Thoughts on the iPad Pro’s Software Keyboard

A week into the release of the iPad Pro, much has been written about its use as a laptop replacement. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that he travels with just an iPad Pro and an iPhone. Day one iPad Pro reviewers were given two hardware keyboards to evaluate: the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Create. The media was generally positive towards the feel of the two keyboards, with most preferring the Create’s plastic keys over the Smart Keyboard’s fabric keys. They were less impressed by the extra bulk the keyboards added and the incomplete integration of external keyboards in iOS 9. For instance, there is a keyboard shortcut to initiate a Spotlight search, but there is no way (yet) to select one of the search results. As a result, one still needs to reach up and touch the screen frequently, and this can get tiring over time. When paired with the Smart Keyboard or the Create, the iPad Pro becomes larger and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display or the 11-inch MacBook Air it aspires to replace in the eyes of some users.

Less emphasis has been given to the iPad Pro’s software keyboard in the reviews, which is a shame because I think it’s the best software keyboard implementation I’ve used yet. Thanks to the large 12.9″ display, the Pro’s virtual keyboard is almost the same size as Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. The width of the keyboard is almost a perfect match, and the height of the soft keys is a few millimeters shorter than the physical keys.

The iPad Pro's software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.
The iPad Pro’s software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.
The keyboard layout is nearly the same as the physical keyboard shown above. Instead of the Fn, Control, Option and Command keys, we have the Keyboard Layout, Alternate Key, and Dictation buttons. Also missing is the Esc key and the various function keys adorning the top row of the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Pro’s soft keyboard even features a tab and caps lock key. It is worth noting that the number and delete keys are half the height of the alpha keys; they do take some time getting used to, as you have to be careful not to accidentally hit the Undo, Redo, Paste, Predictive suggestions or Editing buttons above them.

All this makes typing on the iPad Pro familiar and satisfying compared with the software keyboards on previous iPads. And, with a few tweaks, I was able to make the Pro’s soft keyboard function nearly identically to a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Inputing HTML on the iPad Pro

Anyone who has ever tried inputting HTML1 on iOS devices knows how maddening and time-consuming that task can be. For instance, entering the left angled bracket character takes three taps on the iOS software keyboard: 123 button, #+= button, and the < key. Editing a blog post in WordPress through Mobile Safari is an exercise in patience and not for the faint of heart2. And, while there are apps that add HTML formatting keys above the standard software keyboard (i.e. Panic’s Coda), their keyboards normally don’t transfer to other applications3.

Two frustrating things when inputting HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or any non-English terms are Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Both of these features are great when you’re typing things like emails, texts, and Facebook updates, but all bets are off if you want to write code.

Since the iPad Pro’s software keyboard looks like a real keyboard, how about configuring it as close as possible to a real keyboard? Turning off the Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correction in Settings > General > Keyboards does exactly that.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro's keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.
Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro’s keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.
Check out the following 2-minute video that shows entering some basic HTML in the iPad Pro’s Notes app, with and without Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct.

  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct ON: 1 minute and 20 seconds
  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct OFF: 30 seconds

That’s nearly three times faster, with far fewer finger gymnastics and headaches. I’ll take it!

Don’t get me wrong, both Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct are great in most cases. Being able to turn these off and use the software keyboard like a regular keyboard, however, means I won’t dread using the iPad to make changes to webpages or to type longer passages of text. And, it lessens the need to have a physical keyboard with you in order to effectively use the iPad Pro. I do wish that long-pressing on the keyboard layout button would display additional options to toggle Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Switch modes from the keyboard is way faster than going into Settings > General > Keyboard to change the settings.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.
Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Update December 1, 2015: One can tell Siri to, “Open Keyboard Preferences” to quickly go to the settings page. From there, it’s a quick tap or two to turn off Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct for those times when you want to use the iPad Pro’s keyboard like a regular keyboard.

Swipe Up Tip

Update: November 19, 2015: On previous iPad devices, one could swipe up on two characters on the software keyboard, the period and comma keys to output the quote and double quote characters. On the iPad Pro, this feature has been extended to all of the number and symbol keys. Swiping up from the one key will output exclamation point and swiping up on semi-colon key will output the colon character. This makes even faster to input alternate characters since one doesn’t have to press (and/or hold) the shift key.

One can also press and hold on the keys to display alternate letters, but I find swiping up to be faster in practice. Pressing and holding is required for certain alpha keys since they feature more  alternate letters.

Ergonomics Revisited

On the flipside, I recognize that typing on the iPad Pro’s keyboard in slate orientation with the Smart Cover comes with some downsides in the ergonomics department. In this setup, my neck is angled down and my back is hunched over the iPad. Prolonged typing sessions like these will make those muscles very uncomfortable.

Thus, is the best way to use an iPad Pro at the desk similar to what we do today with laptops? Hook up the iPad Pro to an external display or elevate the iPad Pro so it’s more in line with our eyes? In the first scenario, one could touch type on the iPad Pro’s while looking at the external display, looking down only to tap or swipe. Alternatively, one could use an external Bluetooth keyboard while looking at the elevated iPad or the monitor.

These two scenarios are illustrated below with the iPad Pro’s screen mirrored on an Apple Thunderbolt Display. How this is possible, one might ask, given that the iPad doesn’t have a Lightning-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It turns out that one can use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror an iOS device connected via a regular USB-to-Lightning cable.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.
Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Use Quicktime Player's Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro's screen onto your Mac.
Use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro’s screen onto your Mac.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.
Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.
One can also use OS X El Capitan’s Split Screen feature to have both iOS and OS X operating side-by-side in fullscreen mode! I admit to some confusion when using this setup; I half expected the cursor on the iPad to move when I used the mouse to click in the iOS window on my Mac! Microsoft would beg to differ with its Windows 10 operating system and device lineup, but I agree with Cook that in the case of OS X and iOS, the two operating systems shouldn’t be merged into one.

Who says a Mac and an iPad can't share the same screen?
Who says a Mac and an iPad can’t share the same screen?

Future Improvements

For me, an external keyboard has always been faster at inputting data than the iPad’s software keyboard. The iPad Pro’s, however, comes closest to emulating a physical keyboard. If Apple adds the Taptic Engine and 3D Touch hardware to the iPad Pro, the software keyboard could get even better. One could imagine being able to tune the amount of force needed to signal a keypress. I’d imagine it would be a power hog, so maybe it would only work when plugged into the mains. And, it’s at least one or two generations away, but I am excited about the prospects!

27-inch iPad Ultra Pro?

I’ll end this article on a fun note. Here’s a photo of my iPad Pro’s home screen displayed on my 27-inch Thunderbolt Display in fullscreen mode. Can you imagine this is what a 27-inch iPad Ultra Pro might look like?

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!
No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

1 Old habits die hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I normally eschew the visual, WYSIWYG editors and prefer to edit webpages in HTML.

2 The WordPress app hasn’t been optimized for the iPad Pro’s software keyboard. The app works better for stock WordPress sites, but is not optimal for those who run heavily customized WordPress installations.

3 Is there a Custom Keyboard for HTML editing on iOS? A quick search on the iOS App Store didn’t reveal much.

21 thoughts on “Thoughts on the iPad Pro’s Software Keyboard

  1. […] more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML […]

  2. […] more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML […]

  3. […] more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML […]

  4. What a great write-up, Tow. I am considering an iPad Pro for my writing, which is not HTML but simply words–and lots of them: I’m a novelist. I’m also considering a MacBook 2015, but the difference of six-hundred clams has me thinking the iPad Pro might suit me best. The only question I cannot answer is true use of the virtual iOS keyboard, and the ergonomics of looking downward, as you said. I can always prop it on a stand and use Bluetooth Apple keyboard, like I do now with my iPad 3, but when flying, traveling, on a train, etc., I’d like to whip it out and use the virtual keyboard (I do not like the Smart Keyboard). Do you have any updated thoughts on the virtual iOS iPad Pro keyboard after having used it for a while? I respect your thoughts. I know, bottom line, I’ll likely have to stand at Best Buy or Apple store for a half hour and noodle around on it to get a personal idea. Again, your blog post here was helpful. Thank you.

  5. Wayne – I’m still faster at typing and editing text using a physical keyboard over the iPad Pro’s software keyboard. The lack of cursor keys means you’ll have to do the long press to get the virtual cursor or hunt and peck on the screen. It’s still better than the software keyboard on the iPad 3.

    For blog entries, I’m fine using the iPad Pro’s virtual keyboard, but I would definitely use an external keyboard if I were typing a novel. Your recommendation of going to an Apple Store and trying it in-person is sound.

    Neck strain is also an issue when typing long-term with the iPad Pro (or any iPad). Plugging it into an external monitor could alleviate that.

  6. Hi, Adam. Your reply makes lots of sense: even though the onscreen keyboard is workable for brief typing–and I see your point about the virtual mouse being a cub to turn on and manipulate with the two-finger linger–a dedicated keyboard is still the way to go. I believe you, thanks.

    I’ll pop over to Apple and try it out for a spell. Appreciated, Adam. Yours remains one of the very few online posts with any details at all about the virtual keyboard. Sincerely, Wayne.

  7. Dear Adam, wow, your blog is cooler than sliced bread, what with the pull-ups and the simplified wardrobe and all. Fun!

    Anyhow, I got to Best Buy last night and stood there, like an imbecile, for over half an hour pecking away on the software keyboard. It was much more usable than I thought from a fingers-to-glass, haptic feedback standpoint. But, it seemed sort of so-so for accuracy, even when I took my time; I swear I was hitting the keys as I would on a physical keyboard, so don’t know where the errors came from (typing too fast for the processor?). It’s odd, and this is partly why I came back to your exceptional blog post, to check photos: the virtual keyboard on the BB model was not like yours. It had super large keys, the Q was all the way to the left, no number keys, etc. It did have clicking sound, which I thought I read someplace the Pro virtual keyboard does not. Hmmm, weird.

    I’m thinking, if I get one for my long fiction, I’ll (a) use my Bluetooth Apple keyboard most of the time, and (b) use the virtual keyboard when editing (agree, that two finger-linger is poor; better to just peck the screen where I want the cursor), which is less inputting of words. In fact, I’m wondering if the Roost stand (I, too, have the Rain M stand for my MacBook Pro home laptop) will be good for use as a standing desk on the go as it seems to bring the iPad Pro quite high off the table in your review (and then I would peck on the virtual keyboard from standing). Does that seem doable from your perspective? Thanks, Adam. Stay cool (as in, hip), okay? Wayne.

  8. Wayne – What app were you using? If the app has not been optimized for the iPad Pro, it will show an enlarged version of the smaller iPad virtual keyboards. You may want to go back to Best Buy and test with an app like Notes or Mail to see the default iPad Pro keyboard.

    Roost stand lifts the iPad Pro higher than the mStand. I don’t know if I would use it and type on software keyboard of the iPad Pro due to the extreme wrist angle your hands would be typing with (and the fact that you’ll be craning your neck down to look at the screen).

  9. Thanks for your reply, Adam. I used iWorks Pages at Best Buy; perhaps it is not updated (or that version at BB wasn’t) for iPad Pro? You must have hit it: I was typing on the non-optimized virtual keyboard. :-(

    Appreciate your point about the Roost stand being high, so best for real keyboard. Sheesh, by the time I get the Roost, the BT Apple real keyboard, and the iPad Pro, I might as well just toss my MacBook Pro (2013 model) into my messenger bag. lol

    On March 15, Apple might announce a new 9.7 inch iPad Air 3. I own only an iPad Mini now (and cannot type on it’s tiny virt keyboard). Maybe there will be some software keyboard “heaven” in that new iPad Air 3 (although, your review specifically states that your experience has the iPad 9.7 inch virt keyboard as inferior to the Pro, i.e. the Pro is more useful).

    The hunt (and peck) continues. Wayne

  10. Dear Adam, Hi. I have a favor. I went back to Best Buy again and, just as you said, I was demoing the old software keyboard on Pages! I asked the saleperson, who said that is the only software keyboard that he knows of with Pages. Can that be true? So, then, I went onto Pages website and App Store and I cannot tell. Aplle sure seems not very vested in Pages, but I use it all the time.

    Would you be so kind as to try Pages in your iPAd pro to see if it has the new keyboard, and also check it’s typing speed. I see tons of Pages app reviews that berate it for being slow to type upon, with its word appearance on the screen of the iPad lagging considerably behind the actual typing fingers. Could that be what I experienced wi all the errors at Best Buy in my comment above? I am typing this comment on my iPad Mini virt keyboard, and it’s not lagging. I do think I’d use the iPad Pro keyboard software, but have the linger question if it has been updated to the new virt keyboard and if it’s laggy. Thank you in advance if you could help me with this, and post a reply here or a new blog post, either. Thanks so much, Adam. Sincerely, Wayne.

  11. Traveling at the moment so I don’t have my iPad Pro with me. Pretty sure however that Apple submitted an update to its productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) to support the iPad Pro. The demo machine might not have received the update. Best to look at the software that came with the device, such as Notes or Mail. I don’t see much lag when I type. My problem which I mentioned above is that I miss-hit the space bar or the delete key often.

  12. Thanks, Adam. I visited a different BB today and it confirmed all your suspicions. A BB “Geek” helped me determine that, as you considered, the Pages software did not have the recent updates. He stated that those updates are “locked” and BB cannot update them. Doh! I then used Notes and, just as you stated, it had the new software keyboard. I was able to use it successfully, and there were no hiccups. No pauses, no delays. I do note, however, that it was Pages that everyone griped about in the App store as being slow, not Notes. But, I trust your trial of Pages to know that it’s smooth, as one would expect. I also rely on your above thoughts for the ergonomics of the thing; I’ll likely place the iPad Pro on a stand and use the Apple Bluetooth keyboard when typing for hours on end (which I often do), and use the software keyboard for shorter editing sessions and for on-the-run typing. I found the two finger-linger mouse to be acceptable, and after ten minutes, became proficient with it, even in the store with the Best Buy guy breathing down my neck.

    Interestingly, I checked out the only other new device that I would consider from Apple: the 2015 MacBook. Although I discovered the revamped physical, touch-sensitive keyboard to be no easier to type upon than was the software keyboard of the Pro, I did find an absolute deal-breaker for my ever buying it: the keyboard is one of the loudest I have ever typed upon. Tap, tap, tap. I work in some pretty quiet places–library’s dedicated “quiet room”, baby’s room, while my wife is asleep, and such–so that train tracks-rattling keyboard would likely win me a fat lip!

    I’m going to purchase the iPad Pro ($760 Amazon, all colors), but after March 15 Apple event, just in case they tweak it or reduce the price or something. I have no use for the pencil, so the revamped iPad Air 3 is a consideration, but something tells me the price of that will go up to $599 (but, I could be wrong). Regardless, I like the software keyboard size of the Pro. May even do a Youtube video typing on the virtual keyboard (the only one on there now is some dude just typing for 18 seconds), unless you beat me to it–which would be super cool as, to this day, when one googles iPad Pro virtual software keyboard, your blog post comes to the top; it’s only fitting that you record your thoughts. Thanks for your advice, Adam. Novelist Wayne.

  13. Very nice writeup. I’m really frustrated with the onscreen keyboard and was searching for new information once again. I just cannot type accurately on it…versus my regular iPad onscreen keyboard which I can. Here’s a post I wrote about my issues:

    I’m using the Pro right now…and I’ll not correct spelling in the next sentence.

    As far as html goes aimise the spp slot and just dont find thyoing in html code to ve much ofma problem…grnared mre keystrokes are required…but I dont get all the tyoos I do with the apor keyboard.

    Above Translated…I find entering html via WordPress app easier on the iPad Air versus the Pro…by a significant margin! Please excuse any typos I may have missed :-)

    1. Do you have auto-correct and auto-capitalization turned on when you’re typing on the Pro in the WordPress app? I can’t stand doing the tap 123 and tap #+= to create an HTML tag. When I turn off the those keyboard features, entering HTML is much easier for me.

      Don’t know why your keyboard was set to QWERTZ instead of QWERTY.

      You can configure WordPress to support Markdown input, which makes creating blog posts easier since you don’t have to enter HTML tags. I’m alternating between the two and using 1Writer to compose my drafts before I send them to WordPress.

      1. Thanks for the additional information. I tried every iteration of keyboard settings switches and thought that I’d arrived at what worked best for me. But it turns out your message helped me! I usually keep autocorrection on and Auto capitalization off…but they were both off on the Pro. So turning back on the autocorrection is definitely helping!

        I had to lookup using Markdown input with…I’m still sort of new to all this. You can use it for .com sites now…so I’ll definitely look into learning that. The few html codes I use are just sort of ingrained in me now…but I know what you mean…it is a pain. One thing I’m not sure about is if I enable Markdown can I still use html tags too? or is it one or the other? I keep longer sections of code…like for my comments form in Evernote and just copy and paste it. I use a keyboard shortcut for the code to put my Twitter icon at the top of posts.

      2. I just watched a YouTube video about markdown and ran across this cool plugin to add post it (like) notes to your dashboard editor: I’m a huge Evernote user but this is really awesome! You can even make them different colors.

  14. btw Im interested in the new Air or Pro too…but not if it uses the same Pro keyboard.

    1. Dear Adam and VSAJewel,

      Your post and sample of the lousy typing on the iPad Pro virtual keyboard, Jewel, made an impression on me. Maybe it isn’t just me that thought (comments above) that the iPad Pro keyboard was faulty; it’s a software bug. It’s slow and inaccurate.

      Precisely as I predicted in my comment previously, the new base-model 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a price jump to $599, and although it has a 12 MP camera (who uses an iPad Pro camera?), it’s A9X chip is clocked slower than the “same” A9X chip in the 12-inch Pro, and it has only 2 GB RAM (the 12-incher has 4GB RAM). The 12-inch Pro base model is now only $719 on Amazon; 128 GB storage $825.

      So, I waited for the great announcement, as I mentioned, but now have ordered the jumbo iPad Pro just the same. I pray that the virtual keyboard can keep up with my modest typing speed as I do intend to use it frequently. Please do update if you have any new experiences, VSAJewel. Thanks, Adam, too. Wayne

      1. I still think the 12-inch iPad Pro’s software keyboard is pretty good, but for me, it’s still not going to be as fast as a hardware keyboard. I’m curious to see how my typing speed would be on the smaller iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard. Because the 9.7-inch is so compact, traveling with that and the Smart Keyboard seems like a solution many people will gravitate towards over the 12-inch iPad Pro (with or without an external keyboard).

  15. Glad that the keyboard is working better for you. has some extra support for inline HTML tags (read: I’ve mixed the two together.

  16. george

    Thank you. Can you provide some additional assistance? I’m still trying to find the control, option, command keys. All I see are emoji, numbers/letters, dictation (microphone). Also, where is the esc key? And on the smart keyboard, also no escape key, and of what use is the emoji key?

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