iOS power-users, the Android-envy can stop now: Third-party keyboards have arrived. While the majority of iOS users likely find the default iOS keyboard works just fine, other alternative keyboards have cropped up that offer some capabilities that many may find useful. With the release of iOS 8, Apple has finally loosened the reins a bit and, among other features, now allows you to download alternate keyboards from the App Store. Installing and selecting one of these keyboards makes it appear in all your apps.
After downloading a keyboard app from the App Store, you enable it by opening the Settings app, then going to General > Keyboards. Once you've added at least one alternate keyboard, a new key with a globe symbol appears on the bottom row of the keyboard. (If you had the Emoji keyboard enabled in earlier versions of iOS, this should look familiar already.) Tapping on the globe key selects the next keyboard in the list.
Not sure where to start in picking a keyboard? Here's a quick preview of some of the most popular keyboards that have been downloaded and installed on iOS 8 since its recent release, most of which are optimized for both the iPhone and iPad.
iOS 8's stock keyboard, now with QuickType
Before you go running off to replace Apple's built-in keyboard, it's worth taking a look at the changes iOS 8 has introduced. While the built-in keyboard doesn't look radically different from previous versions, Apple has introduced several useful improvements. The biggest of these enhancements is called QuickType, which watches both what you type and in what context (taking a look at how you type in the Mail and Messages apps, for example) and offers word predictions, which it displays along the top row. The more you use it, the more it learns your typing habits in those various contexts and fine tunes the suggestions.
The changes aren't all under the hood, either. When used in landscape mode on the iPhone or iPod touch, for example, the keyboard now offers some new useful editing keys, like left/right arrows for moving the cursor (finally!), an undo key, and a key for quick access to Emoji characters. But if these incremental improvements aren't enough to keep you in the Apple fold, there are several alternative keyboards you can explore.
Due to its popularity in the Android world, Nuance's Swype ($1) is probably the most recognized name in alternative keyboards. This app is aptly named because, rather than tapping on the keys, you swipe across the keyboard, forming gestures that Swype uses to recognize complete words. (You can still tap out individual letters whenever you prefer.) In case your swipes are a little off kilter, the app provides built-in auto-correction of both words and phrases. By observing your keyboard usage, Swype can predict words you're likely to use next. If you find yourself using a set of commonly used words or phrases, you can assign each a custom gesture so that you can type them quickly with a simple, smaller gesture.
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