The folks at Smile Software were finally free to turn the iPad and iPhone into fully capable modern macro generators.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online since 1983

TextExpander keyboard provides powerful macros in iPhone, iPad

February 15, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, The Post-Standard

Macros are automated text-expansion functions. If you type a simple, unique string of characters -- "myaddr," for example -- a macro utility could enter your entire address in your word processor or email window.

Macro software is easy to find for Macs and for Windows and Linux PCs. But iPhone and iPad users have had only two ways to employ macros -- using an all-but-hidden function in the Settings app or buying TextExpander Touch.

The little-known macro function in Settings, under the Keyboard section, is easy to use and surprisingly effective, allowing outputs of more than a million characters for each macro. But it won't work in many situations when you'd expect it to, such as in email address entry lines. (Read more about Apple's macro function in this previous column: www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec072212.html.)

TextExpander Touch, from Smile Software, has been around for years, and has excelled in just about every way. It can insert user-created text within the TextExpander app itself and in any of 50 or more cooperative apps, such as word processors, that support TextExpander macros.

But TextExpander, as good as it was, wasn't good enough if you couldn't use it for anything and everything. Limiting it to specially coded apps was a bummer. To be really useful, it would have to be universal, working anywhere you typed on an iPad or iPhone. And the only way to do that would be to substitute TextExpander's typing software -- keyboard, underlying code and all -- for the typing software built into iOS.

Fat chance that would ever happen, right? Apple keeps a big lock on the door of every piece of the iOS software code. Substituting another on-screen keyboard ain't ever gonna happen.

Except for the fact that it DID happen. As I explained last week (www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec020815.html), Apple unlocked the keyboard code in the latest versions of iOS. App developers can now substitute their own crazy, odd, cunning or helpful keyboards for the boring one created by Apple. The only requirement: Give the user an easy way to get back to the plain-Jane Apple version.

So the folks at Smile Software were finally free to turn the iPad and iPhone into fully capable modern macro generators. They combined their macro-creation coding with an updated keyboard that looks and works better than the original. They even got rid of Apple's mindless all-capital-letters look: When you type lower-case letters, the keyboard shows them; when you type capital letters, the keyboard switches to "caps."

Another helpful change: The TextExpander Touch keys look like they're moving down when you touch them. (Yes, they really do look that way.) It's an incredibly realistic effect.

Creating macros is easy. TextExpander comes with a few already created, so you can see how the syntax works. You're simply writing in English, using easy techniques to assign words and phrases. TextExpander calls programmed macros "snippets," making them seem less intimidating. They're far more powerful than Apple's all-but-ignored keyboard shortcuts, too.

Smile has engineered its keyboard macro code to work with hardware keyboards, too, such as Apple's delightful BlueTooth keyboard. Smile's user guide at http://smilesoftware.com/help/touch3/index.html explains how to take advantage of hardware keyboards.