For the first time with iOS 8, Apple is letting users replace the system-wide keyboard with third-party alternatives. Most people will be perfectly happy with the standard option, which is better than ever thanks to the time-saving new predictive-text feature. But if you'd like to take a walk on the wild side, we’ve collected six keyboards that each offer something Apple doesn’t, from unique typing methods to animated GIF libraries. Let’s go keyboard crazy!
Many keyboards, such as Swiftkey, include a predictive-text feature similar to the one in Apple's standard option.
Before we get started...
Keep in mind that dictation is possible only with the standard keyboard. Also, it will probably be awhile before another keyboard supports as many languages as Apple's. I’ll also point out that holding an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus sideways brings up some very welcome new keys in iOS 8, including arrow keys and an Undo button. But the good news is, you can switch between the standard keyboard and any others on the fly by touching the Globe key, so you never have to fully give up the features of one to use another.
About “Full Access” and security
Every third-party keyboard app wants you to enable “Full Access” during activation. This is a security risk because it allows a keyboard developer to record every keystroke, whether you’ve spelled out “LOL” or your credit card number. Many features of these keyboards have a legitimate need for full access, such as loading language packs or learning how you write to provide better predictive text results. Most likely, nothing bad will come of this. Trusting anyone with access to private information is a risk, but it’s one people routinely take every time they buy something online or fill out any kind of form with personal data. The decision is yours, but we do recommend that you check out a keyboard’s developer first and make sure you’re comfortable with its terms of service and privacy policies. If you choose not to enable Full Access, most of these keyboards will still work, they’ll just be missing some key features.
When you add a new keyboard, you're told the potential risks of granting it full access.
How to buy, install, and activate a new keyboard
Third-party keyboards will only work with iOS 8, so make sure you’ve upgraded. (If your device is too old to support iOS 8, you’re out of luck.) After you've downloaded a keyboard from the App Store, open Settings and go to General > Keyboard > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard… and choose the keyboard you want to activate. This is where you’ll be asked to enable “Full Access” — again, it’s up to you. Now go into any app that uses the system keyboard, pull it up, and tap the Globe key at the bottom-left to toggle between keyboards. If you like, you can also hold the key to pull up a full list of all available keyboards. And that’s it! Simple, huh? One last note: to adjust keyboard settings such as themes, or to toggle certain features on and off, you'll need to open up the app you originally downloaded.
How to activate and use a third-party keyboard in 30 seconds.
Now check out some keyboards!
Flip through the gallery below for six of our favorite third-party keyboards. All of them were rated at least three stars at the time we tested them, and are compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. For a complete list of languages supported by a keyboard, see its individual product page in the App store. It’s also worth noting that, since custom keyboards are brand-new to iOS, these first-pass apps may be a little rough around the edges sometimes but will likely receive more polish as time goes on.