Keyboard shortcuts in iOS 9 bring back memories


Although my aging third-generation iPad cannot support most of the cool features introduced in iOS 9, I’m very satisfied with one big improvement — the handling of external keyboards. When I talked about my experience using the iPad as a laptop with my Apple Wireless Keyboard, I expressed my main frustration: “generally poor key mapping and user-interaction obscurity.” Here are a couple of bits from that article, written in December 2013, where I offer a few suggestions to improve user interaction:

But the best keyboard shortcut Apple could implement when using an Apple keyboard with iOS devices is, in my opinion, Command-Tab to activate the multitasking interface.


As for the user-interaction obscurity I was mentioning before, I had to discover certain key mappings by blindly trying out different keys. This way I found that the Eject key shows/hides the virtual keyboard, and — more importantly for those like me who use different international keyboards — that Command-Space switches from one keyboard layout to the other (and here I thought it could be used to quickly invoke Spotlight, like it does on Macs…).

Imagine my joy when I heard that Apple has in fact implemented the Command-Tab keyboard shortcut to invoke the application switcher exactly like on the Mac, that now Command-Space does in fact trigger Spotlight, and that most of the user-interaction obscurity vanishes by pressing and holding the Command key. By doing so, in fact, a panel will appear in the middle of the screen with a summary of the recognised shortcuts.

Safari keyboard shortcuts in iOS 9

This is Safari, but different apps may have different recognised shortcuts. Just open an app, press and hold the Command key, and see if such a panel shows up and what it provides.

Now, as a long-time Mac user, there’s another reason this user interface detail makes me happy: it’s the exact implementation we had on the Newton back in the 1990s. When you attached the dedicated Newton keyboard to a MessagePad 2000/2100 or when using the integrated keyboard on the eMate 300, by pressing and holding the Command key, guess what happened:

Newton keyboard shortcuts

These are the general, system-wide shortcuts. By pressing and holding the Command key from inside an application, there are more options (this is the word processor module in Newton Works, a sort of Office-like suite for NewtonOS):

Newton Works shortcuts


It’s great that the same concept has been reused 18 years later. Good ideas survive and can resurface in unexpected ways.

The Author

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!


  1. Pingback: Macpro

  2. Pingback: Michael Tsai - Blog - How to Turn iOS 9’s Keyboard Back to All Caps

Comments are closed.