If you have small hands, or a big-screen iPhone, or both, then you may love the new one-handed keyboard in iOS 11. It’s a simple software tweak that squishes the on-screen keyboard horizontally, and slides it to the left or right, so you can more easily reach all the keys with a thumb.
This is great news for folks who like to walk along the street sipping coffee and texting, instead of looking where they’re going. It’s also neat for people trying to get a baby to sleep, so they can tweet about it as they bob the baby into slumber on their hip.
Reachability, only useful
The one-handed keyboard is an evolution of Reachability, the unpopular feature that lets users of big-screen iPhones double-tap the Home button to lower the top of the screen to within range of their thumb. This time, though, only the keyboard moves. You can set it to move left or right, depending on which hand you’re using.
The feature is best suited to people with small fingers. Not only because they are the people who may have trouble reaching the entire width of the standard keyboard on an iPhone X or iPhone Plus, but also because the keys shrink, making them harder to hit with bigger digits.
How to switch on the one-handed iPhone keyboard
There are two ways to switch on the one-handed keyboard, one easy, and one too convoluted to bother with. Let’s do the lame one first. Head to the Settings app, and find Settings>General>Keyboard. Then tap One-handed Keyboard. In there, you’ll see this screen, where you can choose to put the one-handed keyboard on the left or the right.
Now, the next time you use the keyboard, it will be shifted over to the side of your choosing. That’s fine, but there’s a much quicker way to do exactly the same thing.
The quick way to switch on the one-handed keyboard
Anytime the keyboard is on screen, you can just long-press the little globe icon to bring up the keyboard selection popover. This is the same globe icon you use to select the emoji keyboard, to cycle between any keyboards you have active on your iPhone — utility keyboards from apps like Yoink, for example, or keyboards for other languages.
Long-pressing the globe icon brings up the familiar popover, only in iOS 11 it now has an extra row at the bottom:
Just tap whichever option you want: left, right or center (which is the equivalent of off).
If you don’t have the keyboard-switching globe icon?
The keyboard-switching globe icon only appears if you have more than one keyboard active on your iPhone. If you only ever use the standard keyboard, then you won’t see it. Most people will see this icon, though, because the emoji keyboard is so commonly used. If you don’t, you’ll have to add a keyboard to your setup in order to switch it on. That’s easy, though. Just head to Settings>General>Keyboard. Then tap Keyboards at the top of that screen. Then tap Add New Keyboard… and pick one. The emoji keyboard will probably be the most useful for you, unless you regularly communicate in more than one language. And if that’s the case, you probably already have these languages’ keyboards switched on.
The third way — Siri
There’s another way to type when you can’t use both thumbs: Siri. Instead of typing your words manually, like some gang of Shakespeare-writing monkeys, you can just talk to Siri and she’ll do the typing for you. If you haven’t used Siri’s speech-to-text feature in a while, you might be surprised how accurate it has gotten. then again, if you regularly hang out in the Cult of Mac Slack chat, where our chief editor Lewis “I heart SEO” Wallace dictates all of his messages via Siri, then you might be surprised how amusing auto-correct mistakes can still be.
Using Siri to dictate messages is easy. Just tap the little microphone icon next to the spacebar, and Siri will listen. Just say what you want to write, and Siri will take care of it for you. You’ll have to enable dictation first, in Settings>General>Keyboard, but that’s a one-time settings change.
Out and about? Siri dictation also works great through the microphone on your EarPods or AirPods. You should at least try this out, because it’s way faster than one-thumbed typing, even with the new one-handed keyboard activated.