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The best iPhone keyboard tips and tricks

Typing on a tiny iPhone keyboard is always a challenge. But while it may not qualify as the world’s most optimal experience, you can make your messages, emails, captions, and tweets more accurate by using your phone’s native software keyboard to its best advantage. While there are plenty of third-party keyboards that promise to make keyboarding more enjoyable, Apple’s own default keyboard offers some nifty moves of its own. Here are some tips on where to find them.

Smiley face shortcut

You can access a host of special functions for the iPhone keyboard via the Smiley Emoji icon on the bottom-left corner of the screen. Tap and hold, and it brings up a menu with quick access to the keyboard settings. You will see a list of all the keyboards that are installed on your phone, saving you a trip to the settings app. Most people have their native language keyboard and the emoji keyboard only. The iPhone app lets you add a different language keyboard or even load a third-party keyboard from the App Store. You will also see keyboards of installed apps that install their own keyboards. If you have third-party keyboards installed, you will see a globe icon instead of the smiley icon. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Smart punctuation

Smart punctuation in iOS 13 and 14.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

If you want your text to look more processed and easy to read, smart punctuation marks — like curly quote marks and long (em) dashes — are easy to create. Smart quotes know which end to curl into the quoted material, and that’s why they’re smart. When you type a double-dash, the keyboard knows that it’s supposed to be a single long dash and places it automatically. One more thing: If you switch on the period shortcut, when you finish typing a sentence, you can tap the space bar twice, and instead of two spaces, you get a period and a space. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Tap and hold for alternates

If you tap and hold on certain letters, the keyboard will bring up a series of alternate characters — for instance, accent marks, where you just have to slide your finger to select the right one. Not every key has an alternate. Alternates also work for punctuation and even emoji. In the emoji keyboard, if you tap and hold an emoji, you get various skin tone options, for example, and you can choose one for the default skin tone. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Emoji hunt

Sometimes it’s hard to find just the exact emoji you’re looking for to express just the right emotion for your message. Whereas on a Mac, you can use a search term to locate a specific emoji, on the iPhone, there is no text search box. However, if you just type the word in the message, iOS automatically suggests the closest emoji. You can use the word, the emoji, or both together. When you see one of the suggestions come up, hit the space bar first. The suggestions stay there, and then you can tap one to have both the word and the emoji in your message. You do not have to know the exact name of the emoji. For this to work, you must enable the predictive keyboard to see which emoji the keyboard comes up with in response to your word. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Left- and right-hand keyboards

As you tap and hold for quick access to the keyboard settings, you’ll see two little keyboard icons on either side of the middle, with tiny arrows pointing in opposite directions. Choose one of these to change how you type, opting to use one hand or the other. These icons only appear in vertical mode, and choosing either one shifts the whole keyboard over to one side. You can tap the Arrow on either side to revert to the full-size keyboard. This is especially handy for larger-screen iPhones, helping you to better operate with your thumb. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Period as a domain name

You can use the period key on your keyboard to automatically insert a domain address. Launch your mobile web browser or search engine, and tap on the Address Bar to access the keyboard. Type the name of the site, and then tap and hold the Period key. You will see a menu with options like .com, .edu, and org. Swipe to select the right one. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Keyboard as trackpad

iOS Keyboard Trackpad in iOS 13 and 14.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You can transform your keyboard into a trackpad by tapping and holding your finger on the Space Bar. That will let you drag your finger to move the cursor through your text. If you have a device that supports 3D touch, you can tap and hold anywhere on the Keyboard to invoke trackpad action, and the keys will go blank. Aside from letting you move the cursor more easily, this feature makes it easier for you to select text. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Check definitions

You can tap and hold on any word in your text document to evoke a series of actions concerning a word or phrase, such as cut, copy, paste, replace, bold, italic, underline, lookup, share, and indent in or out. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Text replacement

Text replacement is an iOS native keyboard feature, and you can set it up in the keyboard settings. Go to Settings > General > Keyboards > Text Replacement to type in short text substitutes for phrases you use all the time. So, instead of typing, “On my way,” you can type, “omw,” and the keyboard will type out the whole phrase for you. If you sign your personal letters with “peace and love,” you can type in “pl” and the keyboard knows what you want to say. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

QuickPath Swipe

With the iOS 13 update, Apple widely shared the QuickPath feature. This is a major time saver because you can type entire words by swiping across the keyboard from letter to letter instead of having to tap every individual letter. Siri and general machine learning combine to predict what you’re spelling out. To enable or disable this feature, use the options Delete Slide-to-Type and Slide-to-Type on the standard iOS QuickType keyboard. Before this software was available, users had to recreate this experience with a third-party keyboard like Microsoft Swype, SwiftKey, or Google Gboard. To activate either options, navigate to Settings > General > Keyboard. Then, easily use the swipe to type tool in iPadOS 13 or iOS 13. Simply tap the first letter and then slide your finger to each following letter. The keyboard will anticipate and reflect your word. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.


If you’re in a bind and unable to type out on your keyboard, writing a note or sending an email is still possible. Opt for the dictation option in Settings > General > Keyboard and toggle Dictation on. A confirmation alert will pop up on your screen. Once you have this feature activated, you can click the microphone and speak into your phone, which will translate your speech into text. If you need to execute a formatting rule, like adding a period or using the tab key, simply say, “Tab key,” and the tool will automatically perform the tab function, add a period, or whatever you command it to do. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Tap and slide

Say you want to just add a single number or bit of punctuation. You don’t have to point and tap each key individually. You can just tap on the Number key (123) and slide your finger to place commas, colons, ampersands, dollar signs, and any number without having to lift your finger off the keyboard. When you’re done, the keyboard automatically reverts to its original state. This swiping gesture saves time and effort, as you don’t have to readjust the keyboard or manually switch back and forth. Similarly, to add a capital letter, tap the Shift key, swipe to the letter you want to add, and then release your finger. This feature works identically in iOS 13 and iOS 14.

Hide that keyboard

We know—the software keyboard seems to take up quite a bit of screen space. If you’re in the middle of a file, or you’re trying to read over a text, the keyboard can be distracting and get in the way. With iOS 13, you can drag the keyboard up to the middle of the screen so it won’t be blocking your field of vision, then tap on it when you’re done so it will go back to its normal location. In iOS 14, you must tap and drag the keyboard down to the bottom of the screen to hide it, and then tap the screen again for the keyboard to come back into view.

Custom fonts

With iOS 13, you can download and install custom fonts to further control the look and tone of your messages. You can now dress up your documents with vintage, modern, formal, or playful fonts directly from your keypad. For both iOS and iPadOS, you can install custom fonts by downloading specific font apps like Fonteer and Font Diner from the App Store, applying them to the compatible apps on your phone, and managing them in settings. These new fonts work through the app you plan to use them with — they are not compatible with all the apps on your device.

Sadly, with iOS 14, this process no longer works as advertised. We tried apps from Font Diner, Fonteer, and iFont. All of them, in some fashion, either install font profiles, and in the case of Font Diner, even lists its 13 free fonts as part of the default font roster. But we could not get any of them to work in any Mail or Pages documents. They simply do not show up as available fonts. There’s been some discussion of the issue on the Apple forums, but no official explanation of why there’s such a great difference in third-party font performance with the updated OS.

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Jackie Dove
Jackie is an obsessive, insomniac tech writer and editor in northern California. A wildlife advocate, cat fan, and photo app…
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