I started a new experiment the other day, born out of a few comments from readers. They all remarked how much better it is to edit writing with the software keyboard, over a physical one on the iPad. Which is funny because I was actually thinking about working on setting up a mechanical keyboard again, but realized I packed them away (getting ready to hopefully move).
So I tore off my Smart Keyboards and stowed them in a drawer and committed to using the software keyboard for a week. I expected long fits of rage, but what I’ve found is that I quite like it.
I started on my smaller iPad Pro and immediately was brought back to most of my early iPad usage, where I typed on that funky keyboard for quite some time. But it wasn’t fun, just highly useable. Of course, it’s all I use on the iPhone, so we’ll just ignore that.
But on the large iPad Pro, holy shit, I forgot how good this keyboard is. But, and let’s get this out of the way, I’m not faster on the software keyboard at all.
What I have been struggling to figure out: when is using the software keyboard better? There’s two use cases where I think the software keyboard excels:
- In face to face meetings. It’s less distracting to take notes on an iPad laying flat on the table, than with a keyboard propping it up. This also is great for mixing hand written Apple Pencil notes with typed notes.
- When editing text on the iPad. The two finger trackpad is far and away less fatiguing to use than with tapping a holding to scrub the cursor to the right spot, or using arrow keys when you are making edits to articles.
I should stop here and note, that while the above was typed on glass, I am now back to my Smart Keyboard cover, because I enjoy life and it’s just not quite right for long form writing.
The software keyboards are really good, and honestly the 12.9″ keyboard takes very little to get used to. I do have a few issues with the software keyboard, and it is these issues which keep me from liking and using them more.
I write everything in Markdown, so asterisks, brackets and parentheses are a large part of my life. With a normal keyboard, this isn’t a huge issue, but it is on iOS. It’s a mental context switch every time I need to use one.
On a physical keyboard I don’t need to look at the keys to write most things, and this remains true on a software keyboard for plain text, but not for special characters. I can’t do that without looking, so I have to interrupt what I am doing to look. I also have no command key, so it is not nearly as easy to add italics to something later down the road.
For me, this is a huge issue since it pulls me out of whatever zone I may have been in. I never know if I actually hit shift, or when I shift the keyboard to special keys, I have no muscle memory of where things are. Writing in Markdown on a software keyboard feels alien every time (not that writing in rich text is much better).
Here’s a fun thing: start a new sentence with a quotation mark on iOS. How many taps did that take? If you are a normal person, it’s probably in the range of 10,000 taps because WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WITH THE SHIFT KEY. Basically.
However, even if you are a perfect iOS software keyboard typist, it took you three taps to just get that opening quotation mark in there and honestly that’s assuming you don’t fuck it up at any point.
This trips me up each time I am typing on a software keyboard — and yet I don’t know what a good solution here would be. Maybe the keyboard doesn’t shift casing, and rather the software just makes the first letter capital, like a civilized piece of software should without setting the shift key to a quasi in state. Then again, maybe that’s asking way too much.
I don’t know what the hell is going on with this one, but it’s best to just describe it. It’s the thing where when you are typing on the software keyboard, your cursor randomly jumps way back up into your text and you are still typing and don’t know it, but then you are like BURN IT ALL TO THE GROUND. I call it “The Jump”, because it needs a catchy name, for what is the bane of my software typing.
Honestly, if this were resolved, or I knew what the hell I was doing to trigger it, I might want to use the software keyboard a lot more.
A Nice Experiment, But An Experiment Nonetheless
At the end of week, this was just an experiment and I had no intention of only typing this way. But I wanted to see what it might be like, as many of you told me you like it quite a lot.
If it were my only option, I would likely be fine with typing that way, but a far better option exists in the Smart Keyboard Cover, so yeah, I’ll stick with that.