Shift Keyboard lets you tap out your messages on Apple Watch

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Apple Watch
Coming soon to a wrist near you.
Photo: Adam Foot

Right now, the easiest way to write messages on Apple Watch is using voice control or Apple’s recommended responses. But one intrepid developer wants to go back to the past by adding a keyboard to Apple’s wearable device.

His app, Shift Keyboard, just launched in the App Store. Developer Adam Foot spoke with Cult of Mac to try and sell us on the idea.

“Everyone is used to using their phone’s keyboard, but no such method exists on Apple Watch,” Foot, a 19-year-old developer who has been creating apps for the past four year, told us. “The Shift Keyboard app is easy to use, and allows you to input text the way you’re used to. Not everyone wants to use their voice in public, and text swiping (read: Apple’s Scribble handwriting recognition) can often misread what you write. This is where the Shift Keyboard comes in. The buttons are a perfect size for you to easily know you’ve hit the right key and when you’ve scrolled down, you can see what you’ve typed in the top left without scrolling back up to the top.”

Foot said that the app is particularly useful if you’re someone who likes to add multiple emoji to messages. That’s something that’s impossible using the standard Messages app.

To be clear, this isn’t a third-party keyboard in the manner of those on iOS. Shift Keyboard works as its own app. Once your message has been written, tap “Send” and it will take you through to the Messages app. From there, you can send it to a contact of your choice.

An alternative approach to text input

As Foot notes, getting into the App Store wasn’t quite as easy for this app as he expected.

“I originally created a keyboard for Apple Watch app, which got rejected despite it being a useful addition,” he explained. “I myself have wanted a better way to input text on an Apple Watch. I’ve often heard users say they want [one too]. My initial keyboard got rejected by Apple for being a keyboard for Apple Watch, so I went away and created an iPhone keyboard app. [I then] added the Apple Watch app as an extension to this app.”

Apple rejected the app several times due to the text and buttons being too small. However, he kept revising it and eventually Apple gave its stamp of approval.

“The only other Apple Watch Keyboard app I’ve seen is the FlickType app,” he said.

The difference between FlickType and Shift Keyboard is that FlickType only lets you see the words you have typed after an entire word has been completed. Shift Keyboard works more like a standard keyboard, with letters appearing in real-time. It’s also possible to add numbers, punctuation, and — as mentioned — emoji.

“In some ways it is an alternative,” Foot said. “But in another way it offers its own unique set of features currently offered by no other app in the market.”

Will it be a hit with users? We’ll have to wait and see. If you want to try it out for yourself, however, you can download it for 99 cents from the App Store here.