In my December 2014 preview of Next Keyboard I wrote the app had the potential to become “the first iOS keyboard done right”.
What started out as the most funded app project on Kickstarter by Toronto-based award-winning studio Tiny Hearts Apps has become a reality.
I’m pleased to report that Next Keyboard is now available for download in the App Store.
Rather than mindlessly pile features one on top of the other like many other developers do, Next enables efficient typing in a stylish environment that’s easy on the eyes, without distracting you from the task at hand.
It’s got everything you’ve come to expect from a software keyboard, including predictive typing, lightning fast editing, playful stickers and colorful themes, instant access to all the emojis you love, including stickers, and much more.
I’ve spent some quality hands-on time with Next Keyboard, here’s what I found.
“With a little help from Kickstarter and over 7,000 iPhone lovers, we’ve built Next, a keyboard made by iPhone lovers for iPhone lovers,” said developers.
Quick Cursor Swipe
Next Keyboard speeds up your typing with Quick Cursor Swipe, a feature we’re increasingly seeing in third-party iOS keyboards. Just hold and drag your finger across the Spacebar key to precisely position the cursor.
Super easy and efficient, no?
As you’re doing this, the app presents an enlarged view of what you’ve typed so far so it’s even easier to make quick edits and fix those misspellings.
Next Keyboard makes good use of gestures and employs some smart design choices to make prolonged typing as comfortable as possible. For starters, the clean layout is easy on the eyes, with clear Shift key graphics for on/off states (I’m looking at you, Apple!).
You can long-tapp the period button next to the Spacebar key for quick access to the commonly used punctuation marks, which is really handy. I’m especially glad that gestures are not overused: they implemented gesture typing only when it makes sense. For instance, you can swipe the Backspace key to delete whole words, which feels very natural.
As for Next’s prediction and auto-correct engines, I’m pleased to report that they work as quickly and efficiently as SwiftKey’s. Small wonder, as most of developers’ time was spent on perfecting predictive typing.
The more you use Next, the more it should learn from your typing to suggest the words you use most. In many respects, the quality of typing on Next Keyboard is close to the experience provided by Apple’s stock QuickType keyboard.
Augmenting these features is subtle auditory feedback that creates a satisfactory effect as you’re pecking away on the keyboard. To get a better sense what Next Keyboard can and cannot do for you, check out a promotional video embedded below.
If you don’t see the video, watch it on YouTube.
Next Keyboard elevates the experience with one-tap access to emojis that are easier to scroll and suggested emojis as you type. For instance, try typing words like “sad”, “cry” or “smile” and see what happens.
If you want to replace a word with its corresponding emoji, just tap it. All told, Next includes over 1,400 emojis and integrates some playful stickers, such as tacos, dinosaurs and even an oversized poop.
Emojis are accessed via a dedicated key, which reveals a scrollable panel of available characters that are grouped into categories, similar to Apple’s keyboard (yes, country flags are included). The emoji picker additionally provides quick access to stickers, of which there are sixty included in the initial release.
I especially like Next’s huge emoji stickers for those moments when you really want to put a strong emphasis on your feelings.
The shell app for Next provides nicely animated tutorials to get you up to speed and includes a built-in themes and stickers store and several options depicted on the screenshot below.
Tapping the keyboard’s dedicated key left to Spacebar lets you switch to another system keyboard or you can choose to change various settings on the fly, which actually cancels the need to switch between Next and its shell app to customize it to your liking.
For instance, you can disable typing sounds, reset your dictionary, turn auto-correction and suggested emojis on and off, enable or disable several features related to punctuation handling and more, all without leaving the keyboard.
As is the norm these days, Next Keyboard supports themes for customizing the look and feel of typing. I cannot tell you how much I loathe graphics-rich themes so I’m extremely glad that themes in Next are lightweight and crisp, yet colorful.
The default dark keyboard shown top of post is my absolute favorite, but Next offers a range of colorful looks, ranging from blue and green to orange and more, so everyone should be able to find one to suit their personal tastes.
My only wish is the ability to cycle through available looks with a simple flick of my finger on the keyboard as it’s tiring to open the shell app just to dress up my keyboard in another theme. By the way, the built-in store found within the shell app will offer additional stickers and themes, both paid and free, at a later stage.
It isn’t perfect
I was overly impressed with Next Keyboard.
The app works surprisingly well and feels like a combination of Apple’s stock QuickType keyboard and SwiftKey. It isn’t perfect though.
For instance, the app sometimes stutter a bit when typing, which I’m told will be fixed in a future update along with “the next phase of our prediction engine and swipe typing.”
Speaking of the future, developers are planning to spin out Next as its own company, with the mission of “taking a stab at an AI-enabled future that will make it easier to connect with others and the world around us.”
Back to my quibbles.
I dislike that Next adds a space after a word if I use the quick cursor feature to go back and correct a typo. Also important, Next Keyboard is English-only initially and unsupported on iPads. Thankfully, future updates will add more languages and support for the iPad.
Wrapping it up
As far as comfortable typing and minimalist looks go, the initial version of Next is killing it.
The keyboard is functional, customizable and distinguishable from others in the App Store. As a cool bonus, I’m particularly pleased that Next doesn’t overwhelm me with a bevy of features I don’t need.
The app is focused and lightweight, like software keyboards should be. Above all, Next Keyboard makes me type more efficiently than before and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
While four bucks may be a bit steep price for a software keyboard, consider that Next Keyboard offers the full set of features that other keyboards typically lock behind dreaded In-App Purchases. And to sweetening the deal just a little bit more, all fourteen themes and a total of sixty sticker are provided at no charge to celebrate the launch.
Oh, and Next doesn’t need full access to let you enjoy everything it offers. Privacy freaks needn’t be concerned about Next logging their keystrokes on remote servers—the app doesn’t collect your personal data.
In addition to Next Keyboard, Tiny Hearts Apps has been putting out some pretty impressive software for the iOS platform, including such apps as Wake Alarm (one of the best alarm clocks in the App Store) and Quick Fit (featured in an Apple ad).
Go ahead and check them out!
Next Keyboard is a collaborative effort between Tiny Hearts (Robleh Jama, Rob Chia, Quadri Oshibotu, Gabe Rozenberg and Corey Pollock) and Nermin Moufti and Marco Patricio who helped with branding and sound design.
Next Keyboard highlights
You’ll enjoy the following features of Next Keyboard:
- Next Word Predictions and Autocorrect—Type less, say more. We predict what you’re trying to say before you say it. You could almost say our keyboard is reading your mind.
- Quick Cursor for fast editing—Say goodbye to fumbling around to move the cursor. Now you can simply swipe across the spacebar and your cursor appears exactly where you want it.
- 1400 Emojis—By the time you find the right emoji, you could have just typed how you feel. So we’ll suggest it for you as you type so it’s only one tap away.
- Beautiful Themes—You want a keyboard that looks and feels as unique as you are. So let’s get you out of those greys and into some color.
- Playful Stickers—Can’t express yourself with text? We’ve got you covered with custom designed playful stickers. Let the stickers do the talking for you.
As mentioned, future updates will enable even faster typing experience while adding iPad support, more languages and so forth.
Next Keyboard, a 47.1-megabyte download, is compatible with any iPhone and iPod touch with iOS 8.1 or later and fully optimized for the iPhone 5/5s/5c, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens.