The best free keyboards for iOS
The default iOS keyboard is great. It really is, don't get us wrong. With the introduction of Quick Type in iOS 8, the stock Apple keyboard became much more, well, understanding and smart. Gone was the erratic and unpredictable autocorrect, humorous as its suggestion might have been at times, and in its place was implemented the more intelligent and convenient three-predictions system that we know and love today. However, iOS 8 saw not only the maturing of Apple's stock touch keyboard, but also the introduction of third-party alternatives to the Apple App Store, which was a big change for the platform. Now, two years later and a few short weeks before the unveiling of iOS 10, we have decided to take a look at the best third-party keyboards for iOS.
(Free + in-app purchases)
Swiftkey is an immensely popular keyboard on Android and one of the best, in our opinion, so we weren't the least big surprised when it popped up in Apple's App Store as well.
Google's iOS keyboard is ostensibly not as rich in options as the previous two entries, but it's a solid contender for the third-party keyboard crown nonetheless! Gboard's minimalist aesthetic is perfectly suited for iOS, and apart from its sleek light and dark themes, the keyboards allows users to create their own looks. Custom themes are nothing more than photos overlaid on top of the keyboard, but they are still a cool little addition to the overall stellar experience.
Microsoft's unfortunately US-only keyboard for iOS is truly one of the finest and most interesting alternatives around. It may not be as rich in options as some of the other contenders on this list, but that just makes Word Flow even more focused on the core typing experience.
It offers clever predictions, easy and convenient language switching and a myriad of options to customize your typing experience and the design of the keyboard.
Swiftkey's Flow feature allows users to type by sliding their finger across the keys, rather then tapping each one individually, and some folks have gotten so used to this method that they swear they could never go back to regular ol' typing (we've got a few of them here *ahem*).
Only thing we'd like to see make its way to the iOS version of SwiftKey, is the mighty fine clipboard that can be found on its Android counterpart.
(Free + in-app purchases)
Fleksy is one of the most flexible keyboards out there (terrible pun intended), and we really mean it. Although it doesn't offer an alternative to Swiftkey's Flow, Fleksy is a highly customizable keyboard, with options for theming and resizing, support for extensions, and a huge library of GIFs and stickers.
Fleksy can offer predictions based onthe user's writing style by “learning” from their email and social media accounts, and even has a customizable “Magic Button” next to the space bar, to which you can assign a custom function. Speaking of the space bar, it can be hidden completely to increase the overall size of the keys, while spaces can be added by simply swiping to the right anywhere over the keyboard.
One-handed use is facilitated for by an extension that allows users to shift the keys a bit to either the left or right side of the screen for easier access. Sides can be easily switched by the two buttons at the top of the keyboard.
Gboard has a Swiftkey-flavoured “Glide Typing” feature for those of us who cannot be bothered to lift their fingers, but its coolest feature hands-down is its ability to search Google from anywhere. By simply tapping the Google logo in the upper left corner of Gboard, you can perform a Google search and get results for images and even animated GIFs in separate little tabs in the bottom of the screen. Gboard is free, straight-to-the point and convenient. One of the best keyboard replacements for iOS out there.
Microsoft Word Flow
(Free - US-only)
Among its stand-out features are swipe typing with predictions, as well as two very convenient one-handed modes that make typing with either thumb a breeze! Each mode curves the keyboard and slightly shifts the keys to either the left or right side of the screen to facilitate one-handed use.
Furthermore, Word Flow has a convenient search function, akin to what Gboard has to offer, that lets users look up emoji, stickers, images and, of course, perform web searches. Unfortunately, the overall excellent Word Flow is currently available only in the US.
(Free + in-app purchases)
Ai.type might just be the keyboard for you if you are never satisfied by the default size of other keyboards. It simply offers the most flexible system for resizing that we've ever seen on a virtual keyboard, allowing you to drag the whole thing up and down on the screen to your heart's content and even adjust the font size of the keys.
Ai.type also has a convenient clipboard feature, tucked a tap away, as well as the option to add your own abbreviation “shortcuts” – for example, when you write “btw” it comes out as “by the way”. Convenient! Ai.type is also chock-full of themes – 112,685 currently “and counting” – and offers very deep customization options, all of which can be unlocked for $2.99. Even if you don't want to pay a cent, there is a lot of content packed in this iOS keyboard, but beware – if you don't wish to unlock everything for $2.99, each extra language will cost you $0.99! This is our biggest gripe with this keyboard and might be a deal-breaker for people who use more than one language.
Behold, Hanx Writer, created by none other than Tom Hanks! Or so the description of the app claims. Anyway, this is what we'd call a quirky, yet fully functional, keyboard replacement. Hanx Writer is pretty basic in terms of functionality and its biggest stand-out feature is the cool classic typewriter theme it sports.
Now, we know that iOS said bye-bye to skeumorphism some time ago, and that there are few fans of this style of design left, but it's still nice to see an app that utilizes it well pop up from time to time. Furthermore, Hanx Writer doubles as a note-taking app, which is another reason you might want to check it out.
From the cool old-fashioned font, to the animated typebar lashing against the virtual paper, Hanx Writer's note-taking portion is not only rich in style, but surprisingly adequate for what may very well be considered a distraction from the main functionality of the app. It doesn't hold a candle to other dedicated note-taking apps, but it's not bad for what it is. We only wish our saved documents would have coffee cup stains on some pages to complete the whole experience!