Hands on with the Next Keyboard
When iOS 8 was announced at WWDC ’14, one of its most exciting features was that it gave users the option to install third-party keyboards. Since then we’ve seen a lot of options emerge, including Swype, SwiftKey, Fleksy, and Minuum. Today, after a year in the making, Next Keyboard is joining the ranks.
Next, from Tiny Hearts Studio, offers all the functionality of the standard Apple keyboard, but also introduces some innovative new features. Probably its most useful feature is its quick cursor swipe, which lets you move your cursor by swiping on the spacebar. No more peering through Apple’s little magnifying glass.
“We’re on a mission to make the perfect keyboard for iPhone, and [version one] is just the beginning for us,” says Robleh Jama, founder of Tiny Hearts Studio and co-creator of Next. Jama says Next is already planning updates. The app will soon add swipe typing, as Tiny Hearts works to improve its prediction engine.
Next’s word prediction does better than most other third-party keyboards, although it isn’t as good as SwiftKey’s. Within just a couple of minutes, Next was correctly completing most of my sentences, although it took me about a dozen tries to convince the autocorrect to let me type an Indian friend’s name. The keyboard also has an optional “Show Case” feature, which makes the letter keys change from upper to lower case when you toggle the shift button. This feature is on by default, but I turned it off, because it felt disorienting to have my entire keyboard switch cases as I typed. But I can see how it could make it less confusing to figure out whether your caps lock is on or not.
Those familiar with Slack, the workplace messaging platform that takes over your life, will enjoy Next’s integrated emoji keyboard. Along with suggested words, Next will also suggest emoji as you type. So, for example, if you type “I feel like poo,” Next will automatically suggest that you insert a smiling poop. I spent a good five minutes just trying to guess the names of various emoji, so this feature gets a big thumbs up.
Other features include full-size custom emoji, different sounds for different keys, and the ability to quickly switch between the alphabet and number keyboard. But there’s a catch. Next boasts on its Kickstarter page that “you don’t need to enable ‘full access’ in iOS settings to use Next Keyboard. We’d much rather sell a great product over people’s information.” Technically, Next is right — you don’t have to enable full access to use the keyboard. But none of these last three features will work unless you give Next full access to your phone. Enabling full access is also one of the steps in their setup video, which could easily make users think that they are required to enable full access.
The standard iOS full access agreement has some scary terms — according to the box that pops up, enabling full access “allows the developer to transmit anything you type … including information such as your credit card number” — but many developers whose apps request it say that they are not storing and sharing this data. Giving Next full access does automatically turn on the Share Anonymous Usage Data option. You can turn this off by hitting the little circle button to the left of the spacebar and going to Settings.
Next is already fairly slick at this point in its life, but I came across a couple of bugs while using the early access version. I was unable to change themes even after I enabled full access, and messages consistently defaulted to the Apple keyboard, even when I moved the Next Keyboard to the top of my preferred keyboards list. It’s not clear whether these issues are the fault of Tiny Hearts or Apple itself.
Next was one of Kickstarter’s most funded projects, and, according to Jama, Tiny Hearts Studios plans to spin out the keyboard into a separate company. You can download Next from the iTunes store for $3.99 starting today. In-app purchases for themes, stickers, and GIFs will be available, although for the launch, all in-app add-ons will be free.