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article image'Secret' one-handed keyboard found hidden in iPhone's software

By James Walker     Oct 24, 2016 in Technology
A one-handed keyboard mode has been found inside Apple's iOS. It has been lurking unseen since at least 2014 and is not publicly accessible. If activated, it could make typing significantly easier on Apple's current large-screen iPhones.
The rise of phablet-style devices has made one-handed keyboard layouts more desirable. On phones with screens in excess of 5-inches, typing single-handedly can be a challenge. Apple's rivals, Google and Microsoft, allow you to move the keyboard to the left or right of the screen, bringing it within reach. Apple has not implemented such a feature though, leaving users stretching for the far side of the display or reliant on its word prediction technology.
Last week, it emerged Apple has actually realised the value that one-handed keyboards present. It has built a working implementation, discovered by developer Steve Troughton-Smith. He spotted the feature while experimenting with Apple's iOS Simulator, a tool that allows developers to test their apps on a virtual copy of iOS running on a computer.
In the simulator, the keyboard can be accessed by swiping in from either the left or right side of the screen. The keys are then moved across to the opposite side of the display, grouping them closer together for easy access with one hand. To fill the gap on the other side of the screen, large clipboard buttons for cut, copy and paste are inserted at the edge of the keyboard.
Hidden one-handed keyboard in iOS
Hidden one-handed keyboard in iOS
Steve Troughton-Smith
According to Troughton-Smith, the keyboard has been hiding dormant inside iOS since at least 2014's iOS 8. Apple has never officially mentioned the feature and it hasn’t made an appearance in any beta version of iOS, let alone a public release.
The feature was probably developed to coincide with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus, in the same year the keyboard was added to iOS. For the first time, Apple built a device using a phablet form factor. The keyboard was likely intended to make the handset's 5.5-inch display more accessible. Why Apple decided not to include the layout remains a mystery.
Apple usually emphasises the accessibility of its handsets, trying to give them as broad an appeal as possible. iOS' Reachability mode halves the height of the display to make buttons at the top easier to tap. It doesn’t solve the issue of the keyboard being too wide to use with one hand though.
While iOS' one-handed keyboard is present on production iPhones, regular users cannot enable the hidden layout. It is possible to activate it on jailbroken devices, using a series of pointers published by Troughton-Smith. Jailbreaking is not a simple procedure though. It should not be attempted by inexperienced users aiming only to get access to unreleased features.
At present, it remains unclear whether the "secret" keyboard layout will ever see the light of day. It could finally make an appearance in next year's iOS 11 or remain nestled deep within the operating system for several more years. It's been dormant for so long already that Apple's intentions can't easily be predicted.
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