Yesterday saw the arrival of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8 and with it came hundreds of tweaks and new features, including the ability to add third-party keyboards.
Android users are already used to the freedom of being able to swap out the default typing experience with an alternative, but now iOS users can do the same. Before you hop into the App Store however, don’t count the default keyboard out just yet.
The iOS 8 QuickType keyboard has a number of new improvements and that may well be enough for many existing users, but to find out, we pit the homegrown Apple keys against one of its biggest rivals and a newcomer to the world of iOS 8 – Swiftkey.
iOS 8 QuickType keyboard vs Swiftkey for iOS: Setup
If you’ve just updated to iOS 8 you’ll likely have sped through the initial process, taking you back to the familiar homescreen. Being the default keyboard there’s little to actually do in order to set it the new QuickType experience, just get typing.
Being a third-party option, there’s a little more to the process before you can start hammering at the keys with SwiftKey, but it’s a simple enough process. Find and download the new SwiftKey application and fire it up, you can add a Facebook or Google+ account, which we’ll talk about later, but after four or so screens, all that’s left to do is to find it in the Settings menu and ‘Allow Full Access’.
iOS 8 QuickType keyboard vs SwiftKey for iOS: Design
With iOS 8, the new keys feature some of the same great elements of last year’s version; namely a thin typeface that’s clean and crisp, albeit a little harder to read (there are new iOS 8 accessibility options to enlarge and embolden text) and the frosted translucent background that gave the iOS 7 keyboard its distinct look and feel.
Being able to see where you are in a thread, just by looking behind the keys, is a nice trick and the key size appears unchanged so comfort is the same too.
SwiftKey as a company has proven that it has a knack for offering up visually distinctive keyboards with a lot of substance. In truth the Android version of the keyboard can change its appearance far more radically than on iOS, but the design team clearly wanted to keep the Apple initiated comfortable with betraying the stock keyboard.
There’s a dark and a light theme (we prefer the dark) that both adopt near identical key placement to the standard Apple layout, meaning you won’t suddenly lose your place or have to relearn where the more specialist functions are. The font choices, even with the darker theme, are higher contrast than the QuickType keyboard, making for a more visible typing experience, especially in bright conditions.
iOS 8 QuickType keyboard vs SwiftKey for iOS: Accuracy
If you’re an initiated iOS user, you won’t feel alienated by the new typing experience, you just have to adapt to the new prediction system. The typing and error correction are for the most part unchanged, like many of the cornerstones that have kept Apple’s stock keyboard in most user’s good books thus far.
There’s now an additional dark grey bar, split into three sections resting above the keys that fires out three optional words to tap based on what you’re currently typing. These predictions update instantly as you type, with the middle option serving as the selected correction, provided you mistype something.
If you want to turn off your targeting computer, there’s a toggle hidden under a long-press of the emoji icon to the left of the space bar. This removes the prediction bar completely, but still corrects misspelled words, just as the iOS 6 and 7 keyboards did.
Trying to type the same sentences at speed on both the Apple and SwiftKey keyboards yielded similarly impressive results with regards to error correction. What left our fingers as gibberish appeared on-screen as a neatly constructed sentence in both cases. SwiftKey also displays a bar of three predictions above the keyboard as you type and offers a very similar user experience as a result, the only key difference being that lack of key press sounds by default, which we actually preferred.
iOS 8 QuickType keyboard vs SwiftKey for iOS: Functionality
Whilst the QuickType keyboard is my no means bad, in this instance SwiftKey matches it at every avenue and delivers more on top as well. Rather than having to long-press to switch languages manually, multilingual users can simply type straight from one language into another and SwiftKey will follow suit.
iCloud may store your custom dictionary entries to share between your iOS devices, but SwiftKey Cloud, which uses Google+ or Facebook for authentication, ensures that should you rock an Android device alongside your iPhone or iPad, your custom entries will pop up in the prediction bar across all your devices.
iOS 8 QuickType keyboard vs SwiftKey for iOS: Verdict
In terms of their predictive capabilities Apple’s own solution actually surprised us by matching the mighty SwiftKey in most instances, the new prediction engine is smart enough to decipher poorly typed sentences with ease and the ability to jump between languages with a long-press is convenient too.
SwiftKey’s first outing on iOS at first feels identical, but the design is more flexible and the keys are easier to see at the expense of some of the cosmetic beauty Apple’s keyboard boasts, but the extra skills are what really help it stand out – namely Flow, which adds swipe-to-type convenience and the cross-platform goodness of SwiftKey Cloud. It’s still got a ways to go to match its Android counterpart, but the work’s already been done, so it’s simply a case of waiting on future updates.
You’ll make fewer mistakes whichever keyboard you choose, but SwiftKey on iOS brings an impressively seamless set of tools to the table that keep typing on your iPhone feeling fresh.