iOS 8- Keyboards

iOS has come a long way since the version 1.0, in fact it has been 8 years since the OS was first launched. To be truly judgemental, version 8 has seen the most exciting features ever since the launch of App store. Since this is a very detailed post on iOS 8 Keyboard Extensions and there are quite a lot of features that shipped with iOS 8, its better you check out the full list of features elsewhere here.

Extensions across iOS has been the most talked about feature of this release, and I have been looking forward to third party keyboard extensions ever since I saw the swipe keyboards on Android. iOS 8 brings keyboard extensions to all iOS 8 supported devices which are iPhone 4S and later models, iPod 5th Generation, iPad 2nd Genartation and later and iPad Mini all versions. Here is how some popular third party keyboards work and how they fare so far in real life. But before that some

Caveats
  • Some third party keyboards can log all keystrokes and logged keystrokes can be shared over the network with the app developer for performance improvements of the keyboard. This potentially could become a security issue and might ring an alarm bell in those with privacy paranoid minds. As much as these keyboards are allowed to capture keystrokes, Apple hasn’t yet allowed these third party keyboards to type security credentials, such as passwords, credit card details, etc. For example while using a third party keyboard, encountering a password field or a credit card field, the keyboard is reset to Apple’s default keyboard and hence third party keyboards aren’t allowed to enter any secure credentials. So in a sense Apple has opened up privacy a bit, but not completely that every details of the user might be compromised. That said the username field is still exposed and so your email id’s or usernames , address details, etc., can be collected in the background.
  • Keyboards are designed to learn our typing patterns by default, which means switching to a new keyboard will come with quite a bit of a learning curve. We are also throwing out our habits and the learnings of the default keyboard and starting afresh. Be prepared to be autocorrected while you type your name or email, etc because the new keyboard hasn’t learnt the spelling yet. This could be very annoying especially if you are used typing in a language not supported by the third party keyboards.
  • Some times some apps open up without any keys in the keyboard. iOS 8 has issues is my guess here. Manually killing the app and reopening the app fixes it. Some times its better off to restart the phone and be done with it. Some times the keyboard just doesn’t load at all even after a restart (text expander once vanished never to return until a reinstall). Reinstalling the app might be a good idea. Since this is very early days of the keyboard extensions, Lets give the developers and Apple a little slack on these. I am sure these issues will be ironed out in a few more months.
  • Lack of consistency is a very big deal with these keyboards. Apple hasn’t given these keyboards a set of standards yet and hence some keyboards don’t offer the same switching mechanisms between multiple keyboards. For instance, with the Fleksy keyboard, press and hold the number key button to switch to the next keyboard while the text expander uses the smiley software icon to switch to the next keyboard.

Despite all these pain points, some of the keyboards are worth the time, effort and the money, simply because of the time it saves in the longer run and for their ease of use.

Myriad keyboards

There are variety of Keyboards available from Third party developers. Some of the prominent ones are listed and explained briefly.

  1. Swype Keyboard
  2. Swift Key Keyboard
  3. Text Expander Keyboard
  4. Fleksy Keyboard
  5. Emoji++ Keyboard
  6. PopKey Animated GIF Keyboard
  7. MyScript Stack-Handwriting Keyboard

I have tried most of them and will elaborate on each further below. Before that a brief primer on how to get a third party keyboard activated. Third party keyboards are available as any other app in the store. There is no way yet to distinguish a keyboard app from any other app as of yet, but once you open a keyboard extension app, it just has steps on how to activate the keyboard with some tutorials and settings.
Once you download the keyboard app, just open up settings to activate it. Here is how the navigation looks on my iPhone, should looks the same on your iOS 8 device.

Settings >General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard

Select the third party keyboard from the list of available keyboards. Some keyboards only work when they are granted full access(to capture all keystrokes, send them over the internet, syncing etc).You might have to grant the permissions by navigating to the select keyboard and enabling full access.If you are paranoid, I would suggest you read the privacy policy of the app before deciding to grant the full access.  That said, I doubt if any developer will be able to gather any data that could potentially harm me. When you grant the full access, You will be greeted with a warning message such as shown below.

Privacy Warning

Mainstream keyboards

I have called the keyboards that are suitable for all day use as mainstream keyboards. These keyboards can be used as standalone keyboards and work equivalently well like the apple’s default keyboard.

  1. Swype Keyboard
    Swype keyboard by Nuance is my favourite among the third party keyboards. It costs a dollar and to me it has been the best of the swipe gesture based keyboards so far, and not to mention that the keyboard works with out granting full access. Other keyboards keep annoying you by asking you to grant full access. Swype is very smart at recognising the words from your swipes and has been the most accurate of the swipe keyboards so far. Again if your are not the type of person who likes to swipe on the screen then this might not be the keyboard for you. It does come with a few themes built in. I personally like the dark theme. It also has a personal dictionary to add words that aren’t in the dictionary. The personal dictionary is big plus given none of my friends names are in the english dictionary :).  These minor features are the ones that makes this my most preferred third party keyboard on iOS 8.
    Swype Keyboard
    Ease of use:- 8.5/10 Accuracy:–8.5/10
  2. Swift Key Keyboard
    Swift key is yet another swipe gesture based keyboard, only that the keyboard is free. You can opt in to sync your keyboard data between your devices by granting access to your Facebook or Google Plus profile. This does enable syncing between multiple devices that support swift key. Since I don’t have the need for this  syncing yet, I haven’t tried this feature yet and yeah I am a little apprehensive about giving access to Facebook, Google plus, contacts for a keyboard to work efficiently. I’d rather pay the $1 for the Swype Keyboard and be done with it than give the keyboard my social profile. That said the keyboard works quite fine without the opt in. The keyboard is very close to Swype during use, but somehow I couldn’t keep using this swift key for long time  as when compared to Swype. The swype felt a lot more easier and tolerant of swiping errors compared to  the Swift Key. However the swift key has an advantage over the Swype in terms completing a word that has been partially edited. Swype doesn’t recognise the partially edited word at all, while swift juste completes the word with out any issues.
    Swift Key Keyboard
    Ease of use:- 8.5 Accuracy:- 8
  3. Text Expander Keyboard
    Text Expander by Smile software is a different type of main stream keyboard among the various third party keyboards. Text expander touch is an iOS app that aims to bring all the features of Text expander for Mac to iOS. It has a built in keyboard that magically expands text expander snippets on your iOS device. If you are an avid user of text expander for Mac, this one is going to be a time saver on the phone too. Text expander touch works as a standalone app too without its counterpart on the mac, but it unleashes a whole new level of connectedness to your mac if you pair it with the Mac version. Text Expander touch is kind of a big deal that there are  iOS apps that are tweaked to take full advantage of the text expander keyboard with formatted text and so on. Here is a full list of apps enhanced for the text expander touch. Text expander keyboard comes in very handy when I need to expand a mail template or my email address, Address, my phone no , etc. Except for these types of situations I prefer to use the Swype keyboard because I am so much faster swiping on it than typing.
    The sync between the mac and the iOS is not that very seamless yet, some times it does require the app to opened up on the phone to sync the new snippets from mac and then it starts picking up the new snippets. Except the one time when the keyboard vanished never to return, I have had a good run with this keyboard. If you are a heavy Text expander user on the mac, $5 is totally worth it  for this iOS 8 keyboard.
    Text Expander Keyboard
    Ease of use:- 8.5/10 Accuracy:- 8.5/10
  4. Fleksy Keyboard
    Fleksy keyboard is a mixture of type keyboard and a gesture based keyboard. To elaborate, we type words by tapping keys and gestures are used to edit/punctuate/delete the words. Since this heavily relies on autocorrect, autosuggestion the accuracy of the keyboard varies across a wide spectrum. After 8 years everyone of us have learnt not to trust the iOS autocorrect, Haven’t we? . Some times typing a word feels like solving a puzzle, and gosh you realise you missed space between two words and it’s trying to autosuggest based on the spelling of both words combined. If you have large fingers, accidental pressing  of the neighbouring key is unavoidable thereby sending the autosuggest for a toss and you will end up deleting the whole word and sometimes typing the word again and again.The keyboard does come with a variety of themes and has options to make the keys larger/smaller to choose from.
    The keyboard comes with inbuilt Emoji support. To make the app more fun, the app developers have created  badges that  you can earn as your usage increases. Fleksy Keyboard
    Ease of use:- 7.5 Accuracy:- 7
Supplementary keyboards

I have classified keyboards that can’t be used as the only keyboard on the device, as supplementary keyboards.

  1. Emoji++ Keyboard
    This is a special keyboard meant only for Emoji’s by David Smith. Simply put it’s the best implementation of the Emoji keyboard which apple should have done. It cost a $1 in the app store. I like it that I can pin my most used emoji’s as favourites. Since it’s not a mainstream keyboard, I won’t be giving any ratings for it, But it is totally worth the price. Guess what Gruber loves it too.
  2. PopKey Animated GIF Keyboard
    For those GIF aficionados, this is the best GIF keyboards out there. It does require you to signup for an account with PopKey. It needs internet access to work. It does have the feature to upload your own GIF’s and to choose from Gif available from the thousands of curated GIF’s by the app developers. I am not that much into GIF’s so I use it only when I am conversing with a friend who likes GIF’s. That said some apps like Whatsapp doesn’t support GIF files rendering this keyboard useless with the app.
    Popkey GIF keyboard
  3. MyScript Stack-Handwriting Keyboard
    The MyScript stack keyboard is handwriting recognition keyboard. One just scribbles the letters into the keyboard space and it converts them into characters and text. It is one of the fun keyboards to play around with, but wouldn’t recommend it for mainstream use. Accuracy is very tricky based on your handwriting and how big your fingers are, how quick you are , etc. I would use this only on the iPad for the kids for them to practice the alphabets, besides that I have no time for this keyboard.
    Stack-Handwriting keyboard

These are early days and iOS 8 isn’t quite smooth, with the way it handles third party keyboards yet. Till may be iOS 8.1 when keyboard handling and switching become smoother, I would recommend you to keep the Apple’s default keyboard turned on at all times and use the third party keyboard of your choice along with the Apple keyboard. My current setup has Swype, Text expander touch, emoji++ along with the Apple keyboard.Yeah I know that is too much of them to handle, but this is optimal for me right now. I am mostly using the Swype most places and the rest do find some infrequent use in special circumstances. What  third party keyboards are you using. Let me know in the comments or on twitter.

 

Show hidden files in Mac-Alfred Workflow

Coming from the Windows world to the Mac, small things like viewing hidden files could be very daunting on the mac. Thanks to Ian Lunn, I did manage to figure out how to do it. As he advised, I did create an Alias for showing and hiding the hidden files and I was quite happy for a while until it got annoying for me to keep typing the keywords “showFiles” and “hideFiles” in the terminal. This morning I decided to automate this using an Alfred Workflow and inturn learn how an Alfred Workflow is created.
Before I began I just wanted to check there weren’t any that were already doing what I wanted. How dumb of me to think if one existed, you ask. Yeah I was dumb :) . There indeed is a Workflow that does exactly what I wanted to do. I just download the Workflow and it works great. My efforts to create a new Workflow have to wait for a while now :( , but I am glad I found a very nice Workflow.

You can download the Workflow directly from here. Just configure the hotkeys in the Workflow and you are good to go. My hotkeys are ‘Option+Cmd + S’ to show hidden files and ‘Option+Cmd + H’ to hide the files back again. Feel free to choose hotkeys of your choice. Thanks to Andrea Busi for the nice Workflow.

Poem-IF -by Rudyard Kipling

Sumbled across this poem again today. A poem that was part of my college curriculum, the only one that etched a mark in my mind, the only one that I remember distinctly, the only one that I try to put into practice in my life. What are those lines you ask? Here they are.. Some of my favorite lines are highlighted in Italics :)

 IF
If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

by Rudyard Kipling