Do you want 3rd party software keyboards on your iPhone? [Poll]

Earlier today, as part of Talk Mobile, we talked about the importance of keyboards. The iPhone has a virtual, software keyboard designed by Kenneth Kocienda et. al, back in 2007. Inarguably impressive for its time, it combined useful auto-completion and auto-correction, and grew to encompass an amazing array of languages and shortcuts. But it's 2013 now, and even in the iOS 7 demos, the keyboard didn't look remarkably changed. Is it time for Apple to explore third-party options?

Windows Phone only has one, first-party keyboard and by all accounts it's serviceable. BlackBerry likewise only has one, first party keyboard. It licenses technology from SwiftKey, but includes its own OpenGL interface and gamified word-throwing mechanic, and has received an amazing amount of praise. Android, however, has not only the current, stock Google keyboard, but keyboards from manufacturers like HTC and Samsung, as well as third-party options like SwiftKey and Swype.

Back before WWDC 2013 rumors started to spread about iOS 7 providing access to third-party keyboard makers. This rumor might originate, in part, from a question Tim Cook answered at the D11 Conference about third-party APIs (application programming interfaces). It might also have to do with "leaks" that came out just prior to WWDC claiming at least a couple Android keyboard makers were getting ready to port to iOS.

WWDC, however, passed without mention of third-party keyboards for iOS (but with an awkward car demo!). Whether third party keyboards were never on the agenda, or the "leaks" got them kicked off the agenda, or they may indeed be on the agenda for a future event is tough to say. All we can say is that Apple hasn't announced any third-party keyboard support for iOS, not open to every developer, not tied to limited partners, nothing.

But would you want them to? Are you fine with the iPhone and iPad's current software keyboard? Are you looking for Apple and Apple alone to make improvements, and if so, what kind? Or would you want to be able to swap in Swype, SwiftKey, or another third-party keyboard option?

Update: John Gruber of Daring Fireball weighs in on the iOS 7 third-party keyboard rumors:

My understanding is that third-party keyboards were never on the agenda for iOS 7, or at least they were never planned for what was announced at WWDC.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • I say bring it on.
    It can only spur on more innovation
  • I'm not up for 3rd party keyboards per say, as I am concerned about them hiding code that could secretly key log. I would however like it if Apple added different keyboards to increase customization for the user.
  • Isn't that fairly unlikely, though, given Apple's tight rein on the App Store? Forgive me if I'm wrong (I'm not an iOS power user), but if that kind of privacy breach happened anywhere, you'd think we would've seen it in Android by now.
  • It's not any surprise that despite Apple's tough app acceptance policy, there have been apps that have been labeled "malicious" in the App Store (can't think of names atm). Also there have been apps that advertise to function a certain way in compliance with Apple's standards, but actually function a different way, ie tethering apps early on. Also the people on Tech Feed showcased a YouTube episode where you can look up apps from iOS that have "hidden" permissions that if people knew about, they wouldn't be so keen on having those apps installed. To my point that there could be some underlying code that developers could use that could possibly fly under the radar so to speak and collect keystrokes.
  • Wanna chime in here for a second. By their very nature any third party keyboard has to capture every keystroke if they employ some manner of prediction engine. Having said that, the important thing is that this data never leave your device. Inspection of any data originating from a keyboard app would be fairly easy to do. It's also important to realize that the two parties mentioned, SwiftKey and Swype, are both very well respected and legitimate companies. A partnership with either to improve the iOS keyboard, much like Blackberry did with OS 10, would be a great solution in my opinion.
  • Thank you Jerry for your insight on this matter. The fact that Swiftkey & Swype are reputable companies eases a bit of my concern, but i was speaking in regards to "other third party players" that aren't up to the standards of those two companies. Nevertheless, I would still just feel more comfortable with an Apple made/branded solution as opposed to a third party solution.
  • Oh I agree. Apple needs to incorporate something themselves. Open an API for third party developers and it *will* lead to apps for jailbreakers that steal your passwords. And if my experience with Android tells me anything, it's that people don't think before they install things on the phone they made insecure via an exploit :)
  • Just to play devil's advocate, there are lots of "well respected and legitimate companies" that do nefarious things with your data. People are mistaken if they think that because a company is big, that they can't do something illegal or immoral. For instance (hypothetical), Swype could be approached by the US government and asked to stream all the keystroke data to a server somewhere, and at the same time sworn to secrecy. This kind of thing has happened before and it will happen again. The recent revelations about Prism are just the tip of the iceberg. There have been rumours for many years that the US government actually *records* all phone call information at the source (the telecoms). Since it's known for a fact that the US government has a "data room" that was installed at each telecom just after the 911 attack, and we know the volume of the data is definitely recordable on a daily basis (it's a few Petabytes) it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this kind of thing happens.
  • "there are lots of 'well respected and legitimate companies' that do nefarious things with your data" ...Google and Apple, to name a couple. :)
  • Nice of you to throw Apple in there, but I doubt you have any proof or even an indication that this is true. Apple's ToS agreement is miles different from Google's. Look it up.
  • Actually, Apple nor Google sells your info. They keep it for their own use.
  • Well the words were "nefarious things" not keep or sell. Google definitely does, Apple definitely does not.
  • "Nefarious" means mean, evil. or malicious. Google does nothing malicious with your info, no more than Apple. If you think different, then show some facts.:)
  • You actually might want to read Apple's privacy policy yourself - it is not that different, especially as regarding disclosure to third parties. They reserve the right to do everything that people decry Google for doing. If a company reserves the right to do something, rather than explicitly puts in writing that they will not do something, it is safer to assume they *are* doing that something, or at least have plans to. Read for yourself:
  • My understanding is that something sort of like this has happened in Android:
  • That's right. It's technically possible, but it's very unlikely if you get your apps from the Google Play store, Amazon Appstore, or any other curated source. Certainly all bets are off if you're installing apks from some random forum, but that's a very, very easy problem to avoid. And (more relevant to most people here) unless you've jailbroken your device, it's a complete non-issue for iOS devices
  • I completely agree with you. Sent from the iMore App
  • YES. Back when I was trying to decide between the 3GS and Nexus One, one of the biggest points that led me to go with the latter was that I didn't really care for either phone's stock keyboard, but I wasn't stuck with the stock Android one. The distinction is even more important with tablets than with phones. Not to mention that if SwiftKey (my personal favorite) were able to release an iOS version, they'd make a ton of money, which would be good for Android users as well.
  • SWYPE!! That is all lol :-))
  • I don't need them to open up the API, but I would love it if they introduced a Swype/Flow/Glide feature on the standard keyboard. Lacking that I wouldn't mind some other options.
  • I would love to get swiftkey on iOS it was soo good when i had my Droid X. However i am not a fan of the swype style keyboards.
  • I just want Swype. Transitioning for an Android with Swype to an iPhone without it was very difficult.
  • I've never seen a third party keyboard that made me think I wanted to switch. I would be more interested in Apple letting us have access to the atuto-complete dictionary and more control over punctuation.
  • Bingo. That's all Apple needs to do, but it may not be at the top of their to-do list. Yet.
  • I don't care whether they allow third party keyboards or not. A refreshed stock keyboard created in cooperation with SwiftKey would be enough for me.
  • I'd say at the very least Apple needs to innovate on their stock keyboard to enable Swype like gesture typing and word/sentence prediction... That would go along way to offsetting a lack of 3rd party options. As someone who's gone to a Nexus 4 from an iPhone, the keyboard is by far the most painful part of using an iOS device now.
  • I don't need a deferent keyboard but I know some people that do, adding an accessibility keyboard with bigger targets would fix that. I do want better predictive typing futures like in BB10 Sent from the iMore App
  • Security would be difficult to enforce for third-party keyboards, too easy to write a keyboard logger, too hard to sandbox an app that needs such cross-app access. For now Apple should concentrate on improving the options they offer natively. A tab key somewhere would be my number one request! Number two is allow the mic/dictation key to be hidden/moved to numbers keyboard (or a tab key to be substituted for it), particularly on the iPhone, to stop accidental presses. Number three is a Dvorak layout, amazing that the company that has supported Dvorak since the Apple II days still doesn't with iOS.
  • I see no need for a third party software keyboard. And it'll never happen anyway.
    Here's Gruber's response to this story on Daring Fireball explaining why not: "The main issue Apple faces is security: a third-party keyboard would “see” everything you type, in every app you use. Regular apps you download from the App Store are sandboxed; third-party keyboards couldn’t be sandboxed in the same way apps are." BOOM. It will never happen.
  • missed Gruber's point. *in the same way* Simply acknowledges a keyboard needs to be Sandboxed in other ways. Denying keyboard "apps" write privileges on local stores and all access to network stack could address these privacy concerns, for example. It is a *different* Sandbox model than that for apps, yes, but one that could be easily enforceable given App Store processes. It is only BOOM impossible if you think Apple is so creatively barren that they can only work in a one-size-fits-all model. I don't think Swiftkey is coming anytime soon, because I doubt it is high on their to-do list, but I give Apple a little more credit than to say it will never happen.
  • Re: "gamified" I hate that f-ing word. It means nothing, really. If you use it to imply "animated," or "employing more accurate real-world physics," or "brightly colored," or "skeuomorphic," then go ahead and use the appropriate word or phrase. Nothing is being "gamified" except games. If anything, it's games that are becoming "real-worldified." Flawless Victory!
  • Nah. I mean, I understand that some people like them but I don't personally care. I've used Android and tried other keyboards. I don't think any of them are good enough to replace the default. It's cool that people can experiment but I don't think experimentation has to happen on a production OS on production devices. I'd rather have other things like intents/contracts long before a pluggable keyboard API.
  • iOS 6 keyboard was fine for me, but now that I'm previewing iOS 7, I'll gladly take another keyboard. Sent from the iMore App
  • It would make more sense for Apple to approach one of the companies to integrate their keyboard into IOS, rather than allow them into the app store. Apple has always been about enabling a fairly uniform experience. Won't be surprised if Apple decides to buy one them suddenly and make its technology exclusive for ios users only.
  • I would be happy if Apple would just expand on the existing keyboard. A few more options to may it easier on the eyes. I have gotten older and its hard to focus on certain colors so a choice of themes would do it for me.
  • Will be switching back to the iPad after 2 years with Android. Looking forward to everything EXCEPT using the iOS keyboard (that and a real file system). I use Thumb keyboard now and it is so much better than than the iOS keyboard I use on my iPhone 5. Shortcut keys to insert my email address (or anything else I choose to setup), dedicated number keys, dedicated keys for slashes, ampersands, etc., and best of all - arrow keys so I don't have to use the stupid spyglass tool. Also, fully configurable so I can adjust the width and height of all the keys. Plus the shift key shows if I am using caps or lowercase. If you think the iOS keyboard is the best thing out there then you really haven't tried anything else. As for concerns about security -- really? -- that is such a lame justification for maintaining the status quo when the gabillions of Android installations have never encountered any problems.
  • You'll never see it. It goes against Apples philosophy that they know what's best.
  • I started out voting no, but then I hesitated. I have six text editors on the iPad, but which one do I actually use? The one with the additional row above the regular keyboard, giving me proper cursor control. So, yes, probably.
  • Yes, bring it on...I really miss my slider keyboard on my old LG.
    Only other keyboard was on my Sony Android before my iPhone...looking forward to some new ones. Swype!
  • This. I think one of the most glaring deficiencies in iOS these days is its comparatively primitive and lacklustre keyboard compared to offerings like what Swiftkey has. iOS has really fallen behind in this area, and it's one of the things I like about Android vs. iOS.
  • Never used 'em on any of my Android phones & definitely won't use 'em on my iPhone or Mini bc Apples keyboard is great FOR ME, BUT.........I 100% think they should bring 'em to iOS for users that want them. Choice is a good thing & while I prefer typing on the normal on-screen keyboards, I know how much people love swype/SwiftKey/etc on Android & can see the appeal for many users. So nope, I won't use an alternate if they implement it in iOS7, but would love to see other users have the option. Just don't open it up to anybody tho.....that's where the problems start. Poorly coded apps are one thing, poorly coded keyboard alternatives are a whole different ballgame
  • I don't see why this would be so difficult. A third party keyboard would be submitted in a different fashion than other apps with different permissions. Why couldn't it be injected next to apple's keyboard? If you want the other options, those are called. I imagine that the reason has to do with the Apple keyboard collecting data. Otherwise, it could be as simple as call B instead of A if they are strict with what would be allowed.
  • The iOS keyboard doesn't even show if you're in upper or lower case! Innovate! LOL
  • We need alternative keyboards, but they must be offered by Apple instead of third-party developers. It is a shame that we are still using a QWERTY layout designed to slow down typing (to keep the keys from jamming on old mechanical typewriters). Software keyboards offer the first realistic opportunity for better layouts to become popular, but even if alternative layouts were available most English-based users would stick with QWERTY for only one reason: It is what we already know. People new to typing—kids growing up in software-keyboard-only environments—need to know that their preferred, alternative layout will always be available on a device, including borrowing a friend's iPad, for instance. Third-party developers can't offer this guarantee. Apple could come much closer to ensuring that alternative keyboard layouts were always available on any iOS device. For my own early, rudimentary attempt at an alternative layout for the iPad, search for the free Keystrokes Lite on the iTunes store.
  • I have had an iPhone for 13 days, before that I had SamsungS2, I also use an iPad and a Mac, so I am an Apple user, but the rigidity of the iPhone makes me want to cancel tonight! The keyboard is awful. No full stop on the front page, no numbers, only on the second page. It is a pain. Why can I not install SwiftKey.
    Why can I not sync with my car Samsung Bluetooth earpiece, etc. etc. you join Apple and the have got you in their very expensive prison. I am pretty adaptable but after two weeks of trying I am as they say in South Africa. "Gatvol"
    The phone NEEDS the ability to change the keypad for different users, it is HUGE WEAKNESS
  • The only reason I choose Android is because 3rd party keyboard software like Swype Swiftkey etc. Once you use swipe keyboard, you never want to go back traditional keyboard.
  • Apple - please allow us to use DVORAK as a software keyboard layout - we haven’t used Qwerty in our studios for decades - except recently under protest on iPhones - Apple Classic & OS X’s consistent inclusion of Dvorak layouts (and many others supporting other scripts and language systems) needs to matched in iOS - it’s sad that we have to ask for an opening for 3rd party provision for what we have come to expect as built in.