One of the iPhone’s greatest strengths is its size. Small
and narrow enough to be always easily pocket able, it’s portable enough to go
everywhere. But when it comes to writing, that’s also its greatest weakness: if
you can type at length with any accuracy on the screen, you’re probably a
Whether you stab with your fingers or palpate with your
thumbs, the process can be fiddly, inaccurate, and downright frustrating when
you need to enter more than a few lines of copy without errors. And we’ve all
seen the autocorrect disasters that can result from haste.
Apple has tried to remedy this with Siri, which allows you
to dictate to your iPhone (or the latest iPads and iPod touch). But Siri often
mishears you, especially if you have a non-standard accent} and there are many
situations in which you may not want to be speaking into your phone, or the
background noise is just too great for Siri to hear you.
Unfortunately, iOS doesn’t allow third-party software to
replace its default on-screen keyboard. That’s why the makers of Swype, a
popular text entry system on other mobile platforms, haven’t released a version
for Apple. Several other developers, however, have come up with ingenious new
ways of getting words into your iPhone. Here we test nine.
This experimental app uses a type of text entry system known
as ‘chording’. It divides the screen into three: on the left and right are five
buttons each side, and the area between them is where your typing appears.
The letters A to F appear on alternate buttons down both
sides; to type one of these characters, just tap it. Between them are the
letters O, S, G and K, with W and a lone TH hanging in the middle. These behave
differently: tap a letter to enter it, or hold one - such as G - and the
subsequent three letters (in this case, H, I and J) appear on the opposite
side, where they can be tapped to enter that letter.
Punctuation appears when you tap and hold a regular letter:
A, for example, pops up a hyphen and a question mark. Holding the TH symbol
pops up a selection of ‘that’, ‘to’, ‘the,’ ‘and’ and ‘of’. It takes a while to
get used to what pops up when, even if you know your alphabet pretty well,
since you’re just not used to thinking about it like this. There’s no way to access
GKOS isn’t ready for serious use, but it’s an interesting
concept, and we found our speed did improve with practice.
The nine most-used characters in English - a, n, i, h, o, r,
t, e and s - appear in a 3 x 3 grid. The rest of the alphabet is superimposed,
clustered around a central square containing the letter o. These letters are
accessed by swiping on the square in which they appear, in the appropriate
direction: so to type m, for instance, you swipe right on the letter r.
Around this grid are keys for numbers, Return, Delete and
Space. Swiping up on the Space key populates the character squares with
punctuation and symbols.
Like all alternative keyboard layouts, MessagEase gets
easier the more you use it. But we’d question whether this one is really worth
the effort, because the app’s lack of autocorrect means all errors have to be
fixed manually as you go along.
Fast Keyboard Free
A regular keyboard is complemented here by two extra rows of
keys above. By default, these show numbers and basic punctuation; you can
scroll the rows up to reveal nine further rows of currency, mathematical and
other symbols. Tapping an arrow brings up a strip down the right that contains
icons for selecting, cutting, navigating and exporting text - by email or SMS,
to Twitter and Facebook, and so on.
When the keyboard is hidden, there are further export
buttons and settings for disabling autocorrect, as well as word and line counts
- and advertising spots from Apple’s ¡Ads, the price you pay for the free app.
Files can be stored locally or shared using Dropbox.
Fast Keyboard is a useful system if you regularly need
access to numbers or symbols, making the process much slicker than using the
build-in key board.
This app shoehorns the entire alphabet onto three large
buttons, nine characters apiece, arranged in a grid. Tap anywhere on a button
to use its centre letter, or swipe on it in any direction to get the letter
located there; so swiping north-west on the e button gives you a q. Three
buttons beneath hold punctuation, numbers, and additional keys such as Delete
This sounds reminiscent of Swype, a text entry system that’s
popular on other touchscreen platforms. Swype’s makers have said they aren’t
releasing an iOS version because it ‘does not fit into Apple’s vision for its
products’, meaning they don’t see the point until third-party keyboards are
allowed to replace the default one.
FlickKey doesn’t work the same way as Swype, though, and its
autocorrect function, though welcome, is a little over-enthusiastic: how often,
on tapping A, do you really want to type ‘A-bomb’?
The makers have also created a demonstration version,
FlickKey Mini, which shows how the system could be used on smaller devices like
the previous-generation iPod Nano and touchscreen watches. It can’t actually
run on a Nano (since it requires iOS), but when run on your iPhone or iPod
touch it shows how the system could make more sense on tiny screens.