Using Mail’s keyboard is a significant reduction of efficiency compared with writing in iA Writer. Here’s hoping Apple recognizes the better design and embraces the approach.
The keyboard in Writer really is better, but it’s not the best. As Shawn Blanc notes in his link to Bowler:
Speaking of which, in Writing Kit the left and right margins of the app are tap targets to move the cursor to the left or right, respectively. This is a feature that first appeared in the app, Writings.
Shawn goes on to liken that feature to Pull to Refresh — as in it is something that should become iOS standard.
The iOS keyboard has a lot of room to grow, but it needs to grow wisely — adding keys at the top of the keyboard is handy, but it also cuts a line or two from the viewable content. This is likely why Apple hasn’t added such a row.
Likewise adding gestures that are hidden over the top of the existing interface is a clever solution, but far too clever to be discoverable or teachable to the masses embracing the iPad.
Neither of these solutions are good solutions — they are all hacks that exist because the base OS keyboard is lacking.
My solution is a bit less clever, but I think overall a bit more useable. Just add the fifth row, of what I will call action keys, to the keyboard whenever the user switches to the numerical keyboard. So you still have a full-ish view of your text, but then by tapping just one key you get a row of action keys that allow for broader selection. A hybrid approach if you will.
If Apple wanted to be even more clever it could have a default set of keys and then three slots that add your most used keys. So for a guy like me, brackets, and asterisks would bubble up into a couple of those slots.
I don’t like the idea of adding this row of action keys as a user selectable row — it needs to be set in stone. However, the idea of one to three keys changing based on how someone actually uses the device would be a clever compromise that would go a long way towards efficiency.
Now the question becomes: is Apple motivated to make changes to the keyboard? If you think Apple sees the iPad as a creation device, then Apple certainly must be motivated — and I don’t think there are many left that think Apple sees the iPad as just a media tablet.