For the last three decades, I’ve spent part of each day “touch typing” a physical keyboard. Touch typing refers to the ability of a typist to use a keyboard without looking at the keys. Rather, a touch typist’s muscle memory automatically sends his fingers to the next letter on the physical keyboard. Such muscle memory allows a touch typist to greatly increase his speed at inputting text into a document versus the “hunt and peck” method.
Last year, a bicycle crash resulted in surgery on my hand. My first challenge was to master using the physical keyboard on my laptop and the virtual keyboards on my mobile devices with just one hand. It has been more than a year since my adventure of one-handed typing, but I’m still using most of the apps and techniques that I would have never tried on my iPhone and iPad had I not had the surgery. Here are my two go-to methods for turbo-charging the speed of my text input. (While these techniques and apps are for an iPhone, they are similar to adding and using virtual keyboards on Android devices.)
Before You Begin| How to Add Additional Virtual Keyboards to Your iPhone
The first method of turbo-charging your typing speed requires you to install an additional virtual keyboard to your iOS device. You install a keyboard just like any other app: You’ll find and download them in the iTunes App Store. Once installed, follow these steps to activate a new keyboard:
- Tap the app icon to open it.
- Next, go to your iOS Settings.
- Next, go to General > Keyboards > Add New Keyboard.
- Just below the suggested keyboards section is where you’ll find a list of any third-party keyboards you’ve installed.
- Tap on the name of the keyboard you’d like to activate.
- To switch between keyboards, tap on the Globe icon on the keyboard when entering text.
Turbo-charge Your “Typing” Method #1 | Swipe Typing
The feature allowing a user to slide a finger around an iPhone screen to input words has several different names: gesture typing, glide typing. swyping, drag typing. I use the term “swipe typing.” I cannot explain what swipe typing is. For that, you’ll need to glance down at the GIF animation below that shows someone using swipe typing on a Gboard keyboard. Because these apps use various methods to predict the word you are in the process of swipe typing, once mastered (and practice is required) I could type faster with one finger than I had previously been able to do with two.
Here are some of the many third-party keyboards that include a swipe typing feature. They each have other features that make them amazing for reasons that have nothing to do with speed. (In a future post, I will explore some of these magical features.)
- Gboard (Google)
- Word Flow (Microsoft)
- SwiftKey (Acquired earlier this year by Microsoft)
- Swype (Owned by Nuance, the Dragon Dictate company)
The missing link: Unfortunately, all of those third-party keyboards don’t have a feature that Apple’s iPhone default keyboard has: voice dictation (see next section). I predict that feature will become native to the iPhone soon. (There will still be unique benefits to other keyboards, so it won’t “kill” anything.) Once swipe typing becomes a native feature for the default iPhone keyboard, I predict also that Apple will allow other keyboards to add voice dictation and voice commands. (Why this is an easy prediction: Other currently available Google-native iPhone apps allow dictation–like Google Docs, for example.)
Turbo-charge Your “Typing” Method #2 | Use Dictation
While there are other ways to use the chatbot technology that is native to the iPhone (Siri, for example), voice dictation and voice commands are remarkable examples of assistive technology, the types of features and software that help individuals with disabilities. Being limited to one hand for just a few weeks gave me a little sense of the challenges faced by someone who has a permanent disability. It also made me appreciate and admire how these individuals don’t let such a disability slow them down if technology providers offer assistive features to their software.
To use the voice-to-text feature of your iPhone default keyboard, click the microphone icon next to the spacebar.
It activates the chatbot. While not as robust as dictation software for Macs and PCs from companies like Nuance (Dragon Naturally), with practice the dictation input feature can help create short email or text messages with ease.
Tip 1 |: For documents longer than a text message or short email, dictate into a cloud-based text document (Google Docs, for example, has a dictation feature that’s accessible by clicking on a mic icon), which you can edit later using your computer.
Tip 2 | With practice, you can rapidly run through email replies and other short items. In addition to text, the dictation software has voice commands that allow you to format and punctuate while you dictate.