iTypography – iOS keyboard tips and apps

A collection of tips to deliver better typography on the iPhone, plus some knowledge-improving apps

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve favoured my laptop to compose a tweet when my iPhone was already to hand, and all because I wanted to use a character or punctuation mark that wasn’t immediately obvious on the standard keyboard. Nerdy? Maybe. But it doesn’t half make me feel better.

This has been my routine for years. I just assumed what you saw is what you got. On the rare occasions I did post tweets or blog comments on my iPhone, I just sat back and cringed. It felt wrong, and I was sure there must be a better way. There is.

The following tips are for the iPhone. They are based on the English (UK) version of the keyboard; many of the same actions can be applied on the iPad.

iPhone keyboard tips

There are numerous hidden characters in the default iOS keyboard. All you need to do is find them. If you want to discover them for yourself, simply press and hold a character to see if there are any alternatives. Start by trying all the vowels. The screenshot below shows the options hidden behind the letter ‘o’.

iPhone keyboard showing letter o glyphs
iPhone keyboard showing letter o glyphs

You can access most of the characters you’re likely to need using the press-and-hold technique. Below are the ones I find most useful. Bear in mind that context is important; if you’re composing an email and focused on the ‘To:’ field, for instance, access to alternative characters is restricted.

Ellipsis

Press and hold the full stop key to access the ellipsis (…).

Smart quotes

Press and hold the apostrophe (’) to access left and right single smart apostrophes (‘ ’), the straight apostrophe (') and the backtick (`).

The double apostrophe gives you access to double left and right smart quotes, double straight apostrophe ("), left and right guillemets (« »), and the baseline, left-facing German quotation mark („).

Dashes

Press and hold the hyphen (-) to access the en dash (–) and em dash (—). You’ll also find the bullet (•) character secreted here.

Currency

The default keyboard offers the pound sign (£); press and hold to access the dollar ($), cents (¢), euro (€) and yen (¥).

Section

Press and hold the ampersand to reveal the § character.

Diacritical marks, accents

Press and hold the English character that takes the glyph you’re looking for. The screenshot above shows the glyphs available when you press and hold the letter ‘o’; below, the screenshot for the letter ‘a’.

Letter a glyphs
Letter a glyphs

As far as I’m aware, switching on the Emoji keyboard (Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboards > New Keyboard) is the quickest way to deploy the copyright (©), registered trademark (®) and trademark (™) characters directly from the keyboard. Still, it’s a bit of a pfaff. I prefer to use keyboard shortcuts (Settings > General > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts). For example, my shortcut for © is ‘cpy’.

Top-level domains

This has nothing to do with typography, but it’s worth knowing. Tap and hold the ‘dot’ – bottom row to the left of the ‘return’ key when focused on a URL or email field to access the most popular TLDs: .com, .net, .co.uk, .org, etc.

These are just a few examples to get you started; bear in mind that this is also a personal edit, as these are the ones I use most often. If you think I’ve missed something, please feel free to let me know in comments or on Twitter.

Typography apps

There is a growing number of apps aimed at improving knowledge and broadening access to good typography on iOS. Again, this is a personal edit, but I’m always open to suggestions…

FontBook

A typographic reference tool with access to the libraries of over 130 type foundries; that’s around 37,000 typefaces. The app allows you to search and navigate your way through this extensive collection, which is just as well.

The Font Game

A typeface-identifying game from I Love Typography – includes The Terminology Game, where you can pick the correct term for a variety of visual definitions. A place in the hall of fame awaits, possibly.

Kern

Described as ‘kerning letter pairs with the pacing of Tetris’. Drop in the missing letter and fine-tune the spacing to within a hair’s breadth of the developer-set optimum. Frustratingly addictive. So close, yet so far…

The Typography Manual

‘Are you a graphic designer? Do you know the difference between a font and a typeface? Do your eyes light up when conversations turn to ems, kerning, and baseline grids?’ I haven’t tried this one yet, but it sounds intriguing.

WhatTheFont

Take a picture of some type and let WhatTheFont identify it for you. When it works, it’s great. But it doesn’t always work. Think about it, there’s only so much an app can be expected to do. Hold your camera even slightly askew and you’re going to throw WTF right off the scent. Still fun, though, and occasionally useful.

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