Thoughts on the iPad Pro On-Screen Keyboard


Since getting my iPad Pro a few weeks ago, I’ve been writing on it a lot, using mostly the software keyboard, but also helping myself out with an external one. I bought an Origami Workstation a few years ago, and since it’s in perfect working order, as is the Apple Wireless Keyboard it contains, I’ve been using that combo quite often. This might change when my Smart Keyboard finally arrives, but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the iOS 9 on-screen keyboard a lot.

Apple Keyboard English International

I’m in the same boat as Federico Viticci — we get the English International keyboard layout by default in Poland, and I have it on all my Macs. Getting used to a new layout is hard if you have to switch between two different ones. In his iPad Pro Review, Federico wrote:

The software keyboard has been a major area of focus for Apple on the iPad Pro, and it’s the iOS feature that changes the most in the transition from iPad Air 2 to iPad Pro. It’s also the area that’s taken me the most time getting used to, and where I’d like to see Apple revise some decisions and add more settings…

On the iPad Pro – and I brought this up to Apple – the American layout is also used across international keyboards, so the (narrow) Delete key is never directly above Enter – which is causing me to type a bunch of unwanted characters when I want to delete some text. The glyphs on keys change when switching across international keyboards; the layout and shapes of the keys don’t.

I have to partially agree with Federico, but at the same time, I don’t want a few specific changes forced on me. In an ideal world, I would like to be able to separately define three different aspects of the keyboard:

  • the layout (in the case of Poland: traditional Polish, US or English International), with the current ability to select between QWERTY, QWERTZ and AZERTY left intact (I use QWERTY)
  • the language used for a particular layout, eg. US layout with British English, English International layout with Polish Programmers (the most popular language setting in Poland) or US with Polish Programmers
  • the ability to set up different landscape and portrait keyboard layouts, with a setting under the globe icon for quick changes

Basically, I want to be able to choose the Polish Programmers keymap (which uses the right Option key to type special Polish characters when using an external keyboard) on either the US or English International physical key layout. Every user has their own preference, and he or she should be able to customise it individually.

I also have a very personal request, which most people would not use. To enter a Polish special character on a Mac or iOS external keyboard, I need to press the right Option key with a specific letter. Under Windows, the right Alt key is used for this task. The problem is that the right Option key isn’t right next to the Spacebar, while the Alt key under Windows is. I actually use Karabiner to remap my right Option and right Command keys, effectively switching them around. I would like to see this option on iOS too, because having to press a key in a different place on the keyboard, when switching platforms, wrecks havoc with my muscle memory. A second Polish Programmers keyboard language option with the right Option and Command keys trading places would do the trick perfectly.

I don’t know if one more keyboard layout would work out to the benefit of iOS, but it’s not as easy to type in portrait on the iPad Pro full keyboard as it is in landscape. I also prefer to thumb-type in the former. Federico’s idea of adding an option to choose the pre-iPad Pro layout is interesting:

Today, after a week of usage, I’d say that I’d like to see Apple add an option to bring the simpler, pre-iPad Pro keyboard back without all the extra characters and keys. But, five years of iPad muscle memory are clouding my judgment, and I don’t know how proportions could be kept without making fewer keys on a bigger keyboard feel comically huge.

I would probably prefer this type of layout (as an option) when the iPad is in portrait mode, to make thumb-typing easier, with a setting under the globe icon to switch to a full keyboard if and when needed.

Also, the globe key and ‘123!’ key need to be consistent with the iPhone and smaller iPad keyboards. It’s currently the other way around on the iPad Pro. After three weeks of typing, I still get this wrong 90% of the time.

I never thought I’d be able to switch from a mechanical keyboard to an on-screen one at my age, but the one on the iPad Pro is surprisingly good. Hopefully, it will get even better soon.

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