Three keyboard changes Apple should make—to iOS

As a writer, the vast majority of my time is spent inputting text, which means that the most crucial of the tools of my trade is, of course, the keyboard.

Now, you probably think you know where this is going. Apple’s certainly taken a lot of flak for its laptop keyboards over the last couple years, and frankly I’m of the opinion that where there’s smoke, there’s 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 onscreen keyboard with the launch of the first iPhone, deciding to eschew the hardware keyboards that were de rigueur on smartphones at the time. The virtual keyboard was more space efficient, more versatile, and contained no moving parts. To ease the transition, Apple added a variety of features to make typing smarter than it was on a traditional keyboard.

That was great in 2007. But 12 years later, we’ve all largely adapted to touchscreen keyboards, and some of those smart technologies are starting to look and feel, well, not so smart. It’s time for an A-to-Z overhaul of text entry on iOS.

Autocorrect course correction

Ah, autocorrect. The blessing and bane of all of our existences. It saves us from troubling typos, yes, but just as often it makes bizarre and inexplicable choices that, at best, provide hilarious moments of misunderstanding or, at worst, extremely inappropriate errors.

ios12 autocorrect IDG

Autocorrect is in need of an overhaul.

I’ve become more and more puzzled about autocorrect in recent years. In my personal experience, it’s become both worse at fixing legitimate typos and more aggressive about taking actual words and turning them into nonsense. The latter is many times more frustrating; I’ve watched more than a few sentences turn incomprehensible before my very eyes.

One problem I’ve noticed with autocorrect is that it consists of several parts, all of which aim to serve the same purpose, but with slightly different interaction models. There is the bar of predictive text right above the keyboard, which offers words that you might be typing or want to type next. There’s a suggestion popover that appears when you select a word that the dictionary doesn’t recognize. And there’s the offer to “undo” a correction when you want to revert to what you originally typed. They all look a little different, and even though it feels as though they should cover all possible eventualities, I often feel caught between which is the right interaction for any given moment. And so, like many people, I end up in a cycle of deleting and retyping a couple times until iOS gets the point that, yes, I do indeed want to type this. It is not a delight.

The autocorrect system is in need of some serious streamlining, from an interface perspective, as well as improvements in the actual underlying technology responsible for correcting words. Autocorrect needs a bigger dictionary, better ways to discern between words that are incorrect and words and terms it doesn’t know, and perhaps even an option to control how aggressive it is about fixing mistakes. (Right now, autocorrect is either on or off.) We’ve all probably gotten better at typing on screens, so it definitely shouldn’t feel like we’ve gotten worse.