iOS8 Android Style Keyboards – Meh

Following are my thoughts on one of the new keyboards available on iOS8 that all the Android kids think are so worthy of mocking “us” for not having before. The keyboard is “SwiftKey”. The tl;dr version?…. “meh”.

First, a little background. I have loved my Apple iPhones since I first got one, and I use a Mac. I used to be a total anti-Apple person – wouldn’t buy an iPod, thought Macs were silly little toys with no choices, everything they made was too expensive, thought Apple people were “sheep”, etc. This has changed over time – first with an iPod in 2003, an Intel based Mac in 2006, and the iPhone in 2009 (my first iPhone was the 3G). I since went on to do app development in my spare time, pulling down about $40 or so a month, which is enough to pay for the Apple developer license and some nice Apple toys every once in a while. I have since gotten into the snarky flame war debates with the Android crowd. One of the big things the Android crowd loved to throw out was that the Apple iPhone keyboard was “awful”, and they had all these choices – SwiftKey, Swype, etc. iOS8 finally lets third party keyboards in, so the Android faithful smirk and say “welcome to the future”. Yeah, well, not so much as far as I’m concerned. With that said, here we go…

There are technical issues, which could very well be iOS related, though the verdict is still out. SwiftKey does not stay as the defaults keyboard in all apps. That could very well be iOS just deciding to not use the alternate keyboard once you selected it and is something Apple needs to fix, but I just don’t have any data to say so for sure. But in short, you can’t guarantee that the new keyboard you picked will always be there.

The next issue is that, at least with SwiftKey, it does strange nonsense sometimes depending on what field is up. For example, one game (Threes), when it says “enter your name”, well… there is no enter key on the SwiftKey keyboard. It thinks it is being smart or something, and replaces the return key with a “right arrow”, which ends up behaving like a space, and then I can’t get out of that screen. I have to switch keyboards. What the hell do you think you saw, SwiftKey, that you don’t have a return key?

Next, it has decided that it just doesn’t like using the microphone (or maybe it can’t have access to it). I have on more than a few occasions brought up a text or e-mail or Facebook, and wanted to send something simple. On the iOS keyboard, just hit the microphone button, and then speak, and it will transcribe (with varying levels of success). SwiftKey just doesn’t think that is important I guess. Maybe they want you to swipe instead? I dunno. But not having a microphone is idiotic (on the iOS keyboard, the mic is to the left of the space bar).

Next, it’s error correction / prediction is pretty good, but the main iOS keyboard has this now, too, and I’ve been using it enough that it is very good. I still think SwiftKey is better sometimes at predicting the next word in a sentence, but this isn’t a revolutionary function that Apple can’t catch up on.

And finally, swipe based typing has its own issues. To do it well, you really do have to hold the keyboard differently (one hand around the base of the phone, index finger to swipe), and I just don’t like holding it that way much, especially since you can’t hold it that way all the time – you can’t swipe for numbers, for example. Also, it has its own bizarre errors if you don’t swipe “just right”. These can lead to word errors that are hilariously wrong.

Example: I went to type a text to a friend by swiping:

“Their home page makes me want to vomit“.

And instead it came out as

“Their home page makes me want to come“.

OK, first… gross, and second… totally the opposite of what I wanted to say about so-and-so’s web site.

There are a plethora of other little bugs. In iOS, we are used to buttons that are special (like “enter” or “search” or “done”) showing up as a different color. Apple does that because what they want you to do is say “notice this button it is special”. (Gosh, almost as if they applied human factors or ergonomics to the problem as opposed to letting a code monkey come up with something on their own) SwiftKey doesn’t do this. They will just change the icon from a “return” icon to a “magnifying glass” icon (and in addition, they freaking move it to a different location!). This is something that can, of course, be learned, but this is where I go by the phrase in the “Mac vs. PC” ads – “it sounds like you have a lot of stuff to do before you can actually start doing stuff”. I don’t want to f*** around hunting for where you put stuff. Put it in the same damned place all the time, mmkay?

In conclusion, I will not remove this keyboard, but I doubt it will be my “everyday” keyboard. I will use it to swipe once in a while because sometimes I don’t feel like typing, and I want to do stuff that transcribing isn’t really ideal for. But in general, there is nothing so bleeping special about this that justified the “ZOMG it is AWESOME, iOS uzers iz stoopid” rants the Android fanbois go off on. It is, at best, “ok”.