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Why I want a keyboard on Apple Watch 3.0

At I/O 2016, Google revealed that it would be adding text input into Android Wear 2.0. That means people with Android-based smart watches will be able to reply to text messages using an on-screen keyboard. It's something I've always wanted on my Apple Watch, and something I very much hope Apple adds with watchOS 3.0.

My colleague, Daniel Bader, disagrees. He thinks Apple should not add a keyboard to the Watch. I understand his point of view. Apple Watch has a tiny screen, and a tiny keyboard it is probably a cumbersome way to send a message. I want it anyway.

With Android Wear 2.0, Google is handling text input in three ways. You can use canned responses via Smart Replies, a handwriting recognition tool, which allows you to draw letters and numbers on the screen that are turned into text, and a swipe-to-type keypad.

Smart Replies let you respond to text messages and emails but without much personality. Even though I've customized my canned responses, my friends can always tell when I'm using my Apple Watch. They sound broad and impersonal.

Handwriting recognition is still clumsy and awkward technology, especially when you only have about an inch-and-a-half to write. Apple Watch's Digital Touch is proof that there is still a lot of work to be done to advance handwriting on wearable devices.

The swipe-to-type keyboard, however, has advanced leaps and bounds over the past few years. Plus, you can shrink the keys down pretty small and still manage to type the right words. If you've used the Minuum (opens in new tab) keyboard for iOS, you know it can work almost like magic.

Apple Watch currently relies on Voice Dictation for custom replies, but I don't like talking into my wrist, even when I'm alone. It feels silly. Plus, Voice Dictation doesn't work very well and I oftentimes end up reaching for my iPhone anyway.

The idea of this companion device, like Apple Watch, is to help me stay connected to things that are important without having to stare at a phone all day. But without an on-screen keyboard, I'm constantly pulling out my iPhone to stay connected. That defeats the purpose.

Although an on-screen keyboard would probably be awkward and clunky, it couldn't be any worse than yelling into my wrist, or using a bland pre-made response that makes my friends think I'm mad at them.

With Android Wear 2.0 and the on-screen keyboard, Google is providing an additional option for its customers. I'd love it if Apple used watchOS 3.0 to provide the same option for Watch customers like me.

Do you want an on-screen keyboard on you Apple Watch? Tell me why or why not in the comments!

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

55 Comments
  • Agreed. Dictation is great, when you're free to dictate. But in the middle of a meeting, canned responses don't always cut it.
  • I agree that here are some things you don't want said audibly but a keyboard seems like such a lazy input solution for a watch. Siri should be the primary input for devices with little or no screen. But Siri has a long way to go before I use it everyday. Let's hope Apple focuses on voice input more and doesn't default to keyboard.
  • Siri has a long way to go, and can't possibly dictate custom things I say among friends who I don't need to be proper in language with all the time. The point is to have an option. The option to choose should be primary. I also think people are going about the term "keyboard" in a limited way. The Apple Watch may not need a "keyboard", but it needs a way to input letters/characters without voice. Maybe a simple way to scroll and select desired characters. Even inputting emojis is a pain because sometimes I want to input more than one at a time, but can not because what you select will automatically send. Voice is the lazier choice honestly because we have to depend on Siri to get it right or not get it at all (or pull out the iPhone instead, which defeats the purpose). Dictation is cool, but actual texting would be a nice option as well, if executed well.
  • And writing on a keyboard on a watch is OK? In a meeting, you be an adult, and pay attention to the meeting, the text can wait. Use your phone for a keyboard.
  • You know, I’ve had simultaneous meetings with customers that ABSOLUTELY will NOT reschedule. You have to send someone to take your place in one but, …….oh never mind. You'd obviously refuse to understand anyway.
  • So on those occasions, get your iPhone out of your pocket.
  • Wouldn't you just use your iPhone when a keyboard is needed?
  • Seriously, did you read the article? Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • For the time it would to reply, it's faster to just get out your phone. Google *had* to add a keyboard since their watch is also a phone replacement.
  • Erm, the idea is that people want a keyboard so they don't have to take out their iPhone, so no
  • I'm trying to think of a situation in which it would be more cumbersome to take out the phone than to type a message on a keyboard with keys half the size of a match head, but failing. I don't own an Apple watch and don't really care one way or the other, but seriously. A watch face is just not big enough to host a usable keyboard.
  • I can't even type out my passcode successfully most of the time due to my finger size vs the key size. Others may have less of an issue with this. I'd like for there to be room for more canned responses. I can convert most of my responses with about 2 dozen phrases. If I could add at the end of each "Sent from my Apple Watch via preset response" or something like that, then maybe no one would equate it to an angry or terse response. Better idea (for me): fix dictation. Sometimes it works like magic. Other times, it just sits there, either thinking about what I may have said or-worse- showing what I said but then taking an eternity to actually send it (I realize that some of that time is to allow you to hit the "Don't send" button, but it goes on way longer than it needs to for that.) Sent from the iMore App
  • I've never understood not wanting a feature added that you don't have to use. Such is life with almost any tech.
  • I say don't add it because it would waste resources adding a cumbersome and frustrating feature.
  • It couldn't be any more frustrating or cumbersome than other features currently on the Watch.
  • Agreed. They need to clean it all up.
  • I've found dictation on the Apple Watch very frustrating. What I thought would be its most used feature has turned into something that I only use in a pinch. My watch is fairly inaccurate of interpreting what I spoke. It's bad enough where i usually just reach for my phone when I need to send a message. I'd love a little keyboard for short answers.
  • Word for word, I agree.
  • "My watch is fairly inaccurate of interpreting what I spoke." Poor thing. I'm not surprised. Probably it would come up with something like... My watch was fairly inaccurate at interpreting words I spoke. Dumb machines, hey.
  • A keyboard on a tiny screen is bad especially for people with bigger fingers, it also defeats the purpose of the watch, the watch is a quick response tool that can't wait, not a back and forth texting machine. It's like one of those things that sound like a good idea at first but when it's added no one will use it Sent from the iMore App
  • You're wrong that nobody would use it.
    The same people that propose that Apple Watch needs it, would then use it to demonstrate how bad the watch's ergonomics are.
  • Couldn't agree with this article more give me features and let me decide if I want them. Not the other way around Sent from the iMore App
  • Fine on a desktop.
    On a watch you can't afford to waste the user interface space that the button to give you the option would take up, for a completely worthless option.
  • I think no one other than Daniel Bader is upset. Not sure why it's not good to have three different options and people choose the best one which suits them.
  • Exactly. I know Apple has a way of deciding which features we "needed" and which ones Apple decides we should get. I'm confident if Apple put the proper effort in it, we could get a keyboard much better implementation than what Google released. I don't mind using the voice dictation if I am alone or in a place quiet enough to use it successfully, but it isn't practical in many settings. You can set responses but these will not apply perfectly in all the different situations that can occur. I hope Apple at least gives the option of some kind of keyboard for watchOS 3, even if it isn't a native feature, imagine having Swiftkey on the Apple Watch. This would get me to use Apple Watch full-time.
  • I enjoyed using the keyboard on the Samsung gear s2 Sent from the iMore App
  • As an app developer I came to the same conclusion - I released an app in January called NoteTapper, so you could add notes to your Apple Watch using a built in keyboard. Personally I felt it added more value to my device and as the notes were stored on the watch, i didn't need to have my phone with me - ideal when I was out running. Also I was too embarrassed to dictate when out in public sometimes, so it filled a need for ne and those who downloaded it. Unfortunately, it didn't appear to fit Apple's roadmap and they pulled it from the AppStore in March telling me keyboards aren't allowed. I believe that I should have a choice; sometimes dictation is best, sometimes, you need to use a phone, but other times a keyboard on a watch is just what you need.
  • Thank you for trying!
  • I say we need a keyboard designed to fit the watch. Use a style like T9 or something like texting on an old candybar phone. The text input should be designed in such a way that it flows with the design, and with practicality of the watch. You can't have a full sized keyboard. That is not practical. But a keyboard designed to work on the screen of the watch with limited number of keys that allows for lighting fast (as fast as typing with one finger) input with limited delay for reload for the next character to be entered. Sent from the iMore App
  • Knowing Apple if they add a keyboard it won't be just one ( there will be chooses ) and one that comes to mind is actually a big keyboard that will slide alone the screen or a keyboard like the one on Apple TV ( One line with all letters that slides left and right ), one thing that the Apple Watch have an advantage is the crown which could be used for zooming or sliding.
    So yes I'm for a keyboard with different languages but for me right now speed is more important which I'm pretty sure the next Apple Watch will have a much faster speed because right now it's way to slow. Sent from the iMore App
  • I always thought the Apple Watch was designed for alerts, quick glances (primarily for consumption) and quick replies. Anything more would require use of the iPhone. The Watch is meant to be complementary to the phone and I'm fine with that. In my opinion, adding a keyboard would deviate from this strategy resulting in a very poor user experience. Sent from the iMore App
  • LOL. A Keyboard on the watch face??? No thank you!
  • A keyboard seems unnecessary for the Apple Watch as the screen is too small to fit an on screen keyboard. Sent from the iMore App
  • Easier to learn Morse code. This app works great.
    Morse – texting for Apple Watch by Lorena Romero
    https://appsto.re/us/QqUJab.i
  • This is kind of cool :)
  • Its surprisingly useful. I do almost all of my texting from the watch now, either short texts with morse or longer ones with dictation.
  • Are you out of your Vulcan mind?
  • Ok remember it's a watch ..... I think if you need a keyboard for a watch your have more issues than you think... Sent from the iMore App
  • Well, I don't wanna claim being wiser than Apple's adviser. But as a user, I don't really see the need for keyboard in the apple watch, afterall, it is a watch not a phone!
    Anyways, kudos to them as they are gradually making a watch become a phone!! By the way, there is an on-going giveaway for Apple Watch. If you are interested click this link http://17195.getapplewatch.com/
  • Adding a keyboard to a smartwatch is a UX nightmare. Apple would never do it. Just because you (or other people) can do something, doesn't mean you should! If you really want text input on Apple Watch, there are bound to be more innovative, elegant ways of doing it than a keyboard. Something like the old Graffiti single stroke gestures from the Palm Pilot is almost made for this. Sent from the iMore App
  • Lol. No clue what you're smoking. If you don't want it, don't use it.
  • Exactly! From day one I never understood why they would have included the ability to interpret your doodles, but not add the intelligence to recognize single letters and digits a la the old Graffiti method. And why is everyone going back and forth about jamming an entire keyboard on a tiny watch face? Of course that wouldn't be comfortable for most of us. But single character recognition? That should come standard, and it should be an OS upgrade, this should not require another version of the watch.
  • I'd rather see more investment in voice recognition and dictation than a stupid keyboard. If you really want a keyboard, it should be something minimal, not a full keyboard. Something along the lines of T9.
  • Keyboards are fine, I just wished that smartwatches had a intended focus than developers throwing stuff at the wall until it sticks. I personally wouldn't buy a stylish watch with the intention of using it during workouts...it doesn't make a lot of sense, I would buy a much cheaper fitbit. I'm still leaning towards a android wear watch rather than a apple watch and I have a iphone 6S+.
  • I'd have to agree with you on this one. When I saw at Google I/O that Android Wear 3.0 was including a swipe style keyboard, I started researching the best ones. If Apple doesn't introduce a way to reply to notifications without having to use Siri, a (ridiculous looking) emoji, or pre-programmed response, I doubt I'll ever get an Apple Watch. There are some many different situations where the current communication options aren't useful or appropriate. Edit: Android Wear 2.0, it's watchOS 3 I was thinking of, whoops!
  • I don't see how a keyboard could possibly work on the Watch. There's just not enough room. I can't even reliably enter my passcode on a numeric keypad, so I don't see how any style of keyboard could work. Get over yourself and dictate to your wrist, or pull out your phone.
  • Have you tried other numeric keyboards besides apples? Samsung's s2 numeric for security pin entry is accurate and easy on S2. Apple's is far too condensed and prone to miss-types. Doesn't help that the ok button feels backwards as well when you are done entering the pin.
  • In an ideal world we would all use dictation, but I feel very self-conscious talking to my watch in public, so I would much prefer a keyboard. I had a few thoughts about how to implement a usable keyboard on the watch for my app, but never implemented any after reading that Apple reject apps with keyboards. One idea was that the app showed a 5x6 grid of all the letters plus space, delete, return and maybe caps lock (although my app doesn't need that). The user would then touch close to the letter they want and keep their finger down. The keyboard would then zoom in to show the nearest letters to the touch and the user would move their finger to the required letter and then lift it. That way you would always effectively be aiming for areas at least 60% larger than those used on the passcode screen (a 2.5x3 grid instead of a 3x4 grid), but could still choose from 30 options in a single gesture. This is similar to the magnifying glass on the iPhone text entry, and also similar to a gesture I have in my iPhone app to pan long distances by temporarily zooming out (instead of zooming in). It's obviously more involved than a simple tap, but would mean less movement than writing the character, and no guessing like the "swipe to type" keyboards, so any developer could implement it without a predictive engine. Force touch could be used for other character sets, such as numbers etc. Alternatively, as someone has already mentioned, you could use a T9 type keyboard, like on old-fashioned phones, whereby the initial grid is a 3x4 set of buttons that have several characters. This could either work in a predictive way or by showing a set of options after the first tap. For example you tap on the first button and it then displays a grid with 1, A, B, C, D, a, b, c, d.. You then tap a second time to select the character. This could be refined so that the most common characters have their own button on the first screen (space, return, E, etc). This is more intuitive than the gesture approach but may not be suitable for those people who have problems with the size of the buttons on the passcode screen. Again it's slower than typing on the iPhone, but this could be acceptable for short messages and people would undoubtedly get faster with practice (like on those old phones). The 2nd approach will never take more than twice as many taps as the iPhone keyboard, which may be a reasonable compromise. A few extra quick taps is often less hassle than getting your phone out. These are just a couple of extra options to go along with the ones currently available on Android. If users get the choice from several types of keyboard then they can choose the one that suits them. This is where Android have got it right and I hope that Apple eventually follow suit: every keyboard on a watch is a compromise, so it's best to have a choice so that users can choose the compromise that they prefer (or the one that they hate the least!).
  • A keyboard for the Apple Watch would be more gimmick than functional. Not something I need. Better Siri input, making the watch more independent from the iPhone through use of Wifi or cellular connections, a camera on the face to enable Facetime use, Touch ID, now those are useful features. Forget the keyboard!
  • The Microsoft Band has a qwerty keyboard on its tiny screen. I used it when I had my windows phone before switching to the iPhone. I was shocked at how accurate it was for quick replies. I used it all the time. If they think outside the box when they design these keyboards they can actually work well for the things they are designed for, generally quick responses. They aren't for everyone but there are those who would definitely use it if designed right and if fairly seamless to use. Just my thoughts. Sent from the iMore App
  • I cant see trying to pound out on a keyboard that small. I have pCalc on my watch and cant really use that successfully. If Apple adds a keyboard fine, give me the option to disable it. I don't believe they will. They intended the watch is for quick convenience, not full on function. Personally I'm good with the quick replies...
  • You say that handwriting recognition is awkward on such a small screen but would a swipe keyboard be even more awkward? Sent from the iMore App
  • Furts Sent from the iMore App
  • All I want: 3rd party watch faces! Sent from the iMore App
  • Oh and while Apple is at it I want Apple Pencil support on the watch! What if I really want to take a short memo or draw a quick picture? Sent from the iMore App