iPad & Unicode: B-


I'm not first to announce that iPad is not as Unicode savvy as it could be, but hopefully I can give some clear instructions.

I will state up front that I 100% (emoji for "love") my iPad, but Unicode support is one area that could use some improvement.

Reading: B+

The good news is that you can read a lot of scripts if the text comes in via Safari or Mail. The ability to read a script depends on having a font with glyphs for that block and Apple does try to hit many of the modern scripts. So coverage is decent, extending to most phonetic , Braille, math as well scripts such as Lao, Tibetan, Cherokee Armenian, Georgian, Hebrew, Arabic, CJK, Cyrillic, Greek and so forth.

However, there are gaps such as Ethopic, the Canadian United Aboriginal symbols, most Southeast Asian scripts outside of Thai and Lao, and many Indic scripts except for Devanagari/Gujarati/Gurmukhi. There is basic display of Tamil, Oriya and some South Indic scripts, but I am not sure if the vowel marks are placed correctly (it appears not). There are also missing "extended" characters in the Latin, Cyrillic and Greek blocks - not great for some scholarly work. And if you were hoping to catch up on your Phonecian, Coptic or Ogam reading, you may need to go elsewhere (or ask for a PDF).

That would be fine to begin, but it has been difficult for users to add extra fonts without extensive jailbreaking. I haven't tried it, and don't recommend it unless you are doing it with a test iPad.

Typing with Virtual Keyboard: D

I do appreciate that the virtual keyboard is larger on the iPad than the iPhone, but the default way to type an accent is to hold down a vowel key (or appropriate consonant) and wait for a set of accented letters to pop up. I've not been thrilled with the iPhone version of this, and still am not thrilled with the iPad version of it...but it is there.

Still you can't input a Welsh ŵ this way, and that is an annoyance if you happen to work with Welsh. You also can't input ă, ḍ, ş and a host of other characters used outside of mainstream European languages. Bummer

In theory you can switch the virtual keyboard to a non-English setting, but there are surprisingly few options - far less than even the iPhone. You can't even enter Korean or Greek characters. Ouch!

Typing with a Physical Keyboard: C+

One thing that you can now do with an iPad is to plug it in to a keyboard dock, and this solves a few problems. First you get access to a real keyboard with an Option key. So those pesky accents can be types with familiar option codes. It also lets you stand the iPad next to your laptop so you can test Unicode sites will composing a blog entry.

The dock also allows you to access a few more keyboard configurations including the U.S. Extended keyboard (hello ŵ,ḍ,ă,ş). And here's how:

Keyboard Setup

Basic Setup/Virtual Keyboard

  1. On your iPad, click the Settings icon.
  2. In the left column, click General.
  3. Click Keyboard on the right, then International Keyboards in the next window. A list of activated keyboards opens.
  4. Click Add New Keyboard to see all the options. Click on a language name to add it.

  5. Exit Settings.
  6. When you launch the international keyboard in an app, you should see a globe icon similar to the one below. Click on it to open a list of available keyboards and select an appropriate one.
    globe icon

Instructions with images are available from PadGadget.

Options for Keyboard Dock

If you want to activate the U.S. Extended, U.S. International option (PC), Dvorak, other extended option, do the following:

  1. Plug in the iPad into the dock (you can now type in Safari, Mail, Pages).

  2. Follow steps #1-3 above to see a list of activated keyboards.
  3. Click English to see layout options. The second Hardware Keyboard Layout includes options such as Dvorak, U.S. International-PC and U.S. Extended.
  4. Exit Settings.

Depending on which layout you select, you have access to different/additional option codes. You can also activate a Phonetic (i.e. QWERTY) layout for Russian which is also handy.

That does take care of a lot of my needs, but not all of them by any means. I still need to enter phonetic symbols and math symbols. I would like either a character palette, or even better, a way to build and upload additional keyboard files, like you can in OS X. I'd also like to be able to safely install new fonts, and I know I'm not the only one.

About The Blog

I am a Penn State technology specialist with a degree in linguistics and have maintained the Penn State Computing with Accents page since 2000.

See Elizabeth Pyatt's Homepage (ejp10@psu.edu) for a profile.


The standard commenting utility has been disabled due to hungry spam. If you have a comment, please feel free to drop me a line at (ejp10@psu.edu).

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