We all have a phrase, a number, or another string of text that we type over and over again: a lengthy street address, your office number, or any other common bit of data you wish would simply flow from your fingertips to your touchscreen.
You can save yourself a ton of tapping by creating your own custom keyboard shortcuts for iOS and Android devices.
How does a keyboard shortcut (or “text expansion,” as it’s also called) work? Here’s an example: if you were to type, say, the letters “mpn” (for “my phone number”), your phone or tablet would immediately substitute the phrase or text string of your choice—like “212-555-1212.”
You can get even more creative with keyboard shortcuts if you wish. Boilerplate paragraphs might be a great fit, as well as email signatures, disclaimers, URLs, arcane bits of code…you name it.
Enough of the what and the why of keyboard shortcuts—time for the how.
(Note: These steps work only with the stock Android keyboard. Tap Settings, Language & input, and make sure Google Keyboard is selected under the Keyboard & Input Methods heading.)
Tap Settings, Language & input, then Personal dictionary. Next, tap the language option of your choice.
Tap the + button in the top-right corner of the screen, then type the word or text string that’ll trigger the shortcut. You’re best off picking something other than a common word; for example, “addr” rather than “address.”
In the next line, type in the actual phrase you want to appear when you type the shortcut, such as “1234 Main Street, Anytown USA.” Unfortunately, the phrase is limited to about 50 characters.
Tap the Back button, and you should see your shortcut appear as an entry on the Personal dictionary screen. Tap + to add another shortcut.
Now, let’s test. Compose a new Gmail message and type (for example) “addr” in the body of the message; when you do, you should see your shortcut appear as a text-substitution button just above the keypad.
Bonus tip: Annoyed by Android’s 50-character limit for keyboard shortcuts? There are some third-party Android apps (like Textspansion) that fill the gap, but they’re not nearly as easy to use as Android’s built-in keyboard shortcut feature.
Tap Settings, General, Keyboard, then tap Shortcuts near the bottom of the screen.
You’ll now see a list of all the existing keyboard shortcuts on your iOS device. To add a new one, tap the “+” in the top corner of the screen.
In the “Phrase” field, type the full phrase that you’d like to appear when you tap out a shortcut. The phrase itself can be a short string of numbers or a lengthy block of text; I pasted in a 350-word-plus paragraph without any trouble.
In the “Shortcut” field, tap in the shortcut that’ll trigger the full phrase you just entered; again, try a short string of letters that won’t be easily confused with a common word.
All set? Tap the “Save” button.
Let’s give it a try. Compose a fresh email, type your shortcut, and the phrase you entered should appear as a bubble above the cursor. Tap the space bar, and pop! The phrase will jump into the message, right where your shortcut was.
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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices.
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