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How Apple could improve typing on the iPad

Ted Landau | May 3, 2013
When it comes to my iPad, I fear I'm like the proud-but-overbearing parent to a very talented child. I continue to be impressed by the capabilities of my iPad. I praise the device's merits to everyone I know. I can no longer recall how I got along without an iPad. And yet ... I keep wanting more. "You're a wonderful kid, iPad, but you could be better. Couldn't you try just a bit harder?"

What would I prefer instead? Arrow keys. These would allow me to move the cursor with greater precision and speed. Several third-party text-processing apps include such keys as part of their customized keyboards. I especially recommend Textilus. Besides arrow keys, this app offers a "magic cursor" tool that acts like a joystick for moving the cursor. Functionally, it accomplishes the same goal as the loupe tool, but without the imprecision and hassles.

The loupe tool is better than arrow keys for quickly switching to a location distant from the cursor's current position. But for typical on-the-fly editing, the arrow keys work much better. An irony here is that, before the arrival of the Mac in 1984, arrow keys were the standard way to move a cursor. When it was introduced, the Mac's mouse was a huge improvement. Unfortunately, iOS's loupe tool doesn't quite match up to a Mac's mouse or trackpad.

Provide selection consistency

It would help if typing were more predictable; for example, if the same basic action always did the same thing across apps--or at least across Apple's own apps. Unfortunately, this isn't the case.

Take the double-tap as an example. Apple's iWork apps work exactly as I would hope: A double-tap on a word selects the word, bringing up the keyboard if it's not already displayed. In addition, a pop-up appears over the word with options such as Cut, Copy, and Define.

With Notes, if the keyboard is not already visible, a double-tap doesn't bring it up. Only the pop-up display appears, with limited options to Copy, Select All, and Define. If you want to cut (delete) the word, you first have to do a single tap to bring up the keyboard, and then double-tap to select the word.

In the Calendar and Contacts apps, another quirk crops up: If the keyboard is not already visible and you double-tap a word near the bottom of the screen, the keyboard jumps into place just from the first tap. The result is that the second tap typically adds whatever letter is under where your finger was tapping rather than selecting the word. This doesn't happen in Pages or other iWork apps.

Standardizing these behaviors across apps would go a long way toward helping users type more reliably.

Make cut-and-paste easier

One of the most common text-editing tasks is cut-and-paste. But despite how often we use the feature, this procedure could use some streamlining in iOS.

In a cut-and-paste, the first step is to select a word via a double-tap. Assuming you've mastered the action's inconsistencies (as noted in the previous section), so far so good. If you want to cut more than the initially selected word, your next step is to grab one of the handles on the selection box and expand the selection until it surrounds the desired text. You can now select a cut or copy command from the pop-up choices that automatically appear.


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