How to Undock & Split Your iPad Keyboard

With each major revision of iOS, we can always expect the debut of one or two indispensable features that make using our iDevices easier – and more fun.

For iPad, iOS 5 introduced the Undock and the Split keyboard layouts. The Split Keyboard feature is certainly a welcome one to the multitude of thumb-typists. It’s finally possible to type with just the thumbs on an iPad – particularly in landscape mode – without unsightly gesticulations and painful injuries due to thumb hyperextension. This is because, along with being able to position the keyboard anywhere on screen (known as Undocking), the iPad keyboard can be split in half. This allows both thumbs to collaborate happily and to access all of the keys comfortably.

The undocked, split keyboard on the iPad screen.

The undocked, split keyboard on the iPad screen makes typing with both thumbs a cinch.

Let’s examine how this handy feature works.

Take a look at your onscreen keyboard. Allow your eyes to gaze down to the key at the very bottom-right corner. Apple calls this key, oddly enough, the Keyboard Key. As always, a single tap on this key will cause the keyboard to collapse out-of-the-way. But it also allows you to control the keyboard Undock and Split features.

The Keyboard Key is enlarged to highlight the little grip symbol, indicating that the key can be dragged on screen.

The “grip” symbol on the Keyboard Key indicates that it can be dragged on screen to provide added functionality.

It’s hard to see, but do you notice the little column of horizontal lines on the right edge of the Keyboard Key? That’s the “grip” symbol. Whenever you see this on any iOS interface element, it means that the object can be dragged to provide some added functionality.

The keyboard in its undocked and merged state has been positioned three quarters of the way up the screen.

This keyboard is in the Undocked and Merged state.

Try it! On your iPad, press-and-drag the Keyboard Key upward in one smooth motion without pausing between the key press and the upward drag. As you can see, this will split the keyboard and move it to your desired location. Press-and-dragging downward to the very bottom will return the keyboard to its Docked position.

If you want to move the keyboard up and down on the screen without splitting it, press-and-hold the Keyboard Key. A popup menu will appear, giving you the choices to Undock or to Split the keyboard. Selecting Undock will allow you to position the whole keyboard (also known as a Merged keyboard) up and down where you need it for easiest text entry.

A detailed view of the popup menu over the Keyboard Key, showing the options to Undock or Split the keyboard.

Press-and-hold the Keyboard Key to view a popup menu of keyboard layout options.

One way to split and merge a keyboard is to simply position your thumbs anywhere on the keyboard and slide your thumbs in opposite directions either outward or inward.

Sliding your thumbs outward or inward on the keyboard will cause the keyboard to split or merge.

Slide your thumbs outward or inward on the keyboard to split or merge it.

With a Merged, Undocked keyboard showing, press-and-holding the Keyboard Key will produce a popup menu giving you the options to Dock or Split the keyboard.

Press-and-holding the Keyboard Key will display pop-up menus with various keyboard layout options.

Depending on the current keyboard layout, press-and-holding the Keyboard Key will offer various keyboard layout options.

With a Split, Undocked keyboard showing, press-and-holding the Keyboard Key will pop up options to Merge or Dock and Merge the keyboard.

These popup menus are nice, but I think you’ll prefer the press-and-drag method that was described earlier. With this single motion, you will be able to quickly change your keyboard layout to your liking.

Finally, the Split Keyboard functionality is enabled on the iPad by default. It can be disabled completely by going to Settings > General > Keyboard, where you will find the Split Keyboard on/off switch.

The Undocked and Split keyboard layout features reviewed here are just some examples of the occasional bones Apple throws us. Unfortunately, these are not always obvious. Take advantage of these little gems. They are all designed to enhance your productivity when getting-things-done on your iDevice.