The Power of iOS Keyboard Shortcuts
Using keyboard shortcuts on iOS allows you to fly through the tedious tasks of editing, formatting, and moving items to where you want them to be. Since I use the Smart Keyboard with my iPad a vast majority of the time I am working on it, keyboard shortcuts have been my bread and butter. To not use them means I have to tap on the screen to modify what it is I am working on. It adds friction to my work. Not being able to use the most efficient way of doing things on my devices can drive me up a wall, and I know I am not alone in this. Which is why keyboard shortcuts can be so useful. Shortcuts isn’t a word that is arbitrary on this scenario, it really is a literal shortcut to get to your destination faster, and who doesn’t want that? But not all apps are created equal when it comes to shortcuts.
Who Does Keyboard Shortcuts Right
Before I start to go over the things that needs work, I have to give credit where credit is due. That credit goes to the 3rd party developers that embrace those that are using a keyboard with their iPads and making it a staple in their workflows. I have two specific apps in mind, but they are by no means the only ones doing great work for the keyboard users on iOS.
The quintessential example of getting keyboard shortcuts right on iOS is that of Ferrite which I adore. Not only can do everything from a keyboard, but you can even assign each action to the key binding of your choosing. In fact, Ferrite offers a lot of great presets for popular digital audio workstations (DAWs) for those that are familiar with them. For me, I have a custom key binding as I use an app that does not have presets built into Ferrite called Hindenburg.
Cultured Code came out with Things 3 a while back, and I wasn’t happy with the space keyboard shortcuts when it shipped, but that all changed when they released version 3.6 in May. That update offered what they consider “Desktop-Class Productivity”. Nearly everything can be on with just the keyboard on the iPad app of Things. This was when I finally felt like Things 3 was now ready to ship, and I began to use it as my task manager of choice from there on. One thing I want to note though is that Things only shows the keyboard actions you can do in the current situation you are in so you won’t see the plethora of keyboard shortcuts in the pop up box when you hold the Command key. If you want to see all of the shortcuts available Cultured Code has a great list on their blog.
Problems With iOS Keyboard Shortcuts
Some apps provide a vast array of commands and shortcuts to allow iPad users to use their keyboard 100% of the time. Others though, they don’t think much of the keyboard users. Which brings me to the first speed bump in iOS for keyboard users: you are at the mercy of developers to provide the shortcuts you need.
Developers Have to Do All The Heavy Lifting
This is not to condemn developers for this problem, many developers often have plans to integrate shortcuts in their apps in the future. The only problem is time and resources. Many of my favorite apps. like Drafts 5 for example, are developed solely by one person and they can’t always get to secondary things like shortcuts immediately after launch. They have other things to worry about like making sure the app doesn’t crash regularly and the features that people want the most is what goes to the topi of the to-do list. Which makes things like keyboard shortcuts fall lower and lower on the list of priorities. But this isn’t just a developer issue, this is also an issue that Apple can help in with their iOS operating system as a whole.
Lack of Apple Subtleties
For instance, it can be hard to tell which app is currently connected to the keyboard.
Another perfect example: keyboard shortcuts. https://t.co/2s6kC21tcS
— John Gruber (@gruber) April 22, 2018
When you work in split view it can be hard to tell which app has the keyboard connected to it, there is no kind of indication outside of a blinking cursor if you are using a text editor that supports that. One thing I have noticed that helps is if you quickly tap on the app you want to use the keyboard with. This isn’t ideal, but it is the best option I have found that works with iOS 11 as of now (and the iOS 12 beta as well). A simple indication of what app is currently active could solve this problem easily, and I think iOS needs this in their software.
The keyboard for iOS isn’t perfect, but if you implement more keyboard shortcuts it can help you do your work even a little bit better. One thing I tell all of the people I know who are using an iPad with a keyboard is to press and hold the Command key in the apps they use, because it will show all of the keyboard shortcuts you can do. In the future I would love Apple to really make it clear that you can do all of the things you want from a MacBook in an iPad, including keyboard shortcuts. If Apple embraces the fact that this touch device is also a true laptop replacement, they need to start with they keyboard and the software behind it. In a perfect world Apple would make everything possible on an iPad also an option on the keyboard. Until then though, I will just have to contact the developers, who work so hard on these apps, and ask them politely to embrace the keyboard like so many of us have. If you are looking for other keyboard shortcuts, check out Apple’s documentation online and see some of the things you can do on iOS with a keyboard.