site and article, but the reference to me as “some groups” was a little off putting. You probably thought I was an Android user 😉 and honestly……I am both, I can appreciate all tech.


    • Hey Alex, I’ve updated it and changed the links slightly to give a better representation of your post. Honestly, it wasn’t yours that gave the impression that this was a dramatic change in keyboards, it was really the iMore piece with it’s title which frankly is just untrue unless you want to ignore jailbreaking and stand alone keyboard apps. That is true about the fraction between keyboard apps in iOS 7. It’s really strange when you find apps using old design language and keyboards!

      (P.S. I actually didn’t see you wrote that other piece and I had caught that you saddled both sides of the fence in passing. Good to know!)

      I’d love to see the option for third party keyboards….I think fleksy’s approach is probably the only way to do it though.

      • Well right now, I’d love for the iOS7 keyboard to just work throughout all my apps on my iPhone. I really hate that iOS6 look. I switched back to iPhone from Android on the strength of the iOS7 design. I like the new flat look, and the keyboard is nice……..just need it to be in ALL my apps, please 😛

        Thanks for updating.