5 essential tips for gesture typing in Android or iOS

Once you get good at it, typing with a swipe can feel much easier and faster than tapping.

5 gotta-know tips for getting started with gesture typing
Credit: Ben Patterson

Typing with a swipe? Sounds intimidating, I know—and yes, it certainly takes some getting used-to. But if you give swiping your Android or iOS keyboard a serious try, there’s a good chance you’ll never go back to tapping.

Android users have been able to swipe to type for a few years now. Thanks to iOS’s (relatively) new support for third-party keyboards, iPhone and iPad users can finally type with a swipe, too.

Setting up a swipe-to-type (or “gesture”) keypad on your handset takes only a few minutes. Getting the hang of typing with a swipe takes somewhat longer, no question about it.

But once you’re comfortable with swiping from one letter key to the next, I think you’ll find that composing text messages, email, and just about any other document on your touchscreen handset feels 10 times easier—and depending how good you get, maybe even 10 times faster.

Read on for 5 gotta-know ways to get started with gesture typing, starting with...

Try loops instead of zigzags

Once you’ve installed a gesture-friendly keypad on your Android or iOS and you’ve started swiping the keys, your first inclination may be to zig and zag from one key to another. That’ll work, but all the stops and starts will slow you down, and you might begin to wonder if swiping is actually saving you time versus plain-old tapping.

Try loops instead of zigzags Ben Patterson

Instead of zigzagging back and forth between keys, try tracing your words with smooth, looping gestures.

Instead of zigzagging back and forth between keys, try tracing your words with smooth, looping gestures. When I’ve got a good gesture-typing rhythm going, my fingertip will start doing graceful figure eights around the keyboard, rarely pausing as it glides from key to key.

Be patient

If you’re a novice gesture typist, don’t be surprised if your muscle memory fails you when it comes to swiping your first words. Indeed, that’s why beginning swipe-to-typers often resort to zigs and zags, with long pauses as they search the keypad for the next key.

Don’t panic. With practice, your fingertips will remember the standard QWERTY layout (or DVORAK, or your layout of choice), and you’ll again be zipping from one key to another without having to think about it. Just hang in there.

Don’t hit the space bar between words

Here’s another easy mistake that beginning gesture typists commit: stopping between words to tap the spacebar. Don’t do it.

Don’t hit the space bar between words Ben Patterson

The only time you should be touching the space bar while gesture typing should be when you’re double-tapping it for a period.

Instead, as soon as you’ve traced a word and lifted your fingertip from the screen, go ahead and starting swiping the next word. Any gesture keypad worth its salt will automatically add a space between the words you’ve typed, saving you the trouble of an extra tap.

Indeed, the only time you should be touching the spacebar should be when you’re double-tapping it for a period.

Tap a wrong word to change it

Even when you're swiping and looping with ease, you may occasionally look back and find an auto-corrected word that’s woefully out of context. Luckily, there’s no need to hit the backspace button and retrace your words.

Tap a wrong word to change it Ben Patterson

Just tap the wrong word and tap one of the suggested words displayed along the top of the keyboard.

Instead, just tap the wrong word and tap one of the suggested words displayed along the top of the keyboard. When you do, the word you picked will smoothly take the place of the wrong word.

Don’t see the word you want in the suggestions displayed along the top of the keypad? If not, just double-tap the word to select it, then swipe in a new word.

Disable all your other keyboards [iOS only]

Count me among the many who were thrilled when Apple finally followed Google’s lead and allowed users to install third-party keyboards on their iPhones and iPads. Specifically, I was champing at the bit to try gesture typing—at last!—on my iOS devices.

Unfortunately, iOS’s implementation of third-party keyboards is less than perfect. One of the downsides, strangely enough, is that it’s a bit too easy to switch from one keyboard another. All you have to do is tap the little globe key that’s sitting (typically) in the bottom-left corner of the keypad—and boy, if I had a dollar for every time I hit that key by accident...

Disable all your other keyboards Ben Patterson

With only one keyboard enabled on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll save yourself the trouble of switching keypads by mistake. 

Also, iOS has a nasty habit of forgetting which keyboard you last selected. Even if, for example, you were using Swype while replying to some Mail messages, there’s a decent chance that the standard iOS keypad will appear the next time you need to type. Ugh.

The solution, I’ve found, is to disable all your keyboards—including the iOS keypad—save for the one you want to use.

As you’re doing so, it might look like you’re deleting your old keyboards rather than merely disabling them, but rest assured: all your installed third-party keypads are safe until you manually delete their apps. And relax, you can’t delete the main iOS keypad, no matter how hard you try.

Here’s what you do: Tap Settings > General > Keyboards, tap Keyboards again, tap the Edit button in the top corner of the screen, then go through and delete (by tapping one of the red circles followed by the Delete button) every keyboard except the one you want to use, including the main iOS keypad.

If you ever have a change of heart, just go back to the Keyboards screen, tap Add New Keyboard, then tap a third-party or “other” iOS keyboard that you want to re-enable.

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