Mac OS Sierra iOS-Style Keyboard Settings / by Erin Wade

On a whim the other day I took a moment to dig into the keyboard settings on my iMac, which I recently upgraded to Sierra. What I was curious to see was whether there might be any way to get parity in the typing behavior between iOS and MacOS.

On any iOS device there are two features to typing, setup by default, to which I have become very accustomed:

  • Double-tapping the space bar generates a period; and
  • Auto-capitalization at the beginning of each sentence.

I was surprised and delighted to find that these are now features that can now be turned on in the keyboard settings in MacOS:

iOS-style settings

Why is this important?

These features started with the iPhone, and appear to have been put in place to make typing faster on the iPhone's virtual keyboard, which for space reasons buries the period in the second-layer. Still, it was continued on the iPad when that device was released, despite the period being at the first layer. I've been working - writing - on iPads since 2010 and, as a result, my habits on the virtual keyboard have grown to expect this behavior.

Although I can do - and do - the majority of my work on iOS devices - primarily my iPad Pro - there remain a handful of activities that I must log in to my iMac to complete and, because I'm frequently away from the office, this is often done remotely from my iPad. Although I am not doing long-form writing over the remote connection, I do periodically have to write notes or short passages during this process. Inevitably, because I'm working from my iPad, this results in errors in which I am forgetting to capitalize and/or forgetting to punctuate. (These notes are for my own reference and consumption, typically, so if I were another person I could consider just leaving them as they are... if I were another person). With this new setting in Sierra that issue is no longer a problem.

In fact, it works so well that, for fun I've begun taking to simply using the iPad Pro as the keyboard for my iMac on occasion. I do this sitting right in front of the iMac at my desk, using a neat bit of software called TouchPad. I originally purchased TouchPad to allow me to work at servers - machines where there is no external keyboard connected - from my iPad. However, it works quite nicely in this application as well, such that I could easily envision a future in which even desktops and laptops simply have a virtual keyboard and trackpad attached to them. And I'm not the only one:


Virtual Keyboard?

However, for my purposes, having the iPad Pro set up as a keyboard at my desktop is a benefit because I am more comfortable doing most things on the iPad. When I am sitting at my desktop machine it is typically because there is some specific activity that I have to use it for, but I may need to reference other things. For example, I may be doing bookkeeping on the desktop, but need to reference receipts or similar documentation in Dropbox. I can obviously pull these up in Dropbox on my desktop screen, but I'm often more comfortable - and quicker - with Dropbox on my iPad. With the iPad Pro set up in split-screen I can quickly reference materials in Dropbox and then switch back to TouchPad - by tapping on it on the other side of the split screen - to enter that information on the iMac.

TouchPad on iPad Pro

The top part of TouchPad you see in the picture is a virtual trackpad - the app covers both duties, so one can sit at a desktop or laptop machine with no other input devices, And simply work from an iPad. Or an iPhone, if one were so inclined. It's also very handy if you have a computer set up as a media server (e.g. providing audio or video to your television), where it may be inconvenient or unattractive to have a physical keyboard and mouse attached.

Way of the future? I'm not sure about that. People still grouse about typing on glass. Still, for each one of those folks there is an entire following generation that is becoming more and comfortable with virtual keyboards...

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