Tips for Finger-Typing on the iPad mini Virtual Keyboards

By Edward C. Baig, Bob LeVitus

The virtual keyboards in Apple’s multitouch interface just might be considered a stroke of genius. Or they just might drive you nuts. If you’re patient and trusting, in a week or so, you’ll get the hang of finger-typing — which is vital to moving forward, of course, because you rely on a virtual keyboard to tap a text field, enter notes, type the names of new contacts, and so on.

Apple has built intelligence into its virtual keyboard, so it can correct typing mistakes on the fly or provide helpful word choices by predicting what you’re about to type next. The keyboard isn’t exactly Nostradamus, but it does an excellent job of coming up with the words you have in mind. Tapping one of the predictive buttons appears to speed things up as well as bolster typing accuracy.

As you start typing on the virtual keyboard, you’ll find the following additional tips helpful:

  • See what letter you’re typing. As you press your finger against a letter or number on the screen, the individual key you press darkens until you lift your finger. That way, you know that you struck the correct letter or number.

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  • Slide to the correct letter if you tap the wrong one. No need to worry if you touched the wrong key. You can slide your finger to the correct key because the letter isn’t recorded until you release your finger.

  • Tap and hold down to access special accent marks, alternative punctuation, or URL endings. Sending a message to an overseas pal? Keep your finger pressed against a letter, and a row of keys showing variations on the character for foreign alphabets pops up. This row lets you add the appropriate accent mark. Just slide your finger until you’re pressing the key with the relevant accent mark and then lift your finger.

    Meanwhile, if you press and hold down the .? key in Safari, it offers you the choice of .us, .org, .edu, .com, or .net with additional options if you also use international keyboards. Pretty slick stuff, except you might miss the dedicated .com key that was on the keyboard prior to iOS 7. You can bring the key back by holding down the period key and then releasing your finger when .com is highlighted.

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  • Tap the space bar to accept a suggested word, or tap the suggested word to decline the suggestion. Alas, mistakes are common at first. Say that you meant to type a sentence in the Notes app that reads, “I am typing an important . . .” But because of the way your fingers struck the virtual keys, you actually entered “I am typing an importsnt . . .

    Fortunately, Apple knows that the a you meant to press is next to the s that showed up on the keyboard, just as t and y and e and r are side by side. So the software determines that important was indeed the word you had in mind and places it front and center among the three predictive text buttons.

    You’ll note that the suspect word is highlighted. To accept the suggested word, merely tap the space bar. And if for some reason you actually did mean to type importsnt, tap that word instead among the predictive buttons that appear.

    If you don’t appreciate these features, you can turn off Auto-Correction and Predictive in Settings.

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Because Apple knows what you’re up to, the virtual keyboard is fine-tuned for the task at hand, especially when you need to enter numbers, punctuation, or symbols. The following tips help you find common special characters or special keys that you’ll want to use:

  • Putting the @ in an email address: If you’re composing an email message, a dedicated @ key pops up on the main Mail keyboard when you’re in the To field choosing whom to send a message to. That key disappears from the first view when you tap the body of the message to compose your words. You can still get to the @ by tapping the .?123 (or 123) key.

  • Switching from letters to numbers: When you’re typing notes or sending email and want to type a number, symbol, or punctuation mark, tap the .?123 (or 123) key to bring up an alternative virtual keyboard. Tap the ABC key to return to the first keyboard. This toggle isn’t hard to get used to, but some may find it irritating.

  • Adding apostrophes and other punctuation shortcuts: If you press and hold down the exclamation mark/comma key, a pop-up offers the apostrophe. If you press and hold down the question mark/period key, you’ll see the option to type quotation marks.

The mini, unlike some tablets from the past (and a few in the present), eschews a pen or stylus. But sometimes you might want to call upon a digital pen, and third-party companies fill the bill. For example, Wacom sells various Bamboo Stylus models, starting around $15. It’s a potentially useful tool for those with too broad, oily, or greasy fingers, or those who sketch, draw, or jot notes. You can find lower-priced styluses as well.