iOS 8 first added support for third party keyboards. Since then, there have been third-party keyboards of all sorts. Starting with the obvious like SwiftKey, to the delightful stuff that is the PopKey GIF keyboard. Now, with giants like Microsoft and Google getting in on the custom keyboard game, things are starting to heat up. While I admit that my experience with third party keyboards hasn’t been the best, that hasn’t stopped developers from innovating in this field.
Because they still don’t have as much freedom and power as iOS’s default keyboard, I’ve found most third-party keyboards to be less than satisfactory (although I’m starting to warm up to Gboard). But I think we’ve reached a point where the added benefits of some third party keyboards far outweigh the inconvenience. Today we’re going to talk about such apps.
And if you can’t stand a third party keyboard all the time, do what I do – have specialized keyboards like Copied or Reboard enabled but switch to them only when you need to. Just like you do with the Emoji keyboard.
If you don’t know what third party keyboard apps are, read our previous article where we tell you how to enable third-party keyboard apps.
Most Useful Keyboard Apps For iPhone
We’ll start with the newest, and the most mainstream of the custom keyboards. Gboard by Google. Google’s foothold in iOS land was already pretty strong, now they’re here to take over the keyboard as well. And I think you should let them.
If you spend most of your time in chat apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage anyway, talking to people, making plans, sharing stuff, Gboard is going to come in really handy.
Gboard looks much like the default keyboard, only there’s a Google icon in the suggestion bar. Tap it and the ever familiar Google search bar will show up.
But that’s not it. There’s an integrated emoji keyboard (that you can easily search through), and a pretty impressive GIF search as well. The keyboard will also show emoji suggestions for the words you type. Also, you can swipe your finger over the spacebar to move the cursor.
It’s the Google search that’s really useful. Google will show intelligent results as cards. And you can quickly share restaurants, places and search results in the conversation just by tapping on it.
2. Microsoft Word Flow
If you have an iPhone 6 Plus or iPhone 6s Plus, you’re really going to love the Word Flow keyboard. Microsoft’s official custom keyboard entry brings Windows Mobile’s keyboard on your iPhone. The best thing about it is the one handed mode. Microsoft calls it the Arc mode.
Once selected, the keyboard basically curves into a semi-circle and makes it really easy to reach every key using just your thumb. Plus there are normal features like gesture typing and theme support.
Download: Microsoft Word Flow
As far as productivity keyboards go, Slash is more on the fun side. But the concept is so simple yet novel that I just can’t help but talk about it here.
When you use the keyboard, entering the “/“ command, or tapping the Slash button will bring up a list of commands. Yes, this is something similar to using the command line.
Now you can do things like search songs on Spotify, look up Wikipedia, an address or of course, a GIF!
Reboard is quite an ambitious third party keyboard. It hasn’t got much to do with typing per se. Reboard instead wants to bring an app launcher right to the keyboard. Except it’s not exactly like running apps in your keyboard area.
The pitch is this. You’re in a conversation or working away in your email app of choice. You need to look up data or download a file or information that’s stored somewhere else. Instead of going to the said app, just do it all right there, in the keyboard.
So with Reboard, you can enable plugins for apps and services like Dropbox, Wikipedia, YouTube, Wunderlist, Slack, Reminders, and much more.
So if you fancy the idea of adding a task to Wunderlist, pulling a file from Dropbox or sending a message to Slack, all from your keyboard, Reboard is it.
Thingthing keyboard is made for a certain kind of person. A freelancer, a businessman who travels a lot. In short, if you use your phone to get work done, Thingthing can help you out.
First of all, it tries to improve upon the default keyboard by offering better predictive text. Other than that, it uses the same tab based layout you see other apps here use.
From the tabs you can do things like quickly pick up emojis, share photos, coordinate calendar appointments, access your files from Dropbox and more.
Homer is a pretty cool extension of something like the Slash keyboard. Here, instead of you typing a command, you don’t really do anything. You just type like you normally would. Homer itself will analyse what you’re typing and will give you contextual information. Let’s say you type in a movie name. You’ll then get contextual information like where it’s playing and more.
Fleksy is one of the more mainstream third party keyboards (like SwiftKey) that recently went pro. By itself, Fleksy was a keyboard with unique layout and mechanism that used swipe gestures to help you type faster.
That was reason enough to use it. Now it’s added an entire new extension library along with new themes. The themes are pretty, look professionally designed and the extensions are robust.
You can have 4 extensions in the keyboard for free. After that, you can unlock each slot for $0.99. Some of the available extensions are GIF library (of course), a one-handed mode, and more importantly – hotkeys.
Using hotkeys, you can add shortcuts to things you type often. This can be your email, a favorite emoji, anything.
8. Hub Keyboard
It’s weird to say this but Microsoft has a pretty good third party keyboard for the iPhone. It’s a part of Microsoft’s Garage project – where they try new things across all platforms.
This keyboard is pretty simple. But if you use Microsoft services like Office, OneDrive and Outlook, you’ll get a lot out of it.
The keyboard itself is basic. But you’ll find an action bar at the top of it. Here you’ll find options to look up your contacts, Sharepoint documents, OneDrive files, and your clipboard history.
Download: Hub Keyboard
There aren’t that many fully featured clipboard managers for iOS. Of course, that’s because there’s no native clipboard management for iOS. Because of they way iOS is structured, no app can directly save every snippet you copy.
But if you’re prepared to manually save everything important you copy to the clipboard – Copied is the best option. And it has a Notification Center widget to quickly save the clipboard content and a dedicated keyboard.
The keyboard concept is pretty cool. You switch to the keyboard and here you’ll see a list of all the saved snippets. You can then combine them, manage them and is one tap, paste a snippet in the selected text box.
Mac power users must be familiar with TextExpander. The super useful text expansion utility. They also have an iOS counterpart in form of a third party keyboard. If you have a lot of snippets already saved in TextExpander and given the fact that you’re still using the app after it started charging $5/month (and then cut that rate by 50% for current customers), look into this iOS app. On Mac, you can try switching to aText.
Or you can just use iOS’s own Text Replacement feature to auto expand snippets of text into phrases.
If you’re not using TextExpander, it’s KuaiBoard you should go for. It’s currently the best free app for creating, managing and inserting all your most frequently used phrases.
When you bring up KuaiBoard, you’ll be able to select from a list of all the snippets you’ve saved. Just tap one to insert it. You can protect all your snippets using Touch ID or a password pattern. The app also has a handy Notification Center widget that lets you quickly create a snippet for anything that’s on your clipboard.
Do You Use a Custom Keyboard?
It’s close to two years since custom keyboards were released and frankly, it seems like the market has just started heating up. Do you use a custom keyboard?
I have a feeling that iOS 10 might just bring enhanced custom keyboard functionality that could theoretically put custom keyboards right up there with the default one – performance and functionality wise.
If that happens, this list will get even more interesting. What do you think? Share with us in the comments below.