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.

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.

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 may see a globe icon instead of the smiley icon.

Smart punctuation

Smart punctuation

If you want your text to look more word-processed and easy to read, smart punctuation — 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.

Tap and hold for alternates

If you tap and hold on certain letters, it 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.

Emoji hunt

Sometimes it’s hard to find just the right 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.

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.

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.

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.

Keyboard as trackpad

iOS Keyboard Trackpad

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.

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, look up, share, and indent in or out.

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.

QuickPath Swipe

With iOS 13, Apple introduced a new gesture-based typing feature called QuickPath that lets you swipe from one letter to the next in a continuous motion, with Siri and machine learning making reliable predictions as to content. The Slide to Type and Delete Slide-to-Type by Word options in the keyboard settings are available for the default iOS QuickType keyboard, whereas in the past, you had to download a third-party keyboard like SwiftKey, Microsoft Swype, or Google Gboard to get a similar feature. Go to Settings > General > Keyboard and enable both options. After that, you can just seamlessly swipe to type in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13. Just tap the first letter, slide with your finger to the subsequent letters, and the keyboard will record the word.


There are times when you can’t use your keyboard, but that shouldn’t stop you from recording notes or sending an email. That’s where the handy dictation feature comes in. You can enable it by tapping Settings > General > Keyboard and switching on Dictation. You get a message to confirm that’s what you want. After that, whenever you pull up a document, you can hit the little Microphone icon and start talking. The feature automatically translates your voice into text. Even though the iOS keyboard lacks a tab key, all you need to do is voice-dictate, “Tab key,” through the microphone icon, and it will automatically insert a tab into any document.

Hide that keyboard

If you’re in the middle of a document, the software keyboard takes up a lot of screen real estate, or if you need to review your text, it’s going to get in the way. You can easily hide the onscreen keyboard by swiping down from the middle of the screen to remove it. Just tap anywhere on the screen to get it back.

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