Long ago, Android could thumb its nose at the iPhone for a very basic reason: the default, on-screen keyboard for iOS sucked and could not be changed while Android users were replete with customizable keys that could do much more than get tapped—users could swipe from letter to letter!
That all changed in 2014 with iOS 8, which finally introduced third-party keyboards. As they trickled into the App Store, some big names made the leap from Android to iOS. Getting new keyboards on your iPhone (or iPod touch or iPad) became as simple as downloading an app—sort of.
Having the app on the iPhone isn’t enough. Apple makes you go through a few steps. Go into Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards. That page shows you all the keyboards installed on your phone, plus the “Add new keyboard” option at the bottom. Click that to look at available keyboard options you’ve installed via the App Store. Go to the “third-party keyboards” list at the center; click one to add its full functionality.
You’re not done yet: on the previous screen, click the name of the keyboard to “Allow full access.” Why require that extra step? Because, in theory, you might not get full keyboard functionality without it. Consider a keyboard that pulls in animated GIF files; it needs internet access, which requires “full access.” Full access also lets a keyboard tap into things like the speaker, so you can hear keys click as you type. Some keyboards don’t work at all without full access. Some barely need it.
Keep in mind, if you allow full access, the developer of the third-party keyboard could, in theory, capture your keystrokes and send out what you type, maybe to a web server, or another app. Apple throws up a warning to that effect whenever full access is granted. If security is your bugaboo, you probably don’t want a third-party keyboard. Thankfully, when you enter passwords or credit card info, the iPhone knows to switch back to the standard iOS keyboard, even if you delete it from the rotation of keyboards available. While in Settings, click the Edit button on the keyboards page, then swipe left to delete any of the keyboards in rotation—including Apple’s.
Using Your New Keyboard
So, imagine you’ve got one or more new third-party keyboards installed on an iPhone: how do you access them? When typing with the standard keyboard, click the globe icon in the lower left. Hold a finger on it; a menu pops up showing all installed third-party keyboards, so jump to the one you want. Keep clicking globes to cycle through them all in order. Some keyboards won’t bring up the menu; others will only switch when held down for the menu. It’s an annoying lack of uniformity.
Another thing to note: if you’re a fan of the Apple keyboard’s dictation option (the microphone key by the space bar), don’t give up on that keyboard. Third-party keyboards aren’t allowed to use the microphone, per Apple’s rules, so none of them—not even the one from the makers of Dragon Dictation (Swype)—can support that excellent option.
So now you know how to get install and access keyboards, as well as their limitations. But which keyboards are worth getting? Here are our favorites.