The one new iOS 8 feature that might make it worth going back to Apple

Summary:The folks at Apple have long had a "my way or the highway" policy when it came to modifying the inner workings of iOS. However, as this article shows, things may be changing in iOS 8.

the-one-new-ios-8-feature-that-might-make-it-worth-going-back-to-apple

It was almost exactly a year ago that I bought my new Android Samsung Galaxy S4 and wrote  25 things my new Android phone does that makes my iPhone feel like it comes from the 1990s . Needless to say, it generated some discussion. 

One of the more interesting aspects of that discussion was that I didn't mention (in my list of 25 things) the customizable and replaceable keyboard systems for Android. As it turns out, I had only had my new phone for a day or so, and had not yet discovered that capability.

To be fair to the iOS side of the world, I didn't give up my iPhone (or our three iPads and on iPad mini). In fact, I use my iPhone 4S every day -- sometimes more than my Android phone. I just use them differently.

My Android phone is  my going out and being a phone phone, where my iPhone 4S no longer has cellular service on it, and I use it at home (mostly in bed) as an iPod touch. Almost every night, I read Kindle books on it.
 
I prefer the slightly smaller form factor of the iPhone in bed, because it's just a little more comfortable when laying on my side and reading. In fact, my iPhone lives on a little charger next to the bed, and almost never leaves the bedroom, while my Android phone is everywhere else in the house.
 
There's a reason for this. As a Kindle reading device, the iPhone is a very pleasant experience. But, for example, if I wanted to respond to a Facebook post, the iPhone has been quite a pain. Tapping to type words on the iPhone's keyboard -- once you learn about swiping your fingers on Android -- is something that now seems intolerably painful.
 
Since I use the iPhone in bed (often while my wife sleeps), I don't want to use voice dictation, because I don't want to wake her. That leaves the frustratingly last-decade design of the iPhone's keyboard. And even though, last month, I talked about why widgets on Android showcase iOS's usability shortcomings, the fact is it's the keyboard that's the deal-killer.
 
I've thought about whether I'd get an iPhone as my next phone (and yes, I've also thought about Windows Phones, for those of you who are bound to scream your WP loyalty). Because I regularly use both the iOS and Android ecosystems, it doesn't really bother me to switch between them.
 
Except for the keyboard. With the keyboard that's been in iOS 7 and earlier, not only do you have to tap out every letter, but you also can't tell whether the caps key is pressed or not because the keyboard letters all stay uppercase, all the time. It's just too annoying.
 
And don't think that a keyboard is a small thing. For years, the folks at BlackBerry sold their CrackBerries, in a large part, because of their customers' loyalty to their elegant physical on-phone keyboard design.
 
Today, I watched the Apple WWDC keynote, and something changed. First, Apple's Craig Federighi (who deserves the Keynote Stamina Award for all his time on stage) showed a predictive keyboard word engine that looked promising. This thing guesses entire words you're likely to want to type based on context.
 
Interesting, I thought, but it's still a pain to type words it isn't able to predict (like if I just wanted to type "Federighi," the predictor would have no idea I wanted it at just that time).
 
But then, at just about 87 minutes into the keynote, Federighi introduced the idea of app extensions in iOS, the ability for apps in iOS to securely share new capabilities with other applications. And then, at 92 minutes in, he said it: "System wide, installable, third-party keyboards."
 
Yep, that old, reviled. incredibly dated tap-tap keyboard of iOS old can be replaced by something much more usable and effective. It's the ability to replace the old keyboard engine that might make it worth going back to iOS for my phone. As the image at the top of this article shows, Swype looks to be coming to iOS in all its glory, and James Kendrick confirmed that SwiftKey is on its way as well .
 
For certain, I'll be installing iOS 8 on my iPhone 4S and that thing might finally get to leave the bedroom and be used for more than just Kindle.
 
Will you switch back now that there are new keyboards? TalkBack below.
 
By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Google, iOS

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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