iPad Keyboard Tips and New Smart Keyboard Shortcuts

Person using iPad keyboard

 Wikimedia Commons

The great thing about the iPad on-screen keyboard is that it's so much easier to type on than the iPhone keyboard. While a wireless physical keyboard might still be preferable for longer documents, it's quite simple to type up a rather lengthy email on the iPad. But for those who really want to get the most out of their iPad, here are a few keyboard shortcuts that can have you typing faster and allow you to get at some special keys quicker.

iPad On-Screen Keyboard Shortcuts

Perhaps the best way to speed up typing on the on-screen keyboard is to learn all of the different little tricks and shortcuts that can make the entire process much faster.

A screenshot of the iPad keyboard
  • At the end of a sentence, you can tap the space bar twice in a row and the iPad will output a period, a space and turn the caps key on so that you are ready for the next sentence.
  • There's no need for an apostrophe in your contractions when you have an automatic spelling corrector. You can type "Im" for "I'm" and "cant" for "can't" and let the iPad do the extra work for you.
  • On an iPad Pro, you can type those special symbols above the numbers by swiping down on the key or holding your finger down on the key to produce a pop up window with the special symbol.
  • Here's a neat keyboard trick for putting something in quotation marks: just tap and hold the question mark/period key on the normal layout for double quotes, or if you want single quotes, tap and hold the exclamation/comma key.
  • Need special accents? You can get at special accent marks for specific language support by tapping and holding the corresponding letter key.
  • Did you know you can insert begin quotes and end quotes? On the numbers layout, just tap and hold the quote key for beginning and ending quotes. Tap and hold the single quote key for the same options for single quotes. You can also get at an accent using this technique on the single quote key.
  • On the numbers layout, you can tap and hold the exclamation mark for an upside down exclamation mark and the question mark for an upside down question mark. But for those who love their pauses, the choice trick is holding down the period key on the numbers layout to get at an ellipsis.
  • Tired of flipping back and forth from letters to numbers? Instead of tapping the".?123" key to get at the numbers, hold your finger down on it and then slide your finger to the key you need. When you release your finger, the iPad will produce your character and automatically flip back to the original keyboard layout.
  • You can also do the tap and hold trick on the shift key to quickly get a capital letter.
  • Create Your Own Keyboard Shortcut!. You don't have to rely just on these tips. Apple makes it easy for you to create your own shortcuts on the iPad's keyboard.

Don't Forget the Shortcut Buttons on Top of the Keyboard

If you look above the top line of letters, you will see a series of shortcut keys. On the left side, there are two arrows that curve into half circles. The arrow that curves to the left is an undo key, which will undo the last change you made a document. The arrow that curves to the right is a redo key, which will 'undo' an undo action. To the right of those two buttons is a button that looks like a piece of paper in front of a clipboard. This is the paste button. You can use it to paste whatever is on the virtual clipboard into the document. 

On the other side of the keyboard are additional buttons. The "BIU" button will let you bold, italicize and underline text. The camera button will let you access your camera roll to paste a picture, and the paper clip will bring up iCloud Drive allowing you to attach a file to the document. You may also have a squiggly line that is used for creating a quick drawing.  

These shortcut buttons will not always be present. For example, if the app you have open doesn't support attachments, the paper clip button will not appear. 

Don't Type: Dictate!

Did you know the iPad supports voice dictation? In fact, it can be easily the best keyboard replacement feature on the iPad. Voice dictation is one of the many tricks Siri can perform, and you might be surprised at how accurate it is, not to mention how much faster it can be compared to typing.

screenshot showing iPad voice dictation button

You can start dictating by tapping the microphone button next to the space bar on the on-screen keyboard. You can also use voice commands like "new paragraph" and dictate special symbols like "quotation mark" or "exclamation mark." Once you get used to it, voice dictation can be a major time saver.

Use Predictive Typing to Speed Up Content Input

Predictive typing is one of the coolest and most easily overlooked features added to the on-screen keyboard in recent years. In between the shortcut buttons on top of the keyboard are spaces for three different predictions. As you type, the iPad will try to guess the word. 

It's a good habit to be aware of these predictions, especially when tapping in longer words. A quick tap of a prediction button can save a lot of hunting and pecking. 

Also, you should be aware of the prediction with quotes around it. This will let you skip any attempt to auto-correct your text and will keep it exactly the same as you've typed it. 

You can also turn Auto-Correct off. This can be a life saver if you type in a lot of jargon the iPad doesn't recognize. When Auto-Correct is turned off, you have control over the corrections. Misspelled words are still highlighted, and if you tap them, you are presented with options to correct the word. 

Install a Custom Keyboard Like Swype or SwiftKey

Swype and SwiftKey are third-party keyboards that allow you to 'type' words without lifting your finger. Instead, you glide from letter to letter. It sounds awkward, but you would be amazed at how quickly you become accustomed to it. The longer you use these keyboards, the quicker your hand memorizes the gestures for simple words, speeding up your content entry even further. 

screenshot of swiftkey keystroke

Not everyone prefers these gliding keyboards, but some people swear by them. In order to install one of the keyboards, you must first download the app from the App Store and then enable the keyboard in the Keyboard settings under "General" settings in the iPad's settings app. If it sounds a little complicated, it is. But it is easy enough to do if you follow our instructions for installing a third-party keyboard.

Most third-party keyboard apps also give you instructions on how to install them if you launch the keyboard app directly. 

Shortcuts on the Smart Keyboard and (Some) Bluetooth Keyboard

The Smart Keyboard available for the iPad Pro adds a command key and an option key, similar to keyboards designed for the Mac. (Windows users can think of these as similar to the control and alt keys). As of iOS 9, the iPad supports keyboard shortcuts using certain key combinations. These shortcuts will work using the Smart Keyboard, Apple's Wireless Keyboard and most Bluetooth keyboards that have the command and option keys. 

Here are a few handy shortcut combinations:

  • Command-B, Command-I and Command-U for bold, italics and underline.
  • Command-N for new documents: a new note in Notes, a new message in Mail, etc.
  • Command-F for finding text within the document
  • Command-R to reply to an email
  • Command-T to open a new tab in Safari
  • Command-W to close a tab in Safari
  • Command-Tab to show the next tab in Safari