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.

Category Software Tags , ,

About Riccardo Mori

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!