Saturday, March 15, 2014

iOS keyboard shortcuts: leveraging repeated letters

iOS keyboard shortcuts, such as iOS 5's default example of "omw", which can expand to "On my way!", provide an option to save typing. They are however, only useful if you can get used to using them often enough to make the step of creating them worthwhile.

I do a fair amount of typing on my iPod (drafting blog entries like this one, among other things), and am generally interested in making that faster and more efficient. I frequently am only able to use a single thumb or a single finger on my iPod to type, which increases the value of keyboard shortcuts to me.

For some "extreme" keyboard shortcuts, I took a cue from Apple's time-saving option of converting two spaces into a period and a space (Settings > General > Keyboard > "." shortcut*). You can be more efficient any time you can tap a key twice and get the option of an alternate result which is more useful than the double characters actually typed. For instance, when I type "ff", a keyboard shortcut of mine, I can choose to get "from", which I use far more frequently than I need "ff" at the beginning of a word. The space bar being the largest key, it's typically easiest to tap, and is a fine activator of keyboard shortcut expansions, provided that you want to insert a space after the expansion (and usually continue writing more text). It is typically not necessary to use the space bar to get the expansion; you can usually tap near the offered expansion to get it. I've also observed that, in certain situations, expansions of keyboard shortcuts are not offered, sometimes clearly correctly, but other times less so.

I use many of the double letter possibilities for keyboard shortcuts. I skipped doubles that had a pre-existing use which was important to me and therefore should not be replaced, e.g.:
  • "mm" for millimeters
  • "cc" for carbon copy / cubic centimeters
  • "ee" which prompts to see if you really meant to type "we"

For one particular sentence I use very often, I'm even using both "fff" and "ffff" as keyboard shortcuts. I try to tap f three times only, but If I inadvertently tap an extra f, the quadruple f accommodates my true intentions.

Since many words/phrases in Chinese (and their associated Pinyin spellings) or in French come easily to my mind, I sometimes leveraged personalized "codes" for them. Having multiple languages from which to draw such codes makes it easier to come up with a practical variety of doubled letter keyboard shortcuts for things, given that there are but 26 letters in the alphabet. Farther below are some of my shortcuts, which may provide ideas for anyone seeking to do something similar. I would change the expansion for any of them if I found a more useful one.

I'm usually typing general prose. If you regularly type specialized or technical prose (e.g., part numbers!), keyboard shortcuts similar to what I describe here may not work well for you. Owing to how often they are needed, prepositions are frequently useful keyboard shortcut expansion candidates. Some paired characters such as "()" are also useful to me.

A sample of my keyboard shortcuts which are, or are based on, letter tuples (repeated letters):

  • aa: after. I accept a little inconvenience when typing AA for batteries or American Airlines.
  • bb: before.
  • ff: from.
  • gg: change. From the Chinese 改變 gǎibiàn. As mentioned above, I didn't want to make "cc" a keyboard shortcut even though "change" starts with the letter c. For verbs, I often find it very useful to append the letter d for the past tense, the letter g for the -ing form, and the letter s for third person singular verb present tense conjugation OR noun plural. I use ggd, ggg, and ggs for changed, changing, and changes, respectively.
  • ii: iOS. I type iOS often, and want to bypass the occasionally offered "ups" correction which is seemingly built into iOS, or at least iOS 5.
  • jj: just.
  • nn: agaiN.
  • oo: only.
  • qq: when. From the French quand.
  • tt: (). From the French parenThèses, which has a t sound for the th; I'm using pp for something else.
  • uu: you.
  • ww: with. I also use the natural "wo" keyboard shortcut for "without".
  • xx: rest. From the Chinese verb 休息 xiūxi, although it is both noun/verb in English. believe; from the Chinese verb 相信 xiāngxìn.
  • zz: sleep. Even if three or more z's might be more common usage having an informal association with sleep.

For my usage, these tuple keyboard shortcuts can't be separated from non-tuples. That is, I have keyboard shortcuts whose expansions are somehow related to each other, but some of them are tuples and some are not (like "ww" and "wo" above). I have many more keyboard shortcuts based on non-tuples. Examples include:
  • amt: amount.
  • wx: I think. First two letters of wǒ xiǎng Pinyin syllables for an equivalent 我想 Chinese expression.
  • ya: there is. y a is short for il y a in French, which means "there is/are".

In iOS 5, there is inadequate protection against mapping the same shortcut twice. You can avoid doing that by first checking to see if you already have a keyboard shortcut with the name you are seeking to save (which might be new, or a [potentially dangerous] renaming of an existing one). If the expansion phrases differ, the last one assigned apparently trumps the other. If the expansion phrases are the same, your ability to access Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts probably broke, and you will may need to restore your device from a backup to regain that, though existing keyboard shortcuts likely still work. On one occasion, after deleting an unintentionally duplicated keyboard shortcut (deleting one removed them both; they were adjacent to each other in the list) and experiencing the just-described breakage (keyboard shortcuts still worked), I ejected all apps from RAM, powered off and on my iPod, and was again able to access Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts. Those are my recollections (probably reasonably accurate) of my own troublesome experiences; I did not test to verify them for this blog entry.
6/17/14: The unexpected duplication occurs if you have an extant Phrase without a keyboard shortcut, then edit it to make a keyboard shortcut. Delete it and recreate it to avoid the problem (which, as I described, is still fixable). I consider this an iOS 5 bug.

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