As a writer, the vast majority of my time is used to enter text, which means that the most important thing for the tools in my trade is, of course, the keyboard.
Now you probably think you know where this goes. Apple's has probably taken a lot of flakes for its portable keyboards over the last couple of years, and frankly, I believe that where there is smoke, there's a fire. But I'm not here to talk about the keyboards on the company's laptops.
I'm here to talk about iOS. Apple popularized the on-screen keyboard with the launch of the first iPhone, and decided to prevent the hardware keyboards that were de rigueur on smartphones at that time. The virtual keyboard was more space-saving, more versatile and contained no moving parts. To ease the transition, Apple has added a variety of features to write thicker than it was on a traditional keyboard.
It was great in 2007. But 1
Auto-correct course correction
Ah, auto-correction. The blessing and the course of all our existence. It saves us from disturbing typos, yes, but just as often it makes bizarre and inexplicable choices that at best provide fun moments of misunderstanding or, in the worst case, extremely inappropriate mistakes.
I've become more and more confused about auto-correction in recent years. In my personal experience, it has become both worse by fixing legitimate typos and more aggressive about taking real words and making them nonsense. The latter is many times more frustrating; I have seen more than a few sentences become incomprehensible before my eyes.
A problem I have noticed with autocorrection is that it consists of several parts, all of which aim to serve the same purpose, but with slightly different interaction models. It is the line of predictive text just above the keyboard that offers words that you might write or want to write next. There is a suggestion popover that appears when you select a word that the dictionary does not recognize. And it is the offer to "regret" a correction when you want to return to what you originally entered. They all look a little different, and even though it feels like they should cover every possible chance, I often feel trapped between which is the right interaction for a given moment. And then, like many people, I end up in a cycle of deleting and retyping a few times until iOS gets the point that yes, I actually want to write this. It's not a joy.
The auto-correction system needs some serious streamlining, from an interface perspective, as well as improvements to the actual underlying technology that is responsible for correcting words. Auto-correction needs a larger dictionary, better ways to differentiate between words that are wrong and words and words that it doesn't know, and maybe even an option to control how aggressive it is to fix errors. (Currently, auto-correction is either on or off.) We've all been better off typing on screenshots, so it should definitely not feel like we've got worse.
Swiping is the new type
Speaking to be better at writing on screens, how about adapting to other types of keyboards? I mainly think about entering. This system has been around for a long time on Android, and third-party keyboards like Google's Gboard and Microsoft's SwiftKey have brought it to iOS as well.
] Personally, I've been impressed with entering when I've used it in other keyboards. The biggest thing that holds me back is that it is not available on the system keyboard. Third-party keyboard support is still limited on iOS, and there are often buggy and crash-exposed.
There are also many people who do not want to put other companies, including Google, in the midst of everything they write, and prefer the insurances that come with Apple's privacy commitment. Swipe typing is a good idea, even though it is not one that was concentrated in Cupertino.
Search emoji and you will find
We have all become accustomed to writing things that are not letters, numbers and punctuation. Of course I am talking about the universal language of emotion. Apple invested a lot of time in its emoji, but a place where it falls, is how users find right emoji.
Yes, recent improvements on the keyboard mean autocorrection can suggest symbols that match the word you type or offer them in the predictive text section, but when those words do not match what you think of that emoji name, it may be frustrating.
All this can be avoided if the company offers a better interface for sorting, searching and selecting emoji. I have been particularly impressed with the latest update for the Slack app on iOS, which implemented a new sheet to pick emoji, complete with a search box. Apple already offers a way to search for emoji on Mac, it's more than a little confusing that it wouldn't make a similar feature available on iOS.