QuickType and Keyboards in iOS 8: Explained

QuickType keyboard in iOS 8: Explained

QuickType is the next generation of iOS virtual keyboard. Originally introduced with the first iPhone in 2007, Apple's approach was revolutionary for its time. But now it's 2014 and the state of the art of keyboards has changed. Prediction has taken the place of correction. So, with iOS 8, Apple has responded with a new, contextually predictive keyboard system. It's called QuickType. But how does it work?

Virtual virtue

Virtual keyboards have many advantages over hardware keyboards. While they don't allow for touch-typing or persistent shortcuts, they can fully disappear when not in use to allow for the full surface of the phone to be used for watching videos, playing games, surfing the web, and more. They can also change configuration and optimize themselves for different languages and tasks. For example, Apple has given the iPhone's keyboard the ability to take on different layouts like AZERTY, different character sets like Arabic and Cyrillic, as well as accept both key-based and hand-drawing input methods for Asian characters.

Individual characters can also change dynamically to allow for things like accented letters, internet domain types, and even shortcuts to punctuation. Apple has also given developers the ability to customize keyboards within their own apps, including the ability to create specialized keyboards for things like spreadsheets. Using the same speech-to-text system as Siri, the Dictation feature also lets you talk instead of write.

With iOS 8, text-to-speech will also be streaming, so no more talk-wait-talk-wait. What you say will just appear. But Apple hasn't forgotten about the keyboard either.

Contextual prediction

Rather than auto-correction, Apple's new QuickType keyboard in iOS 8 introduces contextual prediction. As you type, the keyboard will suggest what it thinks are the most likely words based on what you're typing. See the one you want, hit it, the word is typed and you can move on to the next one.

To help up the odds Apple isn't just predicting your words in general but they're contextualizing them based on the app you're using and the person, if any, you're communicating with. For example, if you're in Messages, QuickType will predict words that are more casual than if you're in Mail. Likewise if you're conversing with a friend rather than a boss or business partner. What's more, based on the context of the message, QuickType can and will present you with obvious responses. For example, if you're asked if you want to go to dinner or a movie, QuickType can show you responses that prefer one to the other, both or neither.

How many letters (key presses) the contextual prediction actually saves you will depend on how well the system works and, frankly, how predictable you are. QuickType will learn as you use it, so odds are it'll get better over time.

If you don't want to use the new prediction feature you can easily disable or — or re-enable it — on the fly. Currently you simply tap the same key you use to switch to other language, or emoji, keyboards and turn prediction off, or grab the edge and pull it down to hide it. Prediction might also be smart enough to know when you keep ignoring it and automatically turn itself off for you.

International input

The new QuickType system is going to launch with support for multiple languages and variants around the world, including U.S. English, U.K. English, Canadian English, Australian English, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, and Japanese are listed as already having predictive input.

Security and privacy

iOS, being a privacy- and security-first operating system, does place some limitations on keyboards, including their own QuickType keyboard.

For QuickType, all learning for the prediction system is kept on-device. Your typing patterns aren't shared with Apple or anyone else. Extensibility in general doesn't sync (yet), but that does mean you'll have to "train" every device separately. It's unclear whether or not restoring a device from backup will restore the prediction system to its last trained state, because that would require it being stored on iCloud servers, off the device.

Bottom line

With QuickType, Apple gives their iOS keyboard into the modern age. In the worst case scenario, you'll forget to use it, start typing the old fashioned auto-correct way, hit the wrong first letter off the bat, and wonder why nothing suggested makes any sense. In the best case, when and if the prediction is perfect you'll only have to tap once per word.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 14 comments. Add yours.

Gazoobee says:

Can you clear up whether we *have* to use quick type if we use the standard installed keyboard? I really don't see the word prediction as anything I actually want, and since they have already added an extra row to the keyboard in Pages with the last update, are we really going to lose yet another centimetre or so with this predictive word stuff?

Personally I have never, EVER been typing on an iPad or iPhone and thought "If only I had predictive word choices showing up." This is because aside from the extra space that is wasted, it completely screws up my typing to "leave" the keyboard to pick one of those words, and then go back to the keyboard and continue typing.

This is really something that's only going to be useful to those slow peck-peck-peck one finger typers. Why should I have to lose screen real estate and slow down my typing, just because some people can't type that well? Here's hoping the extra prediction is not mandatory.

Rene Ritchie says:

Nope, it's easily disable or enabled on-the-fly. I'll add that to the post!

Premium1 says:

I am glad they are allowing 3rd party keyboards. The IOS keyboard has really fallen behind the past few years.

Nathan Bael says:

I am glad for 3rd party keyboards too. I visually hate the keyboard in iOS 7. Funny though that we might get swipe, just as the phone gets too big to comfortably use one handed.

Gazoobee says:

I love the built in keyboard and have yet to see another third party one that looks like it could replace it in terms of speed and ease of use. The irony of swipe on a two handed phone is very high though I agree.

Connor Mason says:

I feel like the system-wide keyboard setting is is a big deal for iOS. It was weird going to into apps that still use the pre-iOS 7 keyboard.

hbach1968 says:

A dream would come true if Blackberry develops their virtual keyboard from BB10 for iOS. By far the best virtual keyboard out there.

Sent from the iMore App

Rene Ritchie says:

BlackBerry's keyboard licensed SwiftKey technology, and SwiftKey should be coming to iOS with the new third-party keyboard stuff when it launches this fall.

hbach1968 says:

Hi Rene...
ok... didn't know this.. I saw the SwiftKey demo but what i like in the BB implementation is the way how they use the word prediction directly on the keyboard letter (you know what i mean ?)..

ritesh says:

Any idea if the 3rd party keyboards are going to be free or charged. I am assuming a purchase would be required for some of them.

msm0511 says:

That will be entirely up to the developers themselves just as any other app is.

followlife says:

Great explained.Just mind blowing.
Will definitely purchase it in future.

jayzero76 says:

looks like steve is not there anymore