Text Editing on iOS 9

General iOS 9 Text Editing

Editing and creating text on iOS 9 is a common task that many users will do, particularly with the iPad. iOS 9 provides a number of features that support text editing. This post details many of these features and how to effectively use them.

Apps for Text Editing

There are so many apps for text editing and creation in the App Store that it is overwhelming. This post doesn’t discuss specific apps, but focuses instead on the support for text editing iOS 9 provides. If you are looking for a specific app for text editing or creation, check out this exhaustive list of iOS text editors provided by Brett Terpstra. In a later post, I’ll comment on some text editors I have used.

iOS Text Editing Features

Text Replacement

Text Replacement allows you to type a set of characters and have them automatically expanded into a word or phrase. For example, you can set up a Text Replacement shortcut to expand “eml” to your email address. Text replacement can improve your typing speed and accuracy if used judiciously.

Although there are specific apps, like TextExpander, that do this very well with lots of options, they are not universal—they must be specifically supported by the app you are using.

iOS 9 has a built-in text replacement capability and I have found it useful for specific things. It is enabled or disabled under Settings>General>Keyboard>Text Replacement. You can add text replacement shortcuts by tapping the “+” button. The Shortcut is the set of characters you want expanded, the Phrase is the word or words you want it expanded to. Be careful with the Shortcut—it will be expanded any time you type it, so it should be something is not part of normal spelling. For example, if you make a shortcut “email” to expand to your email address (the Phrase), then you can no longer type the word “email” because it will always be expanded to your email address. One method to avoid this is to use a leader character in front of your mnemonic shortcut. The letter “x” is good for this since few words start with “x”. Personally, I use “;”. However, if you are using the on-screen keyboard that is not a good choice since the semicolon is not available on the main keyboard screen.

Use Text Replacement shortcuts for phrases that are difficult to type, or that are long, and that are frequent in the text you are working on. You can add and delete shortcuts easily, so try them out and see how they work for you.

When writing fiction, for example, I normally set up text replacement shortcuts for character names. For example, I can define “;t” to expand to “Terry Brown”. The right shortcuts save a lot of typing and also a lot of typing errors.

I have found iOS text replacement to be mostly reliable, but it does stop working now and then and shortcuts are simply ignored. This happens across applications, so I think it is an Apple problem. Usually it occurs when I have moved the cursor to a location that is not at the end of the existing text and suddenly, for no clear reason, text replacement stops working. After a while, usually after moving the cursor again, everything returns to normal.

It is also true that text replacement does not work in every case where you can enter text. For example, some dialog boxes do not support it. However, I have not found a text editor that does not support iOS text replacement.


In Settings>General>Keyboard there is a setting called “Auto-Capitalization”. If this setting is on, then the first word of every sentence is automatically capitalized. Although useful, this becomes a problem if you don’t want the first word capitalized. This can occur if you are a creative writer doing strange things with character formatting. The other common problem is if you want to start a sentence with iPad, formatted properly, that is, with a lowercase “i” and uppercase “P”. Autocapitalization will change this to “IPad”. To work around this issue, type the first letter of the sentence twice. The first letter typed will be autocapitalized. Type the second letter with the case you desire. So, for “the” (all lower case) at the beginning of a sentence, type “Tthe” then delete the capital “T”. This is tedious, but you probably don’t have to do it very often. If you do, for a particular document, for instance, then turn off auto-capitalization in the settings while working on that document.


Auto-Correction is both the savior and the bane of the iPad typist. At its best, it saves a lot of time and corrects typos and common misspellings. At its worst, it is frustrating and seems designed to make it impossible to type what you want. Toggle Auto-Correction on and off using Settings>General>Keyboard.

When Auto-Correction is enabled any unrecognized or misspelled word is subject to Auto-Correction. The suggested correction appears in a popup button with an “x” to the right of the suggestion. If you type a space or a punctuation mark (anything that is interpreted as terminating the word), the correction is accepted and what you typed is changed. To dismiss the Auto-Correction and keep your typing, touch anywhere on the popup button (you don’t have to hit the “x”) and your typing will be left as is. Alternatively, you can backspace one character and this will also dismiss the Auto-Correction and turn off Auto-Correction while you type the rest of that word. If you use an external keyboard, sometimes this is a faster method than reaching up to touch the screen.

This backspace feature is both a blessing and a curse. If, like me, you recognize that you made a typo and automatically backspace to correct, you don’t get the advantage of having Auto-Correction fix your typing error. You have to retrain yourself to trust that Auto-Correction will generally catch your typos and not correct them yourself. You must pay close attention when Auto-Correction changes something to be sure the change is acceptable.

Here are a few of the other dangers of Auto-Correction and how to work around them:

Capitalized Words

Generally, Auto-Correction doesn’t modify capitalized words, or words that contain capital letters or numbers. So, for example, proper names are not autocorrected, they just get flagged as misspelled if they are uncommon ones.

The Auto-Capitalization setting adds a complication to this. Auto-Capitalization tries to be too smart. Since the first word of a sentence is always capitalized, it decides not to treat the first word of a sentence as a capitalized word and therefore to subjects it to Auto-Correction.

Delayed Auto-Correction

Sometimes Auto-Correction looks back a few words and makes grammatical corrections. For example, I typed “like those along the canal”, but mistyped “those” and it was autocorrected to “this”. However, when I continued typing the words “along the” “this” was autocorrected a second time to the correct “those”. Be careful that these types of changes do not alter your stylistic choices. As Auto-Correction gets better and more intelligent, the danger is that it may alter your writing style and result in common and bland phraseology. Auto-Correction should be considered a tool like a grammar checker (After the Deadline is a good example). These tools are good at pointing out issues that may be problems, but each suggestion should be evaluated carefully before acceptance.

Uncorrected Words

When Auto-Correction has no suggestion for a word, the word is marked with a dashed red underline. If you tap on one of these highlighted words a suggestion bubble may pop up and you can select from the suggested changes. For example, try typing “thexe”. Auto-Correction probably won’t change this, but will flag it as a misspelling. Tapping on it, however, will give you three suggestions: “these”, “theme”, and “there”. Tap the one you want to change the word. One of my common typos is to miss the space bar and run words together. Often Auto-Correction catches these at the time of typing, but only when the two words are simple. More complex words, like “categorizingparticiples” get flagged as misspellings. But when you tap on the word, Auto-Correction recognizes it as the two-word phrase “categorizing participles" and offers that as a suggestion.

The Keyboard Dictionary

Auto-Correction maintains a dynamic dictionary of words that are not in the system dictionary. It adds words to this dictionary based on your rejection of suggested corrections. For example, if you type “shimply”, Auto-Correction will suggest “simply” as a correction. If you dismiss the correction, then Auto-Correction may add “shimply” to the Keyboard Dictionary. It doesn’t necessarily happen on the first dismissal, but will happen eventually. The word may also begin to appear as a suggested word when you have typed part of it. If you find that you have words in the Keyboard Dictionary that you don’t want there, you can reset the Keyboard Dictionary using Settings>Reset>Reset Keyboard Dictionary. You can only reset the entire dictionary, not individual entries.

You can also add words to the Keyboard Dictionary so that they are not flagged as misspellings, nor Auto-Corrected.

First, you can use Text Replacement. Go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Text Replacement. Add your word or name as a phrase, but leave the shortcut field blank. Now when you type the word it will not be autocorrected.

The second method involves a clever trick using the Contacts app. Names that are present in the Contacts app are not autocorrected. Instead they are treated as if they were in the Keyboard Dictionary. You can add a Contact entry (others have suggested using the last name field of ZZZ for this Contact so that it sorts to the bottom of the Contacts list and is less noticeable. Then, add your new words, using commas to separate them, in the First Name, Last Name (just append to the ZZZ) or Company fields. Using this method has the advantage of allowing you to reset the Keyboard Dictionary without losing all of your special words.

Predictive Text

Predictive Text is a feature enabled or disabled using Settings>General>Keyboard>Predictive. If Predictive Text is enabled, then, as you type, words are suggested for you. These words are presented in the extra keyboard row above the normal on-screen keyboard. If you are using an external keyboard, the same display is at the bottom of the screen. At any time, you can select a word presented by tapping on it.

I only find Predictive Text useful on my iPhone. On the iPhone, typing is a pain for me and I take advantage of Predictive Text to increase speed and accuracy. However, on the iPad, even with the on-screen keyboard I find the words presented to be distracting and having to think about whether one of them is correct slows me down.

Moving the Cursor and Selecting Text

External Keyboard

If you have an external keyboard, then moving the cursor and selecting text is easy and accurate by using the arrow keys to move the cursor. If you hold the shift key while using the arrow keys, you will select text.

One of the largest limitations I find with this method is that iOS offers no customization for keyboard repeat rate. The keyboard repeat rate is slow by default and cannot be changed. This results in slow cursor movement if you rely only on the arrow keys.

To speed things up, use the following shortcuts:

⌘← and ⌘→—move cursor to start/end of line.

⌘↑ and ⌘↓—move cursor to start/end of document.

⌥ ← and ⌥→—move cursor to previous/next word.

⌥↑ and ⌥↓—move cursor to previous/next paragraph.

For all keyboard cursor movements, if Shift is held down while moving, text is selected.

Touch Screen

With or without an external keyboard you can move the cursor accurately by touching and holding a single finger in the editing space. In a moment, a zoom circle will appear showing you the cursor and surrounding characters. Drag your finger and the cursor and the zoom circle will move along with it and, because of the zoom, you can place the cursor precisely.

iOS 9 provides an additional method for moving the cursor. If you have the on-screen keyboard showing, place two fingers down on the keyboard. The keyboard will gray out the keys and when you move your fingers, the on-screen keyboard turns into a trackpad and the cursor moves with your fingers. This method may also be used to select text. Simply hold two fingers still for a moment until the cursor flashes. You are now in text selection mode and you can select text from the starting point in any direction by simply dragging your fingers.

Although this two-finger mode works (sometimes) with an external keyboard—you can touch anywhere on the screen to start it—is probably not officially supported by Apple. The documentation does not reference using this method other than with the onscreen keyboard present. Using this method with an external keyboard is inconsistent. Sometimes it works and other times it does not. In addition, some applications are more susceptible to failure than others. Failures are more frequent in split view mode, where it rarely works in some applications.

Finding Shortcuts

Within most apps, you can find the keyboard shortcuts supported by pressing and holding the ⌘ key. The shortcuts are displayed in the middle of the screen and are specific shortcuts for the application context.