The polarising new MacBook keyboard

This is a very specific kind of Blank Screen post: it’s ostensibly about one product that, statistically speaking, you are unlikely to have and, also statistically speaking, you are unlikely to ever get. I’m really selling this to you, aren’t I? Okay, try this: it’s to do with keyboards, which we all spend a lot of time with and which you, admit it, have strong opinions about.

Okay, it’s just me. But I’ve been pulling 16-hour days at the keyboard lately, the feel of these things is hugely important and the potential risk to my wrists is gigantically important to me. Then Apple’s gone and brought out a new keyboard, a new type of keyboard and, seriously, when Apple does something, the rest of the industry mocks it while working furiously to copy it.

(Are you on a notebook computer now? See the way the keyboard is toward the back and you’ve got palmrests at the front around a trackpad? That was Apple’s idea and there is now notebook you can buy that does not do exactly this.)

So a new design of keyboard is likely to appear in other machines, from Apple and others, now that it’s out there. And Apple made such a fuss of it at the launch that I was suspicious: the company doth protest too much and all that. Then people started getting the new MacBook that has this keyboard and they hated it.

Well, some hated, most people thought they would put up with it. The travel is shallow, the distance you have to press the keys before they register is tiny. The keys are also wider but it’s chiefly the travel and how that feels that is making people unhappy.

Except me.

I went in to an Apple Store specifically to try out the keyboard and I actually liked it.

But that was a few minutes. Now here’s a fella who’s spent eight weeks typing on it:

Apple’s new MacBook uses a new keyboard mechanism. The keys are larger and the throw [aka travel] is less, and so when people try it out for just a minute ot two in the Apple store, it may feel strange, different and even undesirable.

I’ve spent eight weeks with my new MacBook now, and one of things I like about it the most is the keyboard. Just like the single USB-C port, past experience doesn’t prepare or guide one for using this keyboard because it’s so different from what Apple has delivered in the past.

Eight Weeks With the MacBook Keyboard: Total Love – The Mac Observer

Read the full piece for a more informed view than I can give you. But then take away that if this keyboard does come to all computers, it’s fine.

Launchbar review

Just published on MacNN: my review of a superb utility for OS X:

Get it. Here it is on its official site. Go get it now: LaunchBar is that good. There are alternatives, that’s about the only thing that should give you pause, but the most obvious rival to LaunchBar is OS X’s own Spotlight and that is no competition at all. Sure, both let you tap a couple of keys and begin typing things like application names or search terms, but as excellent as Spotlight is, LaunchBar crams more power into the same space. With a couple of keystrokes you can be entering an event into your calendar, you can be sending files to someone, you can be pasting something from the clipboard that you copied yesterday.

Hands On: LaunchBar 6 (OS X) – William Gallagher, MacNN (15 January 2015)

Read the full piece.

Though just between ourselves, I’m currently looking at Alfred, a big rival to Launchbar and it has a lot going for it. I shall return.


If you’re sitting at your computer as often as the rest of America, you’ve probably got your share of keyboard shortcuts that make your life easier. Well, here’s a few lesser-known keyboard shortcuts that will blow your mind!

Command + H + 5: Preheats your laptop to 350 degrees.

Shift + H + H + H + H + H + H + H + H + H+ H + H + H + H + H + H: Gives you a fuck-ton of uppercase H’s. Nice!

8 Game-Changing Keyboard Shortcuts You Need To Be… | ClickHole

Read the full piece.

Briefly free: Path Input swipe keyboard for iPad

The only new iOS 8 keyboard I’m using is the TextExpander one and that’s not wonderful. The time it saves giving you access to TextExpander shortcuts is a wee bit undermined by how much harder it is to type regular text on it.

But other people like these new keyboards a lot and one in particular is now free. Download the Path Input keyboard before it returns to £2.49 and see for yourself whether it’s any good.

TextExpander Touch updated, improved

It is still harder to type on iOS devices with the TextExpander keyboard but a new 3.1 release plus iOS 8.0.2 has improved things. You want this because the very best use of the new iOS keyboarded feature is TextExpander and it is tantalisingly close to great.

The iOS 8.0.2 update has fixed the bug that meant you had to keep switching the keyboard on and off in Settings to get it to work. That’s a big thing, it would be the biggest thing except there is also now auto-correction.

A bit.

I don’t understand how it can have a bit of autocorrection. It’s as if developers don’t have access to the iOS autocorrection feature and so have to implement one themselves. That seems an enormous waste of effort and doubly so since it isn’t working. Whereas the TextExpander keyboard previously gave me no corrections at all, this one does some. Not many and not the same ones that the regular Apple keyboard does.

This wouldn’t matter a huge amount except that it is harder to type on the TextExpander keyboard than it is on the regular one. So the keyboard that is meant to speed you up with TextExpander snippets does speed you up – and slows you down too.

These new keyboards for iOS are solely for when you are typing on the glass of your device: they can’t use Bluetooth external keyboards. So I’m trying to write this on the glass of my iPad Air and I’m doing fine – except that I had to give up doing it on the TextExpander keyboard.

But at least I had a go where previously I couldn’t last a sentence.

One other improvement. TextExpander touch had one very good sound – the kind of bleep it gives when it expands some text – and one very irritating sound with the clicking keyboard. Before this update, you got both sounds or you got none. I couldn’t bear the clicking keys so I had nothing.

I so want this to work.

TextExpander touch 3.1 is available now in the App Store

New iOS keyboards: TextExpander in use

Android users have long, long had the option to replace whatever the standard onscreen keyboard is with anything else they like. Keyboards that are in some way better, if not for everyone then at least for some. That’s cool. The same idea has now come to iOS for iPhones and iPads and that’s cool too.

I just didn’t care. I type fine on the Apple one. Yet if the first thing I bought for iOS 8 was OmniFocus 2 for iPad, the second was the TextExpander keyboard. Switch that on and whatever you’re doing on your iOS device, you can instantly call up every snippet of text you use a lot or just want a lot or just always misspell.

No question: I was going to buy that TextExpander keyboard and I was never going to look at the Apple one again.


All this about using TextExpander snippets where you couldn’t before – such as Mail or any Apple app – is true.


I just don’t like it.

The TextExpander keyboard itself saves you all this time with expanding out snippets of text that I use a lot but then it loses me far more time because it is substantially harder to type on. The overall QWERTY keyboard is smaller than the regular Apple one but also each key is remarkably smaller and harder to hit.

I make far, far and three times far more mistakes typing on that TextExpander keyboard. And what you gain in its snippets you lose with the autocorrection and suggested words. There are no suggested words and ‘d like to say that there is no autocorrection but every now and again suddenly I will get a correction automatically applied.

Plus, getting this keyboard means both downloading it and setting it up. The final stage of setting it up is to tell your iPhone that yes, you want the TextExpander keyboard to have full access to your device. Fine, but that option doesn’t appear at all until you’ve been in once, set up everything else on the keyboard, come out and gone back in again.

And then regularly, even routinely, you will swap to the TextExpander keyboard and it will warn you that you haven’t set this full access up. Oh, yes, I have. Oh no, you haven’t.

I suspect that’s a a bug at Apple’s end but the fact that I get it is often is probably tied to how I don’t, afterall, stick with TextExpander’s keyboard. I swap back to it to do a particular complex snippet, then I return to Apple’s own where I can actually type.

That can only happen when you’re using the onscreen keyboard: I’m writing now on my iPad using a keyboard case and it is impossible to use the TextExpander keyboard or switch it on so that I can use my snippets.

So it’s a great idea but it has this first version bug which is probably Apple’s, it won’t or can’t use the regular autocorrection service and the keys are tiny. I think it’s also an ugly keyboard.

Which means I’m a bit disappointed. I wasn’t interested in iOS keyboards before but I am very interested now and it is a disappointment.

TextExpander’s keyboard extension comes with the latest version of the app, which costs £2.99 UK or $4.99 US.



One key reason to love iOS 8: TextExpander

Previously… TextExpander is this great, great Mac app that is bleugh on iOS. Yes, you could still tap a couple of keys and have them expand out to pages of text, but you had to leave whatever app you were in. Leave Mail, go to the TextExpander Touch app, tap the couple of keys, select all the expanded text, copy, go back to Mail, paste.

Short alternative: you never bothered.

It was worth having TextExpander Touch for those apps that did allow it to work, but there weren’t a huge number of them and none of Apple’s did. So no joy in Mail, Safari or Pages. None of that.

Now, as of today and the moment that iOS 8 drops, it’s all change. The new iOS 8 allows alternative keyboards and TextExpander provides one. Whatever you’re using on your iPhone or iPad, you can be using the TextExpander keyboard and that means all apps, everything, everywhere, includes TextExpander features.

I’m about 80% ecstatic. I was 100% but it turns out that I prefer the ‘normal’ Apple iOS 8 keyboard. TextExpander’s one looks a little weedy to me and, potentially more seriously, if you use this then you lose the new auto-complete suggestions feature of Apple’s keyboard. That’s where it tries to calculate what word you’re likely to type next and offers a selection to you as you go. I don’t know yet whether I like that. But I should probably avoid getting used to it because it ain’t there on the TextExpander keyboard.

David Sparks has been on the iOS 8 and TextExpander betas and he’s produced this video. About half of its two-minute running time is devoted to how you set this stuff up but then he’s got examples of it in action. That’s the bit to watch for.

Wow – TextExpander to radically improve in iOS 8

Quick version: TextExpander will include a new system-wide keyboard that lets you trigger snippets and thereby expand text.

You’re looking at me like you want the slow version.

First, TextExpander is a utility that is fantastic on Macs and okay on iPhones and iPad. I’ve been working on the new book, Filling the Blank Screen – which is out as an ebook on Friday by the way, paperback next month – and so naturally I have typed that title a lot. I mean, a lot. But when I’m at my Mac, then whether I’m writing the back cover blurb, whether I’m completing a contract, whether I’m discussing the publication in emails, I can just type the letters xftb. Type that and the words “Filling the Blank Screen” are entered for me.

You can work out what the ftb means in xftb. The letters are up to you and the x is just a good habit to get into: few real words begin with x.

Now, I love typing and I love it so much that I ignored TextExpander for years. But it isn’t just for the odd short sentence: I have a bio snippet that after I type four letters, I get 300 words of biography text. A few times a month I’ll be asked for a bio so I type that snippet and then I edit the result to fit whatever is needed or whoever has asked me.

TextExpander also makes sure you are consistent: I don’t do this myself but there are many people who use it to automatically correct regular typing mistakes. So for instance, I keep mistyping “the” as “hte” (I wonder if that’s a cry of hate coming from my soul, as you do) which means I could set TextExpander to replace ‘hte’ with ‘the’ every time I type.

It’s also great for complex yet repetitive pieces of text: once a week I send a certain email to a certain person and I start it with a TextExpander keystroke. That does fill out the email with lots of detail but it also pauses to ask me for the new bits. I fill out a little form that appears and then TextExpander pops all the new bits into the pre-written email and I just hit send.

This is in all ways great.

When you’re on your Mac.

On the Mac, it works everywhere. On iOS it doesn’t. Apple doesn’t allow anything like this to run everywhere so the makers of TextExpander have to persuade app developers to play nice. Many, many do, but not all and not including Apple. So there’s no TextExpander support in Mail on my iPhone, for instance.

Now, Apple announced that iOS 8 will allow app makers to create keyboards. I did not give a damn. Not a monkey’s, not half a monkey’s, I heard Apple say it and it was out my other ear before they finished the sentence. I am fine with the regular keyboard on my iPhone and iPad, fine.

But now Smile Software, the makers of TextExpander, have announced that they will be one of the app companies providing a new keyboard.

And that keyboard will let you expand TextExpander snippets. Everywhere.


This is huge and transforming because now you will always be able to use TextExpander. In anything. Anything.

I’m sold. Can’t wait for iOS 8 now. Go take a look at Smile Software’s announcement which includes a video demo.

Productivity tip: Control-L

That’s it. Holding down the Control key (aka CTRL, aka Apple key on Macs) and tapping the letter L. This will speed up your life.

Because when you’re in a web browser, any web browser, doing that leaps you up to the address bar. More, it highlights that address bar. Just do Ctrl-L and begin typing the URL of the next website you want to go to.

Or since most browsers now have what’s called an omnibar – one space that doubles as both where you type and where you type in what you want to search for – just Ctrl-L and type anything you like.

Trust me. It’s so much faster than going to the mouse and clicking away like a prehistoric computer user.

Scratchbuilding your perfect steampunk keyboard

Hey, if it helps you write, I’m all for it. And I am always up for spending a little time now in order to save a lot later or just to make that later time more productive, more useful, more fun. I’m not sure this fits those, but what I lack in patience to do the work, I make up for in fancying the end result.


My goal with this project was to build a retro keyboard that was fully functional and of a sufficient quality that it could be used everyday by a touch typist. In order to achieve this I chose a high quality (though widely available) keyboard as my starting point. This is an IBM Model M “Clicky” keyboard. They were made starting in the mid 1980’s and a version is still manufactured today. This particular keyboard was made in 1989 and shipped with and IBM PowerStation 530, a UNIX box the size of a kegerator.

Besides its overall quality and heft, one of the things that makes this keyboard particularly good for such a mod is the fact that it has removable key caps and the under-cap has a flat surface ideal for affixing a new key top.

Steampunk Keyboard Mod – Jake von Slatt, The Steampunk Workshop (8 July 2009)

Even if you’re no more likely to build this yourself than I am, do go take a gawp at the full feature: it has detailed photos, many videos and so much love that you can’t resist.