Hardware Keyboards on iOS

Submitted by mathew on Fri, 02/03/2018 - 15:44

iOS has supported external Bluetooth keyboards for years now. I've even made a couple of small changes to the app in order to better support external keyboards for two people I know are using them.

But with the Smart Keyboard and Apple's apparent intention to pitch the iPad as more of an alternative to a notebook, I decided to add full support for keyboards into Easy Books.

My intention was to see if I could avoid touching the screen completely, and use Easy Books purely in "keyboard mode". I'm pleased to say I managed!

It's possible to launch the app from the iPad Spotlight screen (Cmd + Space), then navigate the app using the arrow keys. The Return key is equivalent to tapping the selected row. More about these and other shortcut keys later.

Using the keyboard is about as fast as swiping and tapping. But I found some things are actually faster using the keyboard. For example, on the Accounts screen, I've added a hidden feature similar to the Mac app. Just start typing the name of an account and the app will scroll to the account with it highlighted. If you have hundreds of customers, this works faster than using the search (Cmd + F) to find a customer in the list.

I was unable to add keyboard support to every screen, because not all screens are part of Easy Books. When an Apple-provided framework screen is used, they're lagging behind in keyboard support and you'll need to tap the screen. I've posted this as a suggestion in Apple's reporting system and they've responded to say it's been asked for already. No timescales as usual, but I hope they're working on it. You'll run into these screens for things like popup alerts, share sheets (emailing invoices) and attaching files and photos in the new Attachments screen. Eventually I hope it will be possible to use the keyboard to navigate the whole app.

Which keys can I use?

Each screen has it's own set of keyboard shortcuts. Some are common across all screens in Easy Books, such as the arrow keys for navigation. To find out which other keys might be useful, tap and hold the Cmd key. After a couple of seconds you'll see a box appear with a list of shortcut keys you can use.

The following keys are commonly used for navigation:

  • Down Arrow. Select the next row in a table
  • Up Arrow. Select the previous row in a table
  • Return (or Right Arrow). Choose the row as if you've tapped on it
  • Left Arrow. Back a screen
  • Cmd + Backspace. Cancel (if you've made a change in a form)
  • Cmd + Return. Save (on a form)
  • Cmd + F. Find / Search
  • Cmd + =. Add something (account, transaction, split etc.)
  • Space. View the selected sale as a PDF

Apple have a page about keyboard shortcuts too, see support.apple.com/en-gb/HT205237.