What do iOS 8 3rd party keyboards stand for?

On the latest Clockwise podcast, Dan Moren made a great point about third party keyboards for iOS 8. As much as we know iOS for its simplicity and consumer friendliness, it is features like the new keyboards that suggest Apple is opening up to “pro” features that you would not expect the average person to take advantage of.

Third party keyboards are not especially easy to install on Android devices either. iOS and Android suffer a similar cumbersome process to install and setup keyboards. When I stop to consider this, I have to wonder why Apple introduced third party keyboards in the first place. The feature is helpful for the dedicated few who use their iPhones all day long and want to improve their typing performance, but these keyboards are not easy to add or utilize. There is a learning curve to them if you want to take advantage of their supposed benefits. This reminds me of… Hey, wait, this is a very familiar experience. Do you know what I’m referring to? Are you geeky enough that you know that familiar feeling you get every time you attempt to use some new feature and you hit a learning curve?

Why add third party keyboards to iOS in the first place? I think, as with all the features we see added to version 8 that Apple has exhausted most of the potential to satisfy the interests of everyday users. My Dad and sister have all the features they could ever ask for. Will they use new options like the improved Notification Center and Extensions? Do they know how to customize the Share sheet? Will they mess with the sliders for photo enhancement in the Camera app? Will they ever care to?

Now that your girlfriend and cousin John have anything and everything they want their phones to do, Apple has earned the loyalty of a large number of everyday people. The majority of consumers are now happy, so Apple doesn’t need to busy themselves to reach the average guy or girl that waltzes into an Apple Store. For instance, people in general are attracted to the marketing push for iOS Garageband and iMovie, but at the end of the day, they aren’t going to record music or edit together film shorts. But they want to know they could if they ever felt like doing it. Someday. On another note, they are going to use iOS’s Notes, rather than review and compare Evernote to Byword and Drafts to determine which produces the best workflow. Such use cases are for the advanced prosumers, such as the highly-motivated geeks that are some of Apple’s pets, like myself.

Now more so than before, Apple is more or less free to target the growing interests of these few professionals: the nerdy, the developer, and the Apple geek that can’t get enough features to slake their lust for more cool on/off toggles. We are the fringe that are eventually served — after all the simple features are checked off the iOS developers’ lists. Third party keyboards represent the beginning of a wide range of features that most people will not take seriously but will hone and improve our minority use cases. We should expect significantly more features over the next few years that involve significantly more learning curve.

It feels good to connect the dots, and realize that there is a future where Apple is taking care of our edge cases. Let’s just hope the third party keyboards implementation is improved upon, because how they work right now is less than exciting to me. Settings has grown to monolithic proportions, and that’s very bad when you stop to think about it. You know what I mean if you have ever bothered to learn your way around the advanced features of iOS, as the learning curve is ever growing.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.