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iOS 8: How to Install a Keyboard

SwiftKey third-party keyboard for iOS 8

published by Chand Bellur
October 6, 2014 at 8:19 p.m. PST

iOS 8 adds new customization features to Apple’s mobile operating system. This article covers how to install a third-party custom keyboard.

Customization is a relatively new feature for iOS. The Mac offered customization for over a decade, including widgets, desktop customization, the Automator, and AppleScript. Other mobile operating systems took note and offered customization for mobile device users.

Apple had different priorities when developing iOS. They focused on performance and building an ecosystem, which other mobile operating systems are just now adopting. If you like customization and wish to use third-party custom keyboards, iOS 8 now offers this functionality.

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Third-Party Keyboard Security

Apple implemented customization with security in mind, however, users still need to be aware of privacy issues. When you install a custom keyboard, you have the option of giving the keyboard full access. With full access enabled, every keystroke can be accessed by the developer and used for their product. The data also help the keyboard offer better suggestions. Beyond keystrokes, a third-party keyboard with full access can also obtain other information from the document, such as photos, location data, and even passwords.

I don’t recommend enabling full access for any third-party keyboard, given that passwords can be obtained. Unfortunately, without full access, your keyboard won’t be able to offer intelligent suggestions. You may just want stick with Apple’s predictive text keyboard, which will preserve your privacy. Many people prefer it to any other third-party keyboard in the App Store. If I haven’t frightened you away from third-party keyboards, let’s look at how to install them…

How to Install Third-Party Keyboards on iOS 8

Before you install a third-party keyboard, you need to do some shopping. You can launch the App Store and browse for keyboards. One of the most popular free keyboards is SwiftKey. This article will cover how to install SwiftKey, but the process is the same for any third-party keyboard.

With the App Store launched, tap on the search field in the top right and enter “SwiftKey”, then tap Search on your keyboard. The App Store will display the SwiftKey app. Tap on FREE and then INSTALL on the SwiftKey app panel. You will be asked to authenticate with the App Store and the SwiftKey app will start downloading. Once the download is finished, you can install the new keyboard.

You don’t need to launch the SwiftKey app in order to install the new keyboard. The installation is done using the Settings app. Tap on Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards to display Keyboards settings. Next, tap on Add New Keyboard. Tap on SwiftKey under Third-Party Keyboards. You will now see SwiftKey added to the list of active keyboards. Tap on SwiftKey and make sure that full access is turned off, unless you want it on.

Keep in mind, with full access on, the developers of SwiftKey will have access to everything you type with their keyboard, including user names and passwords. With full access disabled, the keyboard won’t be able to offer intelligent suggestions. Now you can see why this keyboard is free — you are the product. Many people won’t mind and find the trade-off to be acceptable. Even if you pay for a third-party keyboard, with full access enabled, the developer will have access to your data.

Your new third-party keyboard is fully installed. You can access this keyboard by tapping the keyboard switch key to the left of the space bar. Now that your keyboard is up and running, let’s take a look at how to customize this keyboard.

How to Customize a Third-Party Keyboard

You can alter the toggle order of the third-party keyboard. This will alter the order in which keyboards appear when you tap the keyboard switch key. Tap on Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards and then tap the Edit button on the top right. Use the “handles” (three horizontal lines) on the right of each keyboard to drag them into the preferred order. Tap Done in the top right when you are finished.

If you have too many keyboards to handle, you can delete them from the list of active keyboards. This does not delete the app or keyboard, but removes it from being toggled. The easiest way to do this is to simply swipe from right to left on the keyboard. You will then see a Delete button. Tap Delete and the keyboard will be removed from the active list. You can also delete keyboards by tapping the Edit button on the top right. Next, tap the red circle next to the keyboard you wish to delete, then tap the Delete button. Tap Done when you are finished.

Most third-party keyboards offer further customization options. Users can change the look of the keyboard and alter settings that control its underlying intelligence. SwiftKey offers an app to control customization and other settings.

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First, find the SwiftKey app on your home screen and tap on the icon. If your home screen is cluttered, you can launch Spotlight by swiping your finger down on any home screen, then type “swiftkey” in the search field. Finally, tap the SwiftKey icon in search results. This is the way I launch most apps, and I actually keep my first home screen free of any icons.

With the SwiftKey app launched, let’s take a look at some of the customization options. First, SwiftKey offers a cloud service which can learn the words you use most by analyzing content that you have already written. It can access Gmail and Facebook to analyze your writing. SwiftKey Cloud can also backup your data and enable you to use it across devices. Needless to say, if you were concerned about privacy enough to disable full access, SwiftKey Cloud is probably not for you.

Users can download different language modules for use with SwiftKey. At the time of this writing, SwiftKey supports multiple dialects of six languages — English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. It is also possible to change the layout of the default keyboard. If QWERTY doesn’t cut it for you, perhaps AZERTY is a better option.

The default color for SwiftKey is black. It seems like it was designed for a different mobile operating system. You can change this. Simply tap on Keyboard Settings on the left and then tap on Themes. There are currently two themes — one is dark and the other is light. The Keyboard Settings menu also offers advanced settings — Autocorrect, Quick Period, and Auto Capitalize.

Why I Don’t Use Third-Party Keyboards or Predictive Text

To be honest, I am not thrilled about most of the new customization offerings in iOS 8. I am content that Apple did not make customization a top priority. Third-party keyboards need to access your personal data in order to be useful. When you type in a password using a third-party keyboard with full access, the developer will have access to this data. Most developers will store this securely and be responsible with your information. I’m more worried about hackers. There’s no guarantee that these third-party companies can keep your information safe.

Beyond third-party keyboards, I am not a fan of predictive text. For one thing, it slows down the keyboard, especially on older devices. I also find it distracting. I can type very fast, but trying to type and look at suggestions actually slows me down. If you type fast, nothing beats a QWERTY keyboard. I have decades of experience typing with this keyboard. Other designs, where you swipe your finger across the screen to form words, have a learning curve.

With enough practice, some claim to type much faster than on a traditional keyboard. Some of these claims are dubious. One person claims that he can type a whole paragraph in two seconds. No one could even think of a whole paragraph in two seconds. It is hyperbole.

Nonetheless, people swear by third-party keyboards and their efficiency. If you find them useful, by all means, use them. Just be aware of the privacy concerns and the learning curve of mastering a new way to enter text. Third-party keyboards aren’t here to stay. They are just a stepping stone between typing and the next breakthrough in data entry technology. Dictation capabilities, available to Mac OS X and iOS users for years, are also better than most third-party keyboards. Someday, when we can think words and they appear on the screen, I may move away from the QWERTY keyboard. Until then, I am happy typing fast on a standard keyboard.

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