Long ago, Android could thumb its nose at the iPhone for a very basic reason: the default, on-screen keyboard for iOS sucked and could not be changed while Android users were replete with customizable keys that could do much more than get tapped—users could swipe from letter to letter!
That all changed in 2014 with iOS 8, which finally introduced third-party keyboards. And this fall, iOS 13 will add swipe typing.
Until then, getting new keyboards on your iPhone (or iPod touch or iPad) is as simple as downloading an app—sort of. First, go to the Apple App Store and download the app for the keyboard you want.
Then, visit Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards. It shows you all the keyboard apps you have installed, plus an “Add New Keyboard” option at the bottom. Click that to look at available keyboards. In the “third-party keyboards” list at the center, click one to add its full functionality.
You’re not done yet: on the previous screen, click the name of your new keyboard to “Allow full access.” Why require that extra step? Because, in theory, you may not get full keyboard functionality without it. Consider a keyboard that pulls in animated GIF files; it needs internet access, which requires “full access.” Full access also lets a keyboard tap into things like the speaker, so you can hear keys click as you type. Some keyboards don’t work at all without full access. Some barely need it.
Keep in mind, if you allow full access, the developer of the third-party keyboard could, in theory, capture your keystrokes and send out what you type, maybe to a web server, or another app. Apple throws up a warning to that effect whenever full access is granted. If security is your bugaboo, you probably don’t want a third-party keyboard. Thankfully, when you enter passwords or credit card info, the iPhone knows to switch back to the standard and secure iOS keyboard—even if you delete it from the rotation of keyboards available.
While in Settings, click the Edit button on the keyboards page, then swipe left to delete any of the keyboards in rotation—including Apple’s.
Using Your New Keyboard
So, imagine you’ve got one or more new third-party keyboards installed on an iPhone: how do you access them? When typing with the standard keyboard, click the globe icon (the inverse image of this: ) in the lower left. Hold a finger on it; a menu pops up showing all installed third-party keyboards, so jump to the one you want. You’ll also see icons at the bottom to switch the standard iOS keyboard to easy one-thumb typing for either left or right hands.
Keep clicking globes to cycle through keyboards in order. Some keyboards won’t bring up the menu; others will only switch when held down for the menu. It’s an annoying lack of uniformity.
If you were keeping the standard iOS keyboard around only so you could use the diction option, good news—you can delete that keyboard and still get the dictation mic icon () at the bottom of the screen no matter which keyboard you use. So “delete” Apple’s keyboard if you don’t like it. (You can’t really delete it entirely.)
So now you know how to get install and access keyboards, as well as their limitations. But which keyboards are worth getting? Here are our favorites.