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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.
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.