Tag Archives: arrow keys

Arrow Keys

Why No Arrow Keys on the iPhone?

Arrow Keys

Because editing text requires the most precise cursor control of any iPhone function, arrow keys would revolutionise writing on the iPhone with the on-screen keyboard

Being a millimetre or two out when you’re poking your finger at a game sprite is rarely enough to ruin your game. But if you’ve typed wont instead of won’t, and your iPhone hasn’t autocorrected your mistake because wont is a word, sticking the apostrophe in before the W or after the O just won’t work.

iOS4, the current iPhone operating system, relies on a magnifying glass system to place a cursor in text. First, you poke at the portion of the screen where you’d like the cursor to go. Then you wait. It takes a second or so for the magnifying glass to activate, most likely so people won’t accidentally set it off every time they brush their fingers across the screen. These seconds can drag on for years when you have a lot of editing to do and you’re right in the flow of writing.

Finally, the magnifying glass appears, enlarging the text so that you can focus on dragging the cursor where you need it. Usually, the cursor overshoots the area you’re aiming for, and you have to grit your teeth, maintain pressure and drag your finger back, while feeling frustrated at all the time you’re wasting. If you accidentally release pressure, perhaps if you’re on a bus and it hits a bump in the road, the magnifying glass will disappear, and you have to go through it all again.

There’s a simple solution: arrow keys. There’s no wait with arrow keys. Simply press them and the cursor moves immediately, with character-by-character accuracy.

Unfortunately, arrow keys aren’t part of the official iPhone on-screen keyboard. There’s an app called 5-Row QWERTY Keyboard, which adds a top row of number keys to the on-screen keyboard, and a secondary keyboard with arrow keys. But it only works on jailbroken iPhones. There’s no chance of an official arrow key app, according to programmer Brice on Elance.com, when I tried to get one made in July 2010, because such an app would go against the SDK agreement.

If I’m wrong about that, and Apple has changed their minds since then, please let me know!

Until Apple comes to their senses, there is a way to get arrow keys onto your iPhone without jailbreaking your iPhone. Just use a Bluetooth keyboard.

MP-0118+ Bluetooth Keyboard

MP-0118+ Bluetooth Keyboard

MP-0118+ Bluetooth Keyboard

The MP-0118+ folding Bluetooth keyboard

The MP-0118+ Bluetooth Keyboard was my first folding Bluetooth keyboard. It’s the least expensive near full-sized folding Bluetooth keyboard on the market. (If you find a cheaper one, please let me know!)

Usually sold as a generic Bluetooth keyboard (try searching eBay for ‘folding Bluetooth keyboard’) the MP-0118+ comes with a a small driver CD (which you can cheerfully throw away if you only plan on using the keyboard with your iPhone), a neoprene zippered case, one cheap AAA battery with a working life of roughly three hours (a decent battery will last up to a hundred hours) and a slide-out, folding phone stand.

The MP-0118+ weighs 175g (including the case, stand and battery) takes one AAA battery, and folds up small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Unfortunately, it achieves its small size by making compromises with the keyboard layout. There’s no dedicated number and symbol key row. Instead, numbers are incorporated into the top QWERTY row of letter keys, and can be accessed by hitting the Numlock Num key on the bottom row. Symbols and punctuation are incorporated into the top two rows of the keyboard, and can be accessed by hitting the Punct key on the bottom row. The space bar is oddly corrugated, and divided in half by the central hinge.

If you’re accustomed to touch typing, you’ll be spending the first five minutes feeling for the symbol keys and making lots of mistakes. The single and double quotes, and the colon and semicolon keys are in the correct place. But the up arrow key is where the question mark should be. You can only type a question mark by pressing the Punct key and (of all unintuitive keys) the letter F. The full stop (period) key is very close to the back arrow key, and I often find myself hitting it by mistake. Then I have to stop and move the cursor back out of the word I just typed. The H key on my keyboard is very stiff and sometimes requires a couple of presses before it produces a letter.

Looking back on what I’ve just wrote, I can see I’ve got lots of complaints and that’s really unfair to a keyboard that never really set itself up to be anything spectacular. What matters most is that the MP-0118+ is cheap and it works. Not spectacularly, but it’s still a major improvement over the on-screen iPhone keyboard. It has arrow keys, which are something that a writer really cannot do without, and you can touch type.

The MP-0118+ Bluetooth keyboard isn’t a terrific keyboard, but if you want dabble with writing on your iPhone, it’s the least expensive way to begin.