With the arrival of iOS 8, the iPhone finally—finally!—gets access to custom keyboards, liberating your thumbs from the tyranny of Apple's tepid offering. Here's a guide to some of the best keyboards coming your way today or in the near future.
How to add a new keyboard
To add a new keyboard, you need to first download and install the individual keyboard app. Then, navigate to your keyboard preferences inside your iPhone's Settings app and add the keyboard to your list of available input methods. It'll be added to a list right next to English (US) and Emoji.
Then, when you go to type an email, status update, text message, tweet, etc., you can access the alternative input method—your keyboard of choice—by tapping the little globe button to the left of the spacebar.
SwiftKey and Swype
SwiftKey and Swype will be launching iOS versions of their very popular Android keyboards (free, $1) . The two apps share core features, and whether you like one or the other is mostly a matter of taste. They're both based around a swiping input method; put your finger down on your phone's screen, drag it around from letter to letter, and the apps figure out what word you're trying to spell, even if you slide sloppily.
The predictive tech is supplemented by brains that learn your style from your inputs on the keyboard over time, as well as from what you write on your Gmail, Twitter, and Facebook accounts. The keyboards get so smart that the apps are useful not just for swiping, but also for typing out words if that's more your style.
Fleksy ($1) is a savior for sloppy typists—or just people in a hurry. It boasts an excellent autocorrect system that can translate even the most hastily garbled inputs into real words. Gestures help make the app faster, too; if you don't like the first autocorrect suggestion Fleksy provides, you can scroll through them with an up and down swipe anywhere on the keyboard.
If you don't like the options you've been given at all, swiping from right to left on the keyboard works like a giant delete button. Fleksy also has plenty of customization options so you can change the look and feel of the app, although, we should note, some of them will cost you extra. Out today.
With the launch of iOS 8, TextExpander will be introduce a keyboard application that makes typing out long tedious things you write all the time easier. TextExpander already exists as a popular desktop utility that turns shortcut phrases into a longer chunk of characters. For example, when I want to send our office address to someone, I simply type "gizhq" and it pops out to a full address, including building access instructions.
TextExpander already exists as an iPhone app, but because of the Apple's sandbox, you couldn't use it to expand snippets in other apps unless they'd implemented the SDK. Thanks to iOS 8's Extensions feature, your snippets can finally be used anywhere on your phone. The keyboard just went live with the latest TextExpander update ($5).
Before PopKey, the only way to text a reaction GIF to a friend was to go hunt one down in your Photos app. Or worse, if you didn't have a GIF to match the moment exactly, you would have to go to the internet, find the GIF, download the GIF, and then add the GIF to your message. So much precious reaction time lost! With PopKey, you can search a library of thousands of GIFs for "LOL" "OMG" or "GTFO" or whatever else. Unfortunately, PopKey isn't live just yet, but you can sign up for updates here.